Damir Jesic: Being proactive, present and working hard is key to his career growth

First National Financial LP Mar 26, 2024   mins

One of First National’s points of distinction is experience. Many members of our team have been with us for years – and in a few cases since we began operating in 1988. Today, we salute Damir Jesic, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing on his 15th work anniversary.

Damir, what were you doing before joining First National? 

Stepping way back, I studied criminology in university and played soccer for the Calgary Mustangs, Calgary Storm and Edmonton Drillers. One of the owners of a soccer club I played for was also a local real estate owner and developer. He helped me get my foot in the door in commercial real estate leasing covering a 600,000 sq.ft. office and retail portfolio. That was my first foray into the industry. I held that position for three years starting in 2005. In 2008, the company I worked for became a victim of the global financial crisis. I immediately started looking for a new opportunity that was more complex, more numbers and investment driven. Lo and behold, another person I knew helped me get a foot in the door at First National.

Relationships sound like a recurring theme in your career.

Very much so. One of my colleagues at my previous firm was Laura Evans. Laura left a year before me to join First National working for Troy Barker here in Calgary. I stayed in touch with Laura and when she knew I was looking for a new role, she told me First National was looking for a junior analyst. It was an opportunity to learn the ropes. I interviewed with Laura and Troy and luckily got the job.

Do you remember your first day?

It was a fairly small team back then; just Troy, Laura and I. It was a very relaxed and welcoming environment. I knew Laura already and Troy immediately proved to be a great guy and a terrific mentor. So it was a seamless transition and a really happy experience.

How has the office environment changed?

It’s interesting. I was recently telling a colleague about how we used to prepare, print, mail or drop off physical binders to CMHC outlining each client’s financing request. These binders were typically two inches thick. All of that physical labour is a thing of the past. We’re now paperless and all submissions are electronic. Technology has really driven our business forward and at the same time, we’ve become more structured, market focused and sophisticated in how we do business. The net result is we do more for more clients throughout Western Canada and that in turn has led to significant growth. We’ve quadrupled our Western Canadian business since 2009 and developed a meaningful specialization in financing multi-family properties.

What’s your proudest career moment?

I would say two things. One is having the opportunity to grow my own team within First National beginning in 2017. Hiring, training and mentoring people and then seeing them adopt our approach and succeeding personally and professionally is a real pleasure. The second is getting the chance to build long-term relationships with clients…relationships that transcend business and become personal.  Those friendships are very meaningful to me.

Four workplace principles define First National – always striving for better, earning trust, encouraging autonomy, and emphasizing accountability. Of the four, which one resonates most with you and why?

They are all important and our business is built on all four but striving for better is something that captures what drives me forward personally and in business. I want to make the world a better place, improve in all aspects of life, make my career stand out and do a great job for clients and all of that happens when you wake up every day striving to do better.

Did your experience as a professional athlete help your career?

For sure. It taught me the value of teamwork, perseverance, and the ability to rise up from losses and take victories in stride. Learning to work with coaches and teammates with different personalities was also beneficial but ultimately sports – like business – is all about striving for better each and every day.

Do you still play?

Not much. I’ve had two knee surgeries, so I stick to working out and playing tennis. However, I was involved as a coach and technical trainer/director for a decade after my playing career was over and was happy to pass on the knowledge and, hopefully, help younger generations stay active and develop love for soccer and sports in general. 

What advice do you have for someone starting out at First National?

Get a good mentor and try to be proactive and present. There’s a lot you can learn if you are willing to do so. First National provides a great learning environment and lots of support, so take advantage of the opportunities. Bottom line to me is take it all in and work hard. That’s the ticket to success. If you enjoy it, the results will come.

How do you contribute to First National’s culture of inclusivity?

I came to Canada in 1996 as an immigrant when I was 17 and got the opportunity to go to high school and university and then to not only work at First National but progress here. I look at those experiences and know that our company is welcoming, diverse and inclusive and I try to pay that forward with everyone who comes to First National. Every week, I think to myself this is a great company to work for and a great country to live in. I’m so lucky to be here. 

The commercial mortgage industry has a reputation as a man’s world. Is that changing?

It is changing big time. Fifteen years ago when I went to industry conferences, 99% of attendees were guys in suits. Now I go to conferences and perhaps the ratio of men to women is 70:30. Progress is being made and I think there is a lot more interest in financial services careers among women. Beyond percentages, I think the challenge is to ensure women are able to climb the career ladder and that is happening now in the industry and for sure at First National.

For someone new to First National, why stay and build a career here?

The opportunity to create meaningful, long-term client relationships is a big part of it. But I would also say the company invests in its people and is very consistent in how it addresses the market. We try to be the best in the industry and represent the brand in that light. So to answer the question, it’s a great place to advance my career and there are also financial rewards for doing so. 

Where do you see yourself in another 15 years?

I feel lucky to work at First National. We have a great team, a great corporate reputation and by sticking to what we do best, we will continue to be a market leader for years to come. Ultimately, all the ingredients are right here, so why would I go anywhere else?

If you’d like to join us in congratulating Damir on his career milestone, you can reach him at damir.jesic@firstnational.ca.

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