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Brian Kimmel celebrates 25 years of service at First National

One of First National’s points of distinction is experience. Many members of our team have been with us 10, 15, 20 and 25 years – and in a few cases since we began operations in 1988. We salute those committed individuals who are celebrating a milestone anniversary by presenting their stories in their own words. Today, we profile Brian Kimmel, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing

Brian, congratulations on 25 years with First National. Do you remember your actual start date?

I believe it was September 1994. We don’t get pay stubs now, but I remember my stub listed me as employee number 16.

How did your hiring come about?

Prior to joining First National, I was a client. I served as the Treasurer of a large seniors’ housing company. Back in 1993, I chose First National to help us with a large CMHC financing because of its specialized expertise in seniors’ housing. No lender had that kind of knowledge and First National did a great job. In 1994, the company I was working for was sold and First National did some advisory work on the deal. I wasn’t sure about my future given the pending sale and knowing that, First National asked if I wanted to join their organization. I said yes. The best part was that my former employer stayed on as a First National client. To this day, it is still one of our large accounts.

Did you ever envision a career in lending?

After I completed an MBA at York University, I actually began my career as a bank lender. I was at one of the Big Six banks for about two years when my boss asked me what areas of corporate lending interested me. I said real estate. The bank’s response was great, we’re going to put you in mining. I left the bank as soon as I could.

Who were you working with at First National back when you started?

Stephen Smith, Moray Tawse and Michael Leverty. Back then, we had one tiny office comprised of commercial and residential teams and a receptionist. There was no administrative support. Back then, my job was not dissimilar to what I do today in originating new commercial business, but I was on my own administratively. I had to write up the loan applications, submit them for approval, prepare the commitment letters, get the commitment letters signed, send the commitment letters over to lawyers, review legal documents, look after all the closing documents and close the deal. Today we employ hundreds of people to do these jobs. It’s almost unimaginable that we could do any business back in those days with so few people, but we did.  

What was your title when you started?

Probably something like manager of commercial mortgages.

Is there much difference in the services you provide clients now versus 25 years ago?

Absolutely. Back then First National was a CMHC mortgage business, full stop. Even then, we were limited in the kind of CMHC options we offered clients. Today, we deliver a full array of products: CMHC insured term financing, CMHC construction, conventional, bridge…the difference from those early days is night and day. We also have deep expertise that we didn’t have back then. The other difference is size and capacity. We can do tremendous volumes. First National is a sophisticated machine and the amount of planning that goes into what we do and the processes we use to serve clients is incredible. Our IT systems are also night and day different.

How so?

When I started, Stephen Smith our co-founder and CEO was the IT department. He was the only guy here who knew anything about computers. Whenever the computers went down, which happened all the time in those days because computers were not reliable, we would have to call Stephen. Invariably he would be away on business or on a ski trip when our systems crashed. One time, I can remember we managed to find Stephen at the top of a run at Whistler. We said, ‘Stephen you have to help us, our systems are down and we don’t know what to do.’ He asked, ‘have you tried turning the computers off and then on again?’ We said no, we didn’t think of that. It’s one of my favourite stories because at the time, not very many people had cellphones. Just tracking him down was a miracle.

It’s easy to forget that connectivity is a relatively recent concept.

Exactly and back then, everything was done on paper. I remember heading home at night on the subway carrying stacks of files. Now I can access every single file in the company from my laptop.

When you think about the First National team, what stands out to you?

The longevity of senior staff. I’ve been here for 25 years and just in my department, Peter Cook and Dru McAuley have both been with First National longer than I have. And then there are people like Barry Gidney, Jamie McCallum, Andrew Drexler and Ed Kieser who have been here almost as long as me. It really is incredible that we’ve worked together for over two decades. I have deep respect for these guys.

What milestones stand out for you as you think back over 25 years?

When we hit $5 billion in mortgages under administration, it was a big deal. I thought to myself, we’ve finally made it; we’re a real company. There was a big celebration at the time. The other event that stands out was our listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2006. For those of us lucky enough to buy shares, the escalation in value and the dividend payments have been outstanding. As an employee who previously had no equity in the firm, the IPO gave us all a chance to be owners and it has been  a wonderful thing.

What about memorable client financings?

I’ve been involved in seniors’ housing for over 25 years and participated in a very fundamental way in the growth of the sector, which makes me very proud. It’s a sector that is doing unbelievably great work not only in expanding housing stock but adding services and amenities for seniors in this country that we could never have dreamed of 25 years ago. Back then, a good seniors’ residence room might have measured 220 square feet. Today, if you can afford it, you can find homes that are as nice as any Four Seasons hotel. The choice and quality are remarkable, but it does come down to affordability. We’re also a leader in financing affordable rental housing and that’s very fulfilling as well as there is a significant need for affordable apartment units right across Canada.

You are based in Toronto.

That’s right and I am a little Toronto-centric but I have a national portfolio. Most of my travel is between Toronto and Vancouver to see clients on the west coast. In pre-pandemic times, I would visit Vancouver once every three of four months and I might stop in Calgary on the way back. I also do a lot of work in Ottawa. My parents live in Ottawa and that’s where I’m from so an opportunity to mix pleasure and business.

After 25 years, what’s next on your to-do list?

I think about that now more than I used to. As I get older, I would like to leave an imprint on the world and one of the ways I would like to do that is to get more multi-family housing built in this country for renters with an emphasis on seniors. One of the tragedies of the recent pandemic is the terrible loss of life in long-term care homes across the country.  I’ve spent a lot of time with operators in the industry and the provincial and federal governments trying to create a better funding and financing model for long-term care in this country that would also facilitate the redevelopment of older homes into new homes with better infection control.  I think all parties involved will be very focused on these goals as we come out of the pandemic.

Do you see yourself staying with First National?

Retirement isn’t in the cards. It would be very hard to ever leave. I’ve built up such goodwill with so many great clients. That said, I’d like to support my team so that they can take a more front-and-centre role. I no longer do primary work; that’s all in the hands of my team and they are doing a great job in sustaining what I think has been a very successful model of service. We will continue to evolve that model in the future.

Final thoughts?

I’m proud to be part of First National as a great Canadian company. I’m not sure we get enough recognition for the employment we’ve created in this country. I think we’re a great success story and I hope more Canadians come to realize that.

If you’d like to join us in congratulating Brian on his career milestone, you can reach him at brian.kimmel@firstnational.ca

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