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 Daniel Bragagnolo, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing.
Daniel, what were you doing before you joined First National?
I worked for Ninco Construction, my family’s construction business as a labourer for almost 10 years. I got my hands and my boots dirty. This is how our family business works even to this day. My Dad is his own GC and site supervisor.
Did you envision a career in construction or was your interest in financing?
I didn’t have a true vision back then. I knew a business background, which I had, would provide me with a lot of different options. Really from the get-go, my father encouraged me to learn something new. I just got so lucky and fortunate to land here at First National. It’s been such a great experience.
How did you know about First National?
In my last year of university, my father decided to branch out into student housing and we needed financing. Through that experience, we reached out to First National and I met Peter Cook and Rob Fleet. We had a couple of meetings together, but the construction project got delayed by some environmental issues. At about that point, I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in business administration and decided to travel to Europe for a year. When I got back, I contacted Rob to see if there were any job opportunities at First National. He said, send me your resume and I’ll share it with Peter. Literally within a few hours of doing so, I got a call for an interview.
Do you remember your first day and your first job?
July 4, 2011 and my first title was Commercial Analyst. It was my very first office job and my very first job in downtown Toronto. When I got to the office, everybody was very welcoming. Patricia Alvaro who started before me was like my guardian angel. She took me under her wing, took me to lunches with her colleagues and made everything very comfortable.
How different is it working here now from when you started?
Very different. I spent less than a year in the Toronto office. At that point, Peter called me aside and said he wanted me to work from home as he thought it would be more efficient. Looking back, it demonstrated how much trust he had in me. I then spent about two years working from home. During that period, Peter and Rob started discussing a long-range plan for growth and decided they wanted to reinforce our business development focus, so I offered to help. At that point, I was underwriting deals 90% of the time and helping with our team’s sales strategy so we could be more focused in our efforts. That morphed into a sales role where I underwrote 60% of the time and did business development 40%. Now, I’m spending 90% of my time on my own portfolio of clients and managing a few people on our team.
What are your proudest career milestones?
In my first year, I put up my hand to work on a $60 million transaction. Ten years ago, $60 million transactions weren’t as common for us. Everyone was really happy to let me run with it, which was a huge confidence booster. That was one milestone. Another was when I was put in charge of learning the affordable housing space and becoming a sought-after speaker in the industry. Being trusted with developing a new market and business strategy like this was incredible.
Did you learn largely by doing?
Definitely. There was no formal training program when I joined. Things are much more formalized now which is appropriate given how quickly we’ve grown and how big we’ve become. At the same time, the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well. Not putting a leash on creativity and innovation sets us apart.
What keeps you here 10 years later?
I’m still growing and learning. With Peter and Rob, I always feel I’m in control of my own opportunities, and I know the harder I work, the more I will be recognized. This keeps me hungry for more and bigger deals. I also like the fact that we develop long-range plans, so I can see where I’m headed and what happens to my career when we reach the desired destination. For a young person, it’s very comforting knowing that Rob and Peter are looking out for us. I would add that coming, as I did, from a family-owned company, it’s really great to come into First National with a culture of family values including children’s Christmas parties and so forth.
What advice do you have for someone starting out at First National?
We have such an open environment here, my first thought would be to ask lots of questions and use the resources available to you internally to make headway in your career, whether it’s tapping into our construction experts, or the expertise we have in financing retirement residences, affordable housing or industrial. Everyone is willing to share their knowledge and experience. I would also say make the effort. Nobody can do it for you.
What do you want to accomplish in the next 10 years?
I want to keep the wheel turning, help clients to grow and internally give more people the opportunity that I’ve had. Being part of a self-propelled team that has authority and accountability is a huge advantage and makes coming to work every day rewarding. Constantly advancing my knowledge and skills with emphasis on affordable housing and construction is also at the top of list for the next decade, as is giving back to the industry by sharing my knowledge and expertise. In short, I’d like to contribute in any way I can to the betterment of our clients, the First National team and the multi-family industry.
If you’d like to join us in congratulating Daniel on his important career milestone, you can reach him at daniel.bragagnolo @firstnational.ca.