First National Financial LP

Ilan Barda celebrates 15 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 Ilan Barda, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing.

Congratulations Ilan. When did you begin your career at First National?

November 15, 2006. I remember because I took a two-week vacation before starting. It was pretty much the first real vacation I’d taken and my daughter was coming up on her first birthday. I also celebrated my 30th birthday a few days after I started.

What did you do prior to First National?

I served as Vice President of Wildwood Capital which was a boutique mortgage brokerage firm. The company’s founder was kind enough to take me under his wing. It was a great way to explore the industry and figure out what kind of career I wanted. Because it was a small shop, I took on different roles. I was the IT guy, I developed the website, and did marketing in addition to origination and underwriting. The focus when I joined Wildwood was the commercial mortgage brokerage market, but over a few years, we began to dabble in residential mortgage brokerage and commercial lending – primarily construction loans but also term debt. Through my experience, I worked with many lenders including First National and realized commercial financing was my passion.

That exposure prompted you to move to First National?

Yes, definitely. I knew it was the place to build a career in lending. I’m not a fortune teller, but I also had a feeling at the time that the construction market was going to suffer a correction and I wanted to join a more established company with a wider product line. That was two years before the 2008 recession, so I was a bit early in my prediction, but ultimately it was right.

How did you get your foot in the door here?

I applied online, did an intake interview with HR and following that I interviewed with Barry Gidney. I told Barry at the time that if he was looking for a right-hand man, I was the guy. Now, he and I are partners and we’ve never looked back.

What was First National like when you joined?

We were primarily a CMHC house. It was an easy transition. We had a small loans program and I had experience with small loans. It was very entrepreneurial, and the Wildwood experience was also entrepreneurial. The enjoyable difference is that I was now on the money side and with a lot more scale and heft behind me. We didn’t have the same cache in the market and with clients then as First National has now, but it was a step change.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen at First National?

We have a much broader product set, but the biggest difference is the team. Team Gidney and Barda is no longer just Barry and myself; we have six professionals working alongside us not to mention over a hundred other people company wide. The year I started, I think all of First National originated $1.3 billion of commercial mortgages. Today, our team alone is originating $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year.

How have your day-to-day responsibilities changed?

Originally my focus was origination while underwriting loans on my own. As we grew our business, I had to manage the deal flow more efficiently. As we added more deals, we needed more people, so I added a staff management component to my job plus we have a lot more organizational depth which creates more interdependencies. We have a fulfilment team we are really excited to have on board, pulling from our top-notch credit/funding/marketing and servicing teams. The entrepreneurial DNA at First National is still alive and well but we have become more process oriented and that’s good. We’re not bank-like corporate, but we are more corporate. That progression is a natural byproduct of growth and sophistication.

It sounds like there is a parallel between your personal growth and First National’s.

Absolutely, I’m matching the sort of quote unquote career development of our company. And that’s important. I don’t think I would have enjoyed working for a company that wasn’t constantly growing and developing.

That’s a good segue to ask why you’ve chosen to stay?

First National has been here every step of the way to help me grow my business and my career, as I needed. When I needed sales support, they hired a sales manager. When I needed to learn how to manage people, they provided a leadership coach. When we needed more lending products, we received more, including very recently a major new conventional product that takes us into the Lifeco/Bank space to address a well-defined client need. When our team started to do more work in Quebec and needed boots on the ground, First National hired a Quebec regional manager. When we wanted to offer more value to our clients, the credit and marketing groups grew to provide us more insights and communications tools.  When we needed to manage a larger account base efficiently, and add analytics, First National built a proprietary CRM system.

Last year, only two other teams originated more business than yours and you were number two in total originations the previous year. Were those your proudest moments?

As a competitive person, revenue is highlighted, but what I’m most proud of is that I have been able to pivot and grow while taking on more responsibilities to adapt as our market changes. I am also very proud to have been able to provide financing in every asset class and with every product we have in our arsenal. The learning, skills development, and creativity that I have honed over the past 15 years are some of my proudest accomplishments.

What’s your advice for those just starting careers at First National?

Be willing to take on assignments outside your comfort zone; it’s the best way to grow and fuel creativity.

After 15 years, what lies ahead?

I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. We’ve positioned ourselves for growth and I am very confident in my future and in our future at First National.

If you’d like to join us in congratulating Ilan on his important career milestone, you can reach him at