Allison, what were you doing before you joined First National?
Straight out of school, I took a variety of temporary reception jobs. I think I went to 17 job interviews in the summer of 2007.
How did you hear about First National and what did you know about the company?
A temp agency referred me. I just jumped at the chance because it was a temp to full-time opportunity, and I wanted a permanent position. In terms of what I’d heard about the company, the honest answer was nothing. It didn’t have a high profile back then.
Did you envision a career in mortgage financing?
No. I thought about being an English teacher. I learned from the ground floor up, which is the advantage of Office Services, where I started. You get to see in each department and meet all the team members.
Do you remember who hired you?
Amy Punzo, who is now Manager of Office Services. We still laugh about that interview because it was so obvious to her how much I wanted to work at First National. The fact that she took a chance on me is incredible. I owe everything to her. She sat me down and explained every aspect of the job. I got such a good vibe from her.
Do you remember your first day?
Yes, I was incredibly nervous and I over-dressed. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember being embarrassed but everyone was so welcoming I got over it quickly.
You spent a year in Office Services. How did you make the leap to Commercial Funding Administrator?
After handling data entry, I wanted a new challenge and asked if I could take on reception duties. That gave me the opportunity to interact with commercial team leaders daily and hear about the ins and outs of commercial funding. Every time a funder would walk past, I would ask questions including, ‘do you need help?’ When a position came up because of a maternity leave, I got a tap on the shoulder.
What does a Funding Administrator do?
I entered deposits from borrowers and provided documentation that the funders needed. Back then, I was a team of one supporting seven funders. It’s a much bigger job now and a way bigger team.
After that, you became a Funder in your own right. What led to that move?
Actually, my title was Junior Funder which was appropriate as I was the youngest member of the team. To move up, I started asking how I could contribute in other ways and that led to new responsibilities including managing progress advances for construction loans. As a result, my world opened up to include interacting with lawyers and other third parties and through those experiences, I demonstrated I was ready to progress.
About three years later, your title changed again to Funding Specialist.
Correct, and with that change I got involved in more complex and bigger deals and the volume of work increased.
How did you find those early experiences?
I was surrounded by people who had years of experience, so it was definitely a learning environment, but learning came through job shadowing and osmosis. Back then, there wasn’t the formal training that’s available today. Today we really train people up and share as much knowledge as we can. From those formative experiences, I noticed a change in my own attitude. It wasn’t just about a job and a pay cheque. It was about building a career and I really put my heart and soul into it.
Just over 2.5 years later, you became a Senior Funding Specialist.
That was the turning point in my career. It meant that new or less experienced funders would turn to me for help and guidance. I was really empowered to take on a mentorship role and it gave me the chance to prove I was an asset to the broader team. I became the go-to trainer, which is what I am now. I still train all our new hires. My job is to make sure they develop all the right habits right out of the gate.
How many people have you trained?
A lot. I can’t even count. During the pandemic alone, over 20 people.
Is Funding a place you can build a career?
Absolutely. The culture here is about growth. Our managers want us to learn and progress so they provide all the tools and support we need. There’s no better department!
Funding is a pressure-filled area.
It is. We keep a lot of balls in the air to make sure everyone is satisfied from the borrower to the investor and with lawyers and insurance companies along the way. Staying on top of due diligence is the name of the game. We work hard but we also play hard.
Where do you see yourself in 15 years?
I’m a lifer. I will celebrate my retirement at First National. I love where I’m at right now. Just recently, I was promoted to Supervisor. I think that’s a result of demonstrating leadership and it shows there is still room for me to grow and advance. People management is a new skill set and I’m really excited about it.
What was your proudest career milestone?
Getting a job in Funding. I knew nothing at the time and was able to keep pace even while I had two children and took maternity leave. Other highlights include the honour of being chosen a “Woman of Inspiration”, being a part of the Commercial Women’s Committee and co-hosting a Speaker Series with Shanise Thorne.
As a woman, what’s it like to work at First National and has it changed?
It’s amazing and it always was. There are some real stars who are just killing it. But it has also changed in the sense that there are a lot more women in the commercial mortgage department than when I started. On a broader industry basis, commercial real estate is still a man’s world but it is changing for the better.
What advice do you have for someone starting out at First National?
Ask a thousand questions and never be afraid to seek out more information from the people you work with. Training is so available here, it’s at your fingertips. Never stop wanting to learn. Take in everything and recognize how lucky you are to be part of it all.
If you’d like to join us in congratulating Allison on her important career milestone, you can reach her at email@example.com.