Take us back to the beginning of your career at First National.
TJ: I joined First National during the 2008 credit crunch. Prior to joining, I was working for a B lender as an Underwriter, then Assistant Manager, then Manager. A recruiter approached me, and shortly after I had an interview with First National. I interviewed with Kathy Lillie, told her my story, and she hired me on the spot. I started as a Team Lead. Making the move from B to A lending was a big transition product wise. I had to learn the role and had three Underwriters reporting to me. Kathy had high expectations, and I gained her trust by showcasing my abilities and knowledge.
What was your first year like?
TJ: My first year was all about learning A lending – more role, First National products and investors. When I started, I had a small team of three Underwriters, three Fulfillment Specialists and two Funders. The Underwriters on my team were fairly seasoned, and I had to work hard to gain trust. I had one Underwriter who was particularly resistant to my leadership. To build our relationship and prove my credibility, I highlighted my experience in the industry (since 1996) and stressed that we were going to be partners that support each other.
What was your “I’m in” moment?
TJ: It was definitely gaining Kathy’s trust. Kathy has a lot of experience and expects a lot from the people who work for her. Once I proved myself, Kathy would confide in me and ask for my opinion and advice. Having her trust was a huge confidence boost for me.
Describe some milestones in your career.
TJ: My team has grown significantly in 15 years. When I started, we were a team of eight. Now we are 24. And we are one of the higher generating teams in the company. I have also participated in special underwriting projects and trained people on my team with those skills.
What stamp have you put on the business?
TJ: Our team generates significant volume, which contributes to the overall success of the branch. We have been one of the top teams for many years. I have also helped to develop junior people that started with me. They have been promoted and grown their careers, contributing to the company’s growth and development. Many started as Funders, progressed to fulfillment and then took on roles in underwriting. I also have people from my team and other teams coming to me for insights and advice on how to approach certain files. I’m happy to be a resource and be able to share my expertise.
What are you most proud of in your career?
TJ: I’m really proud to watch people on my team grow and build rewarding careers. Many of my team members started with me when they were in their 20’s. I’ve watched them grow up – both personally and professionally. I still get calls for references for people who have worked with me during the past 15 years.
Any favourite memories?
TJ: I’ve always enjoyed the daily collaboration with my team members and other managers. Our annual Holiday Party is always lots of fun.
From your experience, how does the First National culture value diversity and elevate the voices and perspectives of all team members?
TJ: It’s just the way things are. Everybody’s voice is heard. Everybody has an important role to play. And everyone’s opinion is always welcome.
What advice would you share with people growing their careers at First National?
TJ: If you want to be in this industry, First National is the best place to grow your career. You’ll work hard. But the effort is worth it. I have someone on my team who started in May 2021 as a Funder. He has already been promoted to Underwriter. If you show initiative, the opportunities are there. And if you’re someone that wants to stay in one role for a long time, that’s ok too. Ask for what you want and work hard for it.
Any final thoughts?
TJ: A big part of my job is approving files. And I will continue to do my part and try to approve as many deals as I can while building strong relationships with my team, colleagues and brokers.