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 Simon Verdy, our Montréal-based Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing.
Simon, congratulations on 10 years with First National. Do you remember your start date?
April 19, 2010. Before that, I worked for five years as an analyst for a mortgage broker focused on commercial market financings, purchases and sales. This is where my passion for real estate truly developed. We were working on all types of transactions and all the asset types you could think. Part of my job involved submitting files to a variety of different lenders. Robert St. Pierre, who is now retired from First National, was one of my contacts. Robert founded our office here in Montréal and was looking to grow First National’s presence in Québec. He reached out to offer me an analyst role around 2008 and I declined his offer. Then he came back a few years later and said he was looking to hire an originator. At that point, I said yes and that’s how I came to work at First National. I really wanted to join the team.
Do you still do business with that mortgage broker?
Yes and I still work with the gentleman who originally hired me at the brokerage firm. In fact, I closed a transaction with him very recently. There are a lot of dollars that change hands in the commercial real estate market in Canada and Québec but at the same time it’s a small world and maintaining relationships is critically important.
Why did you want to move?
To grow my career. After multiple years in the brokerage business, I wanted to work at a financial institution. I wanted to learn more about the functioning of mortgages, as well as financial institution processes. I had cultivated a few different job offers or opportunities with different lenders. One of the things that impressed me was that during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, First National continued to lend. They remained very active, very proactive in fact, when other lenders pulled back. Through that period, they developed a reputation of being a dynamic institution that really wanted to do business in Québec. They were also doing a lot of business in multi-residential, which I consider the best property asset. So the combination of reputation, market focus, willingness to lend through different economic cycles and the fit with the company made me want to be part of the First National team.
Why do you think First National hired you?
I think I had a strong combination of education and experience. I had 5 years of experience in real estate, as well as a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in economics and finance, so my resume was pretty good. Also, at First National, the focus back then was on fit…was I a good fit with the other people in the organization? Michael Williams, our current Regional Vice President, has the same focus today and it’s why there is a family-orientation or friendly feel to our operation. It’s a very different culture than what you see at other large financial institutions.
We don’t have to go through five levels of management to arrive at a decision. Decisions are made close to our clients and it means we get things done faster and more efficiently for them, which I know they appreciate. We’re also an ambitious organization. We’re always trying to be better and we’re always looking to innovate even though we’re number one in the commercial market. I would sum it up this way: we have a small business mentality but the sophistication of a large business which is good because it gives us the ability to outmaneuver our competition and be faster to realize on opportunities.
Are you able to provide more service and value to customers now than you were a decade ago?
Yes. With more than 15 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry, I have a broader experience and a much greater knowledge that allows me to help and understand the needs of my clients. I’ve worked on transactions from $200,000 to over $100 million. I can understand what each client wants from their lender. Also, our product line is much bigger and I’m able to provide a number of different kinds of solutions that weren’t available to me when I started. This makes us more valuable to clients, more versatile and more able to structure more complex and larger transactions.
Has your geographic reach expanded since you started?
Definitely. At first it wasn’t easy to develop business outside Montréal, but as we gained a foothold and built our reputation, it got easier and easier. We’ve done so many multifamily apartment deals now that the First National name is instantly recognized and accepted, whether it’s Sherbrook or Trois-Rivières or Québec City. In the old days, we had to sell First National and then our solution. Now, we just sell our solution. Over the past couple of years, we’ve also benefitted from the fact that the Québec apartment market has really picked up. There is construction everywhere. Throughout the years, I’ve kept on traveling and visiting as many cities as possible to understand in depth about their markets, and to be in a better position to help my clients. My understanding of smaller markets outside of Montreal is now much more extensive.
What about some personal milestones?
15 years in real estate has gone by so quickly. I think about milestones in relation to our clients and our company. On the client side, I could point to the fact that I’ve built a book of about 400 relationships over the past ten years even though I started from scratch on the multi-residential side. But it’s really about the individual relationships I have with clients and what my clients have done that stands out. I started working with clients who had nothing…zero doors…who now have large portfolios featuring thousands of apartments. It’s so rewarding to see them grow with First National’s financing. My clients treat me as an advisor and a friend and that’s what stands out most to me.
Sounds like you and First National have grown.
When I started, we probably did $2.5 billion in originations and we’re likely to do over three times more volume than that this year. That’s not all me, obviously but I was part of that growth and so was my team. I’m also proud to say that I’ve grown as a person and as a manager. I’ve learned a lot and become a much better leader.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
I think I can get to another level in my career at First National and by that I mean be able to serve as an advisor on larger and ever more complex financings. My personal goals are to do what I do better, more intelligently, and to generate more business for our team.
Any final thoughts?
Three or four weeks after I started 10 years ago, we held only one commercial division summit a year and it was basically a round of golf and a dinner. It was a one-day event. Now we have two national gatherings a year, including one that runs three days in total and is jammed with information and presentations. I think that shows you how big we’ve become, how far we’ve evolved and how dynamic and sophisticated our commercial operation has become. When I started at First National, I thought I would be here for five years, now it’s 10 and it’s gone by so quickly it’s almost shocking to me. It’s been a great ride and I look forward to accomplishing more in the future.
If you’d like to join us in congratulating Simon on his important career milestone, you can reach him at email@example.com