A trip to Zappos 'Culture Camp' put New American Funding on the path to success

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By cultivating a culture that prioritizes work-life balance, collaboration and respect, New American Funding seeks to nurture meaningful relationships with employees, customers and even vendors.

The Tustin, Calif.-based lender and servicer was founded in 2003 by the husband and wife team of Rick and Patty Arvielo. As it grew, they realized the significance of a strong company culture.

"Coming out of the meltdown, my wife and I decided we wanted to it right, we wanted to make sure we're paying attention to the things that are important to pay attention to. And the topic of culture came up," Rick Arvielo said.

So in 2012, the Arvielos attended Zappos Insights Culture Camp, a three-day leadership seminar produced by the online retailer. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is widely credited for fostering a customer-centric corporate culture. The boot camp offers a first-hand look at the inner workings of Zappos to inspire executives to take what they learn back to their companies. For the Arvielos, that experience led to the creation of what the lender calls NAF360.

"We wanted something that really signified what we were going to hang our hat on and be known for," he said. "The 360 degrees signifies treat everybody you come into contact with dignity and respect. It seems like such an obvious thing. In the mortgage business, we noticed that wasn't always the case."

And it's not just about how fellow employees and customers are treated; New American realized it needed to pay attention to its vendor relationships, too.

"We took it to extremes; we said 'Listen, we don't want you to just treat your fellow employees with dignity and respect, or your borrowers — that's obvious. We want you to treat even our vendors who rely on us for their livelihood, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," Arvielo said. "We actually had incidents where we had to let top producing loan officers go because they treated a vendor horribly. Just to prove the fact we're serious about this."

As part of NAF360, the company has an "ambassador of fun," whose job it is to engage workers in its other locations outside of the headquarters.

Events like "Fun Fridays" have included things like free gourmet coffee and food trucks onsite, along with various contests and even a water balloon fight. "It is something that we work hard at; it just doesn't happen," he said.

But what works for recruiting loan officers is that the company has forward-thinking ideas for technology and marketing, including offering Social For You, a step-by-step multimedia platform for social media engagement. But it can't stop at hiring.

"You need to give [employees] an opportunity to rise up through the ranks, just as would anyone else," he said.

Part of that is a program called, "If you want to grow, we want to know."

"We realized sometimes we would lose a valued associate because they didn't think they had an opportunity to advance here," Arvielo explained.

New American emphasizes recruiting a diverse staff, not just at the sales level, but in management as well. It has 2,963 employees in 185 branches; approximately 58% are women and 40% are minority. Originations are about $900 million monthly, and it services $28 billion.

"This is something that my wife is very passionate about. You need to hire the people that are serving the borrowers that they resonate with," he said.

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