At Geneva Financial, an emphasis on a particular kind of human factor
Aaron VanTrojen admits he could have picked a better time to start Geneva Financial, which began operating in October 2007.
But the corporate objective he says underpinned the then start-up was one that continues to resonate today: make employees the company's No. 1 client.
In plain terms, the mission involves building a model based on superior loan officer support and compensation and insisting that each employee extend that philosophy of "being good."
"That's our philosophy, be a good human, first and foremost," said VanTrojen. "You can't take advantage of people or put people in bad positions if you're being a good human. It's an impossibility. So you really have to embrace that culture and not just make it a tagline, but a belief and a core belief. And then I don't think you can go wrong."
Which is not to say it doesn't function as a tagline as well. The company's latest t-shirt emphasizes that, stating "Be a Good Human" with a heart, the Earth, a peace sign and a rainbow in the letter "M" driving that message home.
VanTrojen's approach is based on his personal experience in the business. He entered the mortgage industry in 2001 at a small company that "introduced me to what I thought the entire industry was going to be like: we had an exceptionally high pay, great autonomy (and) great customer service."
But after it was sold in 2006 to a larger company, things changed. "I realized that I would never work in that type of bureaucratic environment and I couldn't find a company that I would work for. So I started my own to accommodate people like me, that were good people, high producing, didn't cause problems. It wasn't the best time to start a mortgage bank in October of 2007. But we did it and we survived," said VanTrojen.
Today, Chandler, Ariz.-based Geneva has over 100 branches in 43 states with more than 500 employees.
Part of the company's philosophy is not cutting compensation when times get tough for lenders. Geneva notes it keeps paying its loan officers two-to-three times what others do.
"Most of my competitors adjusted pricing and reduced compensation," said VanTrojen. "We did neither. And we posted the most profitable year to date in 2018 and our originators made, again, two to three times what the national average was."
Mentoring and training, which he conducts at Geneva, include salesmanship skills, another passion for VanTrojen.
"To be a professional salesperson in any industry, first and foremost, you have to care for the consumer, because if you're going to have any longevity in this business, that consumer is going to refer business to you and they are going to be repeat customers," he said. "And the only way they will do that is that you really care about their needs. Not only just their wants but their needs. How you're going to be able to help them.
"Also having the ability as a professional salesperson to say 'no. This is not in your best interest. Even if you may be able to qualify it may not be in your best interests to do so.'"
VanTrojen and his wife Telle, who's Geneva's chief operating officer, extend the be-a-good-human philosophy to their home lives. They have adopted a vegan lifestyle, swapped gas guzzlers for Teslas and are building a solar powered home. And VanTrojen notes, some Geneva employees are taking that message into their own lives, for example, sharing stories and pictures of how they are working to improve the planet and their health.
"My employees … despite their political affiliations, they're loved by us as long as they want to be good people and want to be successful," said VanTrojen. "And if they have those two things in common with us, they will. Probably more so than anybody else in this industry. We're different."