Expert Insights: A Customer-First Culture for Modern Lenders with Steve Jacobson

On this episode of Expert Insights, our host Joe Welu is joined by Steve Jacobson, founder and CEO of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, a top 10 nationwide mortgage lender.  

Since founding Fairway more than 25 years ago, Steve has built an organization of more than 10,000 team members in 750 locations around the U.S. Steve has often been recognized for his leadership in advancing the housing industry, and Fairway has been named the No. 1 Best Company to Work For by Mortgage Executive magazine for seven consecutive years. In addition to Fairway, Steve also founded Frisco Lender Services, a residential appraisal firm, and Ignite, a coaching organization that provides mentorship and opportunities for loan originators and other employees. 

In this episode, Steve discusses his motivations for launching his own firm, how he keeps his sales team engaged, and his secrets to cultivating a customer-first culture.

Consistency Closes Deals  

Early in his career, Steve recognized the value of having a consistent method for processing and closing loans. Back then, Steve said it was essential to process a high volume of loans since the amounts were often so small. 

Although he was closing upwards of 30 loans a month, colleagues were closing nearly twice as many, so the volume seemed normal. His key to success? “You have to close smoothly to do a lot of volume.” 

Steve taught himself to be consistent with processes and systems in order to keep the paperwork – and the money – flowing smoothly. If a loan officer can’t control the money, it becomes much more difficult to control the volume of loans that can be processed. This provided Steve with his spark to found Fairway. 

Playing in the “Precious Present”

In college, Steve played basketball for University of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. Bo used to talk about playing in the “precious present,” his phrase for staying rooted in what was happening in the game at that very moment. Steve brought that mindset to Fairway as he worked to establish the company, its processes, and its culture on a daily basis. He credits this discipline, which has been adopted throughout the lender’s 10,000 employees, for the organization’s success. 

“All players want to play. They always want to get better and learn. Ultimately, you’ve got to let them do their thing. We’re going to miss shots, but we’re going to keep shooting,” Steve says of his management style. 

As a leader at Fairway, Steve has learned that when you allow people to run their departments their own way, you often set the team up for success. In most cases, Steve has found success by giving his team the ball and getting out of their way. 

Overcoming Resistance to Change

Steve had two main goals in starting Fairway: He never wanted to have another meeting, and he never wanted to speak in front of a crowd ever again.

But in founding Fairway, he also had the goal of establishing a culture where teams were constantly pushing boundaries and trying new things. There is much better access to information today than even 15 years ago, which provides modern lenders and originators the ability to tap into other sources for inspiration and test out new ideas.

This often means getting out of your own head. The first reaction to a new idea or proposal is often to doubt that it will work. Steve’s advice is to put in the effort, try a new idea, and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised. 

According to Steve, “We don’t live long enough to experience everything; we need to listen to other people and learn from their experiences. It can save you a lot of time.”

For more of Steve Jacobson’s insights, listen to the full Experts Insights episode.