About Kurt Reisig
As chairman of American Pacific Mortgage, Kurt has led the company since its inception and through its steady, strategic growth over the last 25 years. In 2020, APM was named one of the largest independent mortgage banks in the country. Under Kurt's chairmanship, APM moved from an independently owned company to become partially employee-owned—giving shares of the company back to APM employees and further enhancing the dynamic company culture he played an active role in building.
In this episode, Steve and Kurt Reisig discuss:
- Celebrating life and showing up as a leader
- The hard part of keeping your values
- Communicating your values with your team
- Tips to follow to experience success in your career
- Celebrate life and celebrate growth, both in your life and in the lives of others. Make it a point to show up as the best leader that you can possibly be.
- Looking up fancy words to add to your values statement is the easy part; living it out is what will separate the successful companies from those that are not.
- Communicate with your people how important it is to be impeccable in your service and keep your commitments.
- Be a student of your business, know your craft and strive to be an expert. Identify good mentors, observe people that do great things that you’d like to imitate. Strive to consistently put out quality work or quality service.
“Values become tools that we're able to use to help us make difficult decisions.” – Kurt Reisig
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Kurt Reisig: Never Retire From Growth
I have a guest that I am particularly thrilled to have with me. I can't wait to introduce him and get to hear a little bit of his story and what he's all about. Without further ado, Kurt Reisig, say hi to the Insight Interview world.
I'm Kurt Reisig and I'm thrilled to be sitting here talking to Steve here. I'm looking forward to our conversation.
As I mentioned to you before we got on, I have a list of questions for you. Sometimes we get into it right away, and then I will pause and ask you to tell us a little bit about you, so I'm not just reading your bio or anything like that. I want to hear from you. Before we get going, we do have a little bit of a tradition, if you want to call it that. Our tradition is that we like to ask our guests and I'm going to ask you this. I want to know as you come into this and we won't even timestamp it or anything like that, but on this day, what are you grateful for?
Every day, I'm contemplating what I'm grateful for. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be sitting here at my kitchen table, looking out at the mountains across the city of Boise, Idaho, where I just finished a mountain bike ride right before I jumped on this with you. I'm grateful for all the opportunities that this interesting time in our business and our economy is going to present to us. I'm grateful that I had the experience and the wisdom to know that this cycle is one of many that I have been through over the many years in the business and that this too will pass. There will be great opportunities on the other side. That has been on my mind a lot, especially now.
I have a coach who has asked me the question. He says, “What are you grateful for today that you weren't necessarily grateful for when it was happening?” We look back at maybe more difficult times and here you are saying you are grateful right now because there are opportunities ahead. Do I have that right?
Absolutely. Sometimes it's hard to discern when we are in the middle of these things. I have been through all the big transitions in markets. I have been through over 36 years in the mortgage business and through another six years in my prior career. I have been through many booms and busts and they always come to a conclusion, and then there are always a fresh slate and a new opportunity on the other side. As you and I have spoken about before, that's a paramount thought to keep one's mind. On one hand, do what's necessary to navigate, while on the other hand, and keep a keen eye on the horizon for the blessings and opportunities that change will bring. It always does.
That's a wonderful kickoff. Before I get into my other questions, I like to have my guests tell us about themselves. I know that's not always the most comfortable thing but for me, it feels a little better than me reading off a bio of all you've been. I'm going to ask you, if you wouldn't mind, to give us the reader's digest. Take a couple of minutes. I know it's probably hours long, but how would you synthesize the life and times and work of Kurt Reisig? Would you mind doing that for us?
Not at all. We'll see if I can summarize that. I was born in the Midwest. I grew up in Northern California, a little farm town called Gilroy, California. I like to describe my childhood growing up in Mayberry, a great small town. I had a great life. It was a farm town. I worked in agriculture. I bopped around to 3 or 4 different colleges in Northern California before I finally got serious and landed at UC Davis to study Economics and Agriculture. I got a degree in Economics in 1979. In the winter of 1980, I took my first job with Shell Oil and moved to Houston, Texas. The first six years of my career working for Shell Oil were when I experienced my first boom-bust cycle.
The oil industry went bust in the late-'70s and early-'80s. I could talk more about all the booms and busts in the real estate cycle. My 42 years of work have brought many ups and downs. I had spent six years working as a petroleum landman, which involved going out and negotiating oil and gas leases with farmers and ranchers to give our oil company the opportunity to drill on their property.
Values become tools that we're able to use to help us make difficult decisions.
I like to say that it was my first original experience with cold calling because literally, I drive up in a rented pickup truck to a rancher's door through rain, storm or blizzard. I would knock on that door and have a discussion with them about their oil and gas rights, which they usually knew nothing about. It was a great job, but after six years of living in Houston, Texas, I made my way back to Northern California, Sacramento in particular, where I began looking for a job.
One day I walked into a bank and applied for a job as a mortgage loan officer, which at the time, I had no idea what that was. My education and experience apparently qualified me adequately and they offered me the job on the spot. I remember leaving the bank that day, considering the opportunity. I called my dad, who was a sage real estate investor and said, “I got offered this job as a mortgage loan officer. What do you think?” He said, “Any idiot can do that. You'll do great, son.” With that blessing, I took the job.
It took me about six months to figure out that I wasn't a great fit for a bank-type mortgage company, and I left that bank after six months and joined a small independent mortgage banking company called Central Pacific Mortgage in Northern California. I was blessed once again with some incredible mentors who taught me quite so much about the business, so much so that after four years, I ventured off on my own again and started my own company called Big Valley Mortgage. This was in 1990 in Roseville, California. I've launched off into my own business building, my own production business, and my own branch.
After about six years of working for Central Pacific Mortgage, I decided that it was time for me to take the next step, which was to create my own company. From there, we formed American Pacific Mortgage, which is the company that I have the privilege of still being a part of and running now. We are going from those humble beginnings with one branch and a couple of dozens of us to 250 branches and about 3,500 of us. There are lots of stories in between there, including the ups and downs, the twists and turns, and many changes in the markets and the economy.
On the other note, the other side of my life. I was married. I had four kids. They are all grown. One of my sons is jumping on a plane going to Germany to go explore. It’s celebrating life and celebrating my son's growing older and going off on his own. My 92-year-old mother is exploring her world as well. Meanwhile, I am trying to show up as the best leader I can possibly be every day, and that's one other aspect of my journey every day.
This is why I never get to any of my questions because I have so many questions. Great job. There were some pivotal moments in there. You are still at American Pacific Mortgage, which is great, but Big Valley Mortgage, Central Pacific Mortgage, and even back to the oil and gas business. When you look back at some of those transitions, and I don't want the whole thing to be about this because we can go down a bunch of rabbit paths here, but what gave you the courage? A lot of us don't have the courage to jump off and go and do this thing. When you look back at some of the changes that you've made, how do you view them now? How would you speak about the courage to go and create and grow and do what you've done?
The truth is, I would like to take more credit for it, but I was blessed by the environment I grew up in. My father was a serial entrepreneur. He was truly fearless. It wasn't until I got much older that I realized that having a dad that bought and sold companies and changed jobs every other month or probably about every six months or a year was not normal.
I grew up in an environment where taking risks and agitating for change were normal. Over the course of my career, when I saw an opportunity to pursue something that inspired me more or perhaps I saw a greater purpose in what I wanted to do, I never had to pause about if I was going to do it. There's always frequently a timing aspect to it when I was going to do it.
For example, I began to develop a philosophy around my company, American Pacific Mortgage, in the '90s as I was experienced working for several other companies and observed how they lived out their values or lack of them, and also had my experience working for a massive oil company through a very disruptive period.
I knew early on that if I was going to build a company and wanted to build a company that would be known for its values that would be known for its humanity and to do so at scale. Meaning that to be big enough that the fact that we did that mattered. That was the vision I had for my company in 1994. It took two years before everything was right to launch it.
Company Values: Keep one's mind doing what's necessary to navigate while keeping a keen eye on the horizon for blessings, opportunities, and change.
That wasn't me twiddling my thumbs saying, “Is it the right time?” It was setting up the company. Pulling the capital together, creating the plan and all those things. Sometimes it takes a while to launch a great plan. There are times when I take that measure and create a plan. There are other times when I can be pretty compulsive as well. I had done a little bit of both over my career.
We have heard this from a thinker about having values, but it seems pivotal for you. Not just having values. I liked what you said about living them out. A lot of companies have values, but the question is, did they live them out? I would love to hear your thoughts about what it means to have values and still be the chairman of this company. How do you live out your values? How does that happen? Give us a taste of that.
When we started our company, we created a set of values and there were eight of them or might have been nine of them. We were young and new. We thought you were supposed to have these values. You come up with these cool-sounding words like life balance, innovation, and a number of other things. We put it up on a wall along with our mission statement.
For a fair number of years, we went along like that. Later on, we had a period of time during the big recession or the mortgage meltdown where we were tested. Coming out of the other side of that, I took the company through an exercise to take a hard look at our values. The first thing we discovered is nobody who worked in the company, not a single person, knew what all of our values were. Secondarily, nobody knew what they meant. There were individual opinions across the entire spectrum of what they meant.
We took the time to pause and say, "Let's get clear about that." It was helpful because we had come through a rough period of time. It was an opportunity for us to harken back on the things that were most important to us as far as our identity. How we aspired to show up for our people, with our stakeholders, with the people that were our counterparties, and what were the things that were most important to us.
We ultimately arrived through a very extensive process involving people across a broad spectrum of the company and arriving at our values, which in our case for a company are respect, transparency and scrappy. The way we live out our values is we filter all of our decisions through those values. We take time to pause and sometimes, everybody has moments. We all have our moments when we are a bit unconscious and impulsive.
When we are operating in the right frame of mind, we are filtering the important decisions and even some of the less important decisions of our company through our values. Do they match up with our values? The values become tools that we are able to use to help us make difficult decisions. That's how we deploy. That's how we use our values.
We are now going through another little challenging time here. I don't mean to put you on the spot, but maybe I do mean to put you on the spot. The values that you created and then recreated and did that exercise and went through it, how important are those to American Pacific Mortgage?
They are every bit as important. They were in every period of time for the company, difficult or positive, even when we were riding high in the hog. As a company, we still have to go back and our values anchor us. As we look at a difficult environment like now, they become as important as they were back during the meltdown. Take scrappy as an example. For us, it means resourceful. It means not wasting the precious resources we have. It means doing the right thing for the right reason. You need a lot of that right now in this type of environment where there are difficult decisions to make.
One of the things that we talk about as a company when we are talking to our people about saving costs is we translate everything into jobs. If we save $10,000 by dropping some tool or something that we are doing, that translates into 1 or 2 jobs. We translate everything into how many jobs this prospectively impacts if we don't do this anymore. That’s an example of how we use scrappy.
Become a student of your business. Understand the business. Learn about the business.
Transparency is another one. We are not immune to having to make some staffing cuts at our company. Many companies have. We began to project the likelihood that this would take place 6 to 8 months ago. Long before any of it took place, we began to warn our employees, “We see the good possibility of this coming. Be prudent with your financials and save money. Think twice about buying that new car or that new house.” It's always a bit of a danger when you do that. Some people don't take you seriously. Some people accuse management of being too chicken-little-ish.
For us, we believe that people are entitled to know if something's going on in the industry or the company that is going to affect their jobs. It's an example of transparency. It's also many other things like being straight with our stakeholders, whether they are lenders or investors, and others that we do business with. We have a duty of being transparent about our company, how we are doing, and what our intentions are. That is something we practice every day.
Remind again, how many total employees now.
Right around 3,500 employees.
When you look back and especially when you talked about starting the way you did and getting to where you got, that's pretty cool. I want to talk to you a little bit about that's a lot and that's a great size company. Something I know you are particularly proud of. I want to talk to you about people development. It's cool that you live this out, you know it, and you are talking about it. I have met some of the other leaders in your company and they do too. How do you go about cascading the sentiment and the actions of those values throughout the company? What's the mechanism? How do you do that?
I can't say that we have mastered that. We do a lot of things. First of all, we talk about them incessantly in our management meetings and strategic planning. There is always a segment or a sidebar. A significant portion of our time, we take to go back and ground ourselves in those values. In the leadership training that we deliver to our management and our staff, we do the same thing. They are spoken to there. We translate what it means to our values and action.
We have a variety of forums. We have a monthly manager huddle, where we pull all the management together and there's a thematic message that is being communicated to folks about our values and their market position and key things like that are woven into that part of the job. We hold them accountable for this. Managers are then required to take those messages and communicate them directly to the people.
There are people who get similar messages directly from us, meaning the senior executive management is talking to rank and file about things that we see. We have a more in-depth discussion with management and junior leaders in the company, in which we ask them specifically, “Take this information and make sure it gets cascaded down throughout the company.” There's a variety of things like that that we do. I would never claim to feel successful about it. Every day, there's a reminder that somewhere in there, there's a piece of synapse that's not fired.
We are still dealing with human beings after all.
Exactly. Every single strategic planning I can ever remember, communication and finding new and innovative ways to improve communication, we always make it one of our key initiatives and find ways to get information to people and have it resonate and have it reflected in the position of the company. That's another thing. Many people have seen that Norman Rockwell picture you painted. It's a whole series of faces and it's the top. It's somebody telling somebody something. By the time you get to the bottom, the message is completely different.
Company Values: If I was going to build a company, I wanted to build a company that would be known for its values, that would be known for its humanity, and to do so at scale.
The telephone game.
That's one of the challenges you have, which is never intentional. It's because based on people's styles and other nuances of personality types, people hear and then communicate things differently. What comes out of my mouth on Friday could land on Monday with somebody barely resembling what has been set. That's a perennial problem that any organization that is composed of human beings has and it’s hard to combat it.
I don't want you to feel you have to divulge anything you don't feel like it, but since there's a theme to maybe your monthly things, what have been some of the themes to the messaging?
The themes are around the changes in the industry and the ramifications for the company and the people working for the company. I shared with you that we are transparent, so we were transparent about the impact of the declining volumes and what they are going to mean, or the margin compression and what that's going to mean.
Our themes have been, "We have a strategy. We are executing that strategy. It's going well, but we still need your help." We still need more awareness around the ways that we can manage our costs, and of the utmost importance, we have to take care of our customers. Regardless of whatever challenges we might be dealing with inside our group of people, our customers, which for our company are our branch managers and our loan officers.
It's our company philosophy that they are their own challenges. Our issues are our issues. At the end of the day, they need us to take care of them. We need to do everything we can to make them look good in the eyes of their consumers, real estate agents or referral partners. Whatever our challenges are, they don't need to know those things. Communicating with our people about how important it is to be impeccable with our service and keeping our commitments has been an ongoing theme for us.
When you and I first encountered one another, I can tell a little story here that we were in Phoenix. Were we in Phoenix when I saw you?
I was doing a class on something. What I found interesting about you, and I like for you to speak to this a little bit, but we often speak about a growth mindset or what it means to grow. After that class, you would walk up to me and you would have this note pad and you were taking notes and asking questions. I walked out of that and I go, “This is a guy that clearly has got a ton of experience under his belt, and yet here he was in the front row taking notes and going, ‘I'm looking for a new way to do it and a new way to grow and learn.’”
For all of your experiences and as long as you've been in this and the ups and the downs, I found it fascinating how interested you were in a new approach, new look, and growth. I might be wrong about that. I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but I'm curious when you think about a growth mindset, how important is that to you personally? Do you get to cascade that out and live that down throughout the company as well?
Your success is going to be directly related to the quality of the effort you put in and the quantity of effort.
It's probably the most important thing to me. Business is going to go up and down. My career may continue. I'm reaching a stage in my life where the longest leg of my career is behind me, not in front of me. Yet, I haven't lost my drive and aspiration to build and grow. At this stage of my life, I'm as interested, if even more so than I have ever been, in continuing to be the best version of myself or even to recreate whatever the version of myself is. I have been a person who has been focused on reading about personal growth. I understand myself well enough to know that periodically, I need to add a new tool to my tool belt, a different perspective of how to look at myself or how to approach my desire to become more aware and mindful.
Even if I were to retire in a year, which I don't think that's going to happen, I would never retire from my pursuit of personal growth. As far as cascading that, I'm very transparent about it. People that know me or have heard me speak over the years or have worked for me know that I'm passionate about growth.
I'm a spiritual man. Not necessarily a religious man. Not that I have anything against that. I don't have any problem sharing that openly with people. I'm probably better or at least I'm aspiring to be better at modeling it than I am necessarily to force it on people. Job growth and things you need to know to do your job better, absolutely. I have a belief that you can't force people into spiritual growth. As the saying says, “Give them the water but you can't make them drink it.”
Believe it or not, these things go so quickly and I have got so many more questions for you. I'm totally making this up. I don't know your son, but he comes to you and says, “I want to get in the business. I want to be in the mortgage business.” It could be your nephew or somebody close to you who comes and says, "I want to get into this business." It's the middle of 2022 and we are in whatever season we are in.
You probably have a list of things. You've spoken and written about them. You've got a lot of things. What are the three things that you would say if you want to be great in this business, “Here would be my top three things?” It might matter what side of the business they want to get on and all of that. You are such a great learner. What sticks out to you like, “Here are three things that are absolute musts in terms of being successful in this business.”
The three things I would say is to become a student of your business. Understand the business and learn about the business. We are in the business of money, which has to do with the economy and interest rates. Part of how we win in this business is building trust with people. When we have knowledge about the field that we are in and can communicate intelligently about what's going on with the bottom markets that affect interest rates or the nuances of different loan programs or how to navigate qualifying for different loan programs, that's vital in building confidence with people. Become a student of their own business. Know your craft. It's not just about selling. It's about knowing your craft and building trust.
Number one is to become an ardent student of your business. Number two is to identify and find good mentors. Identify people around you, whether they agree to mentor you specifically or not. It’s not necessary for someone to point to your mentor to be your mentor. You can watch them from a different vantage point, sometimes from afar. A mentor can be somebody you don't like, but their skillsets or the things that they do, or even that they don't do that you want to emulate or very clearly don't want to emulate. Whatever side of that it comes from, they are showing you the path to take or not to take. It's important to be on the lookout for great mentors.
I was a beneficiary of a great mentor. He didn't consider himself my mentor but he was. To this day, I honor him. Along with that, philosophy is to honor your mentors as you go forward. Having success and experiencing success, have the humility to always step back and say, “Because of these people, I have the opportunity to be doing what I'm doing now and doing it well.”
Number three is pretty simple and rudimentary, which is success in this business is all about the quality and the quantity of your effort. Much as we all sometimes think that there are some new technology programs or whatever it might be that creates the shortcut. By and large, there is no shortcut. Your success is going to be directly related to the quality of the effort you put in and the quantity of effort. I say quality, meaning learning and knowing your craft and operating with integrity. All of these things are tied up in the qualitative components of how you show up.
Make no mistake, to experience the success of some of the icons of the industry that you've seen or witnessed, everybody had to put in the hours. There's no way around that. It's important to resolve oneself early on to do that, which is not to say you can't have a successful career. It just depends on how far and how high you want to go.
Company Values: People are entitled to know if something's going on in the industry or the company that will affect their jobs.
You can have an incredible career in an administrative role. Make $50,000 to $100,000 a year. Be home every day at 5:00 or 6:00 at night and you can be a very successful human being. On the other hand, your objective is to be a top producer or a senior executive. Prepare yourself for the role that's going to ask a lot more of you.
I want to go through some of those things. Our little show here is called the Insight Interviews. We are going to publish this thing and there are going to be quite a few downloads. I sometimes wonder if I'm doing them for myself. I got a ton of insights that you've offered here, and I put you on the spot for three. You know I didn't ask you that ahead of time. You whipped them out pretty quickly there, and that's cool.
I get asked that oftentimes, particularly by younger professionals starting a new career. Those are consistently the three things that I tell them. I have had the chance to harken back to my career and the phenomenal good fortune that I have had. There are many things, but distilling it down to what are the things that I did that I felt made the biggest difference towards me. Being in the chair that I enjoy being in, that's it. I worked my ass off. I had incredible mentors and people who taught me many things, and I took notes of those things. I made sure that no one knew the craft better than I did.
I'm going to rename number three, work your ass off. I liked that one. I might not speak about the quality but I liked that one. I'm going to tell them they can't touch that. That's gold right there. We got to jump here fairly quickly. I got one more question for you. As I said, it's not mine to put you on the spot. Where do you grow? Where's an opportunity that you see for yourself where you go, “This is still an area where I have to grow?”
We have talked about this a little bit before. For me, having the luxury of becoming more aware and mindful of my impact on other people and how I could become more mindful about that and impact people in more positive ways. I know that I have done that over the years and I have reached a point in my career where having the opportunity to do that is something I have become more cautious about. If I want the swan song, so to speak, it would be to have the opportunity to take some of the things I have learned, slow down, do a better job of sharing them with others, and make some contributions to other people's lives and careers. If I can do that, that's a pretty nice cap. It has been a great career for me.
Awareness and mindfulness, I hate to break this to you. There's no end to that. None of my clients has ever come like, "I'm done with mindfulness and awareness now. We need to do something else." We are always growing in that arena.
Yes, we are.
Our time has come to an end and I look back at this and look at your three things of knowing your craft and identifying. I liked the language of honoring your mentors and emulating them. Even finding ones that you don't even have to like because that's not the point, whether you agree or like it, it's what are you learning and growing there, and then the quantity, quality, and working your ass off, which is great. I loved the concept of never retiring from the pursuit of growth. Those are your words. I'm going to swipe and adapt that and call that my own. That was great.
I love a lot of the risks that you took. We can all learn from that. I love the respect, transparency, and scrappiness and how you guys live that out. There was insight after insight. If you are reading this, having those values and then revisiting them. We didn't get to elaborate on that, but values and mission statements weren't intended to just live on walls as words.
It seems like you've gone out of your way to say, “How do we live those out? How do we then live them out by filtering them through everyday life and our decisions?” I appreciate your honesty. You are not perfect at that. It’s hard to be perfect in a company that large, but it seems like you are leading some people down some cool roads. I got tons of insights here and I'm grateful.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk to you, Steve, and to have anybody care about what I have to say.
You are going to hear more than you know. I say this a lot but I got to have you back. There are some other roads that we get to go down because we are both lifelong learners, and I have a bunch of other questions. I wanted to thank you so much for your time. I'm grateful for you and all of your thoughts and ideas. Thank you.
Thank you. You are welcome.
Every time here on the show, Kurt and I have some insights. To be honest, they don't matter until they become your insights. What insights did you have? Thank you, Kurt, and we'll see you next time here on the show.