FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Gord Appel
The Real Estate Council of Alberta (RECA) recently went through a legislative and governance overhaul. Each industry sector is now governed by an industry council. The Mortgage Broker Industry Council is chaired by Gord Appel – and I sat down with him recently for a conversation:
The path of life and career, for all of us, starts at birth.
His dad was in the Canadian army, serving at Lahr. Mom was the stay-home kind, raising Gord and two younger brothers. He describes his school days as unfocused, “smart but lazy,” playing guitar, and school band. When he was 16, his family returned to Calgary, where he finished high school at Henry Wise Wood High.
His working life began at a Pizza Hut in Cedarbrae in Calgary – then some zig-zag moves to Ottawa, Halifax, Winnipeg and back to Calgary involved a band, a girl, sales and management jobs at The Bay Home Services, Future Shop – and back to Calgary, he wove his way up the ladder in retail – in pursuit of better jobs, and back to Calgary, and marriage (he and Tanya have been married 18 yrs., and have 2 children), after both got job transfers back to Calgary.
Gord shifted gears, from management at Future Shop to sales management in the car rental industry – Discount Car Rentals, Enterprise … and then, lured by friends in the mortgage industry, he resisted. Cool to the idea at first, he admits to being won over a year, coinciding with the birth of his daughter – he entered the mortgage brokerage industry with Urban Mortgage in 2005. Already a top producer, “we broke up,” and the next stop on the path was at Dominion Lending. Things were going well, the business was great – and, “Then my mom called to tell me she had breast cancer. That was a wake-up call for me – caused me to re-examine my priorities”.
Then came the recruiting began, a move to The Mortgage Group in 2010 – as VP and broker of record. “It was advertised. It was very, very good.” He stepped down in 2019, “To take some time off, to work on my honey-do-list, but the phone was really active.”
After a strong run, hard work, and the needs and demands of his family, “I was feeling burned out. My mom died. I needed to make the right thing the most important thing. Lots of friends and colleagues urging me to come back or join another firm. I told them all to stop calling, to give me time to re-charge. The only one who respected that was Gord Ross from Axiom. He said he would wait for me to call him”.
And he did.
A re-organization of 14-yr. old, Axiom resulted in Gord Appel and Gord Ross becoming 50/50 partners in Axiom in September 2019. They have 198 mortgage brokers under their umbrella in 68 communities, with a strong presence in Alberta and growing fast in Ontario.
Why are you successful? “Because, more than anything, of a lesson that my mom taught me, “If someone else can do something, you can too.” There is nothing preventing me from doing something if I have the desire. I’ve always felt supported by both of my parents and by my wife – that has been very important.
What has held you back? “Lack of confidence from time to time. I’ve talked myself out of a lot of things.”
How do you see your business – a primarily residential mortgage brokerage business – going forward over the next quarter?
… our business is tremendous – going very well notwithstanding the pandemic. Our December was the best in eight years. Indications so far suggest our 1st qtr. 2021 will be the best in many years. Our focus and the reason for those results is two-fold – increased productivity and wider distribution. We don’t need a house-sale to do a transaction (a lot of our business is refinancing) – because relationships are the key to our ongoing business.
And over the next five years?
… from a transactional perspective, using technology to move the client experience toward expediting transactions and virtual provision and review of documentation. From a lender’s perspective, they will be more focused on their holistic relationship with the customer than just on a mortgage transaction. There will be a lot of fast-moving parts, an evolving role for regulators of all financial services.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… for me, these decisions are very much about character. People who are referred to me, people who ask the tough questions – who care about what I/we need. Quality means you care. The most important things are results.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Gord Appel and Axiom, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you over your competitors?
… I think people want to work with us, work with me, because they know I will help them – that I care, because I do.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… with, technically, 120 direct reports – it has to be flat and well organized. I’m hands-on and accessible. I run a sales meeting EVERY week. I think most of our people would see and describe me as engaged and caring with a good balance – giving them the freedom and support they need.
… I laugh at that one!
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… business, of course! Where is it going? Our industry is changing – how do we stay current and create value.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… three stand out – when my daughter was born, I wanted to spend time … but I was working 60-70 hours a week, and I realized I had to refocus on what was most important. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer – the family’s reluctance to tell me because I was too busy, was a wake-up call. And when my mom died, that was another time to take a look at my life and to re-examine my priorities. These events made me realize these are opportunities money can never provide. I’ve tried to make sure my actions are in line with my priorities.
… walking lots with my wife – skiing, snow showing, kayaking, biking – and (when we can) we love to travel.
What do you read?
… I don’t read a lot – but I listen to a lot of things on Audible, professional development things mostly. Right now I’m really enjoying Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins.
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