How Victor Ciardelli stays ahead of fast growth and helps his people thrive under pressure

Victor Ciardelli, president and CEO, Guaranteed Rate Inc.

Victor Ciardelli had become accustomed to fast growth and all of the challenges that come with it: hiring new people, finding new office space, making sure everyone has a working computer and phone line. It’s all part of the deal when your company is taking off.

And then along came 2012.

“This year is when we really exploded,” says Ciardelli, president and CEO of Guaranteed Rate Inc. “We took over multiple companies in the past 24 months. We went from having 30 to 40 offices to now we have 130 offices across the country.”

Revenue jumped from $180 million in 2011 to an anticipated $400 million this year. Ciardelli found himself in charge of a mortgage company that was bursting at the seams with more than 1,500 current employees. Nowhere was the growth more evident than with personnel.

“Hiring is a major, major issue,” Ciardelli says. “The struggle is when you’re hiring at this pace, you have to make sure you can continue to keep up the hiring process. You’ve got to hire quality people that fit your culture. And then once you hire them, another huge struggle is the training process and making sure that you have the on-boarding process working well.”

When you’re hiring 25 new salespeople a month and attempting to train them from scratch, it may not always be easy to stick to your protocols. You want them to get in and get going as quickly as possible because there is plenty of work for everybody to do.

But if you want that fast growth to lead to more fast growth and enduring success, you’ve got to find the time to do it the right way. If you don’t take the time to make sure everyone is meshing and is working for common goals and common objectives, it can all come crashing down in a heap much faster than you think.

Know what you do

Fortunately for Ciardelli, he thrives on pressure and frenetic activity. He loves the fact that Guaranteed Rate is hiring 15 to 20 new people every week and is constantly looking for more space to quickly put them to work.

It’s not just his personality that allows him to stay calm during extended periods of hyper-growth. Ciardelli takes confidence from the fact that he has a plan for his business. He wants Guaranteed Rate to be the best mortgage company in the industry with top loan officers who can provide the best service to customers.

No matter how quickly the business grows, he’s got that plan. From there, it just becomes a matter of making sure everybody he’s bringing on board knows what it is.

“I started my first company when I was 24 years old,” Ciardelli says. “I didn’t know anything about the mortgage business. I was hiring pretty much anybody who would agree to come and work for me. I had to build it up from that and then continue to keep upgrading. It was awfully painful.”

Ciardelli soon learned that prospective employees, at least the ones worth hiring, are interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them. They want to be part of a winning team with a leader who has a clear sense of where he wants to take the business.

“You have to have the right core business principles and you have to build your culture and build your company,” Ciardelli says. “Everything about it has to be about the right thing for your customers. It’s all got to be around excellence in order to be able to attract the right people. If you do not have the right core business, you cannot attract the right people.”

It begins with knowing your customer. You’ve got to know who that is and what it is you’re offering them so that your employees know it when they’re out contacting potential customers on your behalf. If they don’t know that, it’s not going to reflect well on you or your business.

It’s got to be something that your people both can and want to get behind.

“There are numerous businesses that are out there and they are struggling to survive because what their offer is to the customer is not the best,” Ciardelli says. “It doesn’t have the best value proposition for the customer as their competitors and that’s why they are struggling.”

Ciardelli brings up successful companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon as examples of businesses that have clear value propositions and consistently strive to be the best at what they do.

“They are offering the best product and best service to their customer and the best price compared to any of their competitors,” Ciardelli says. “Because they are doing that, the best employees out there want to work with the best. So it’s the whole best of the best philosophy and best of the best model. To try to find employees who are winners, you have to have a winning formula in order to attract winners.”

You take that formula and tout it when you’re talking to people whom you’re interested in hiring. Sell them on what you do and how well you do it and back it up with data that shows you’re not just making it all up.

“You have to sell the company and you have to sell the position,” Ciardelli says.

Know who you want

Hiring obviously is a regular topic of discussion these days at Guaranteed Rate. Ciardelli meets with his managers and department heads regularly to talk about personnel needs and what will need to be done in the month ahead to meet those needs.

“I’ll be in a room with 40 people every other week and we talk through what we need to do,” Ciardelli says. “We talk about volume and how we stay up on it. How many people do we need to hire? Do we have the right management structure? What kind of service are we providing to our employees as well as to our customers?”

With his goal of being the best established as the backdrop, Ciardelli and his team can move forward to identify how many people they need to hire. For him, it’s important that the number be precise.

“We definitely lean toward knowing the specific position we want to fill and then looking for somebody to fill that position,” Ciardelli says. “You’re clear on what you’re being hired for and when you come in, you know exactly what the expectations are.”

Ciardelli says he believes it’s inefficient to simply collect talent and find a place for it later, as some entrepreneurs try to do.

“I just don’t have time to do that,” Ciardelli says.

It really comes down to a matter of time. You can invest much time searching sources for potential candidates to work for you. You could then engage in a series of interviews to learn about the candidates and see who you like and whittle it down to a smaller group before you make your selection.

But when you’re a fast-growing business, do you really have the time to do that? It’s Ciardelli’s belief that you probably don’t, and more importantly, you don’t even need all that time to make a good decision.

“Most good CEOs and department heads can identify a strong candidate within minutes of an interview versus hours of talking to somebody,” Ciardelli says.

It’s an ability that you should be able to find in others on your management team as well so you don’t even have to conduct those interviews. Take the time during those regular meetings to make sure people are clear on what you’re looking for.

Use the same detailed approach to provide information to job candidates. Those who are worthy of being hired will take heed and be ready to deliver what they’re all about in a brief and concise manner.

“They are coming in ready to go and ready to deliver whatever they want to say within the interview,” Ciardelli says.

Help your new people

Guaranteed Rate has about 600 employees in its corporate office, and as was stated earlier, it is adding more than a dozen new people every week. It would be easy for those new people to get lost in the shuffle of those who already know what they’re doing and those still looking to find their place.

It’s for that reason that Ciardelli started a concierge service that provides new employees with a place to go for answers to any questions that they might have.

“Every time there is a new hire, they reach out to them and greet them into the company and make sure they have everything that they need,” Ciardelli says. “They give them an idea of what it’s going to be like when they come in.”

The key to making this kind of system work is having people on the concierge team who are well-connected and know who to contact for answers when there is a problem.

“Those people who are on the on-boarding process know everybody,” Ciardelli says. “So they would just pick up the phone and go, ‘Oh, no problem. Let me call marketing and make sure they take care of that for you. And I’ll make sure they call you and get back to you.’ They’re not necessarily doing the work themselves. They are just making sure that the person is taken care of. From an employee standpoint, it makes them feel better.”

Like everything else, Ciardelli says success in employee integration is all about having a plan and then following through on it. You and your team need to each constantly have that vision in mind of the goal you’re striving to reach and stay in touch about how to reach it.

“Evolution on your management team, building structure and continuing to add people and structure to your management team is absolutely critical to take you from being a small company to a midsized company to larger than a midsized company,” Ciardelli says. “If you don’t have that and you don’t have the managers within your departments that have your cultural beliefs and have your vision and have your back, you need to get rid of them. They are the wrong people.”

Thus far, the numbers would suggest that Ciardelli has made some wise personnel moves. His company continues to grow and he continues to look for more space to put all of the new people.

“What I’d love to do is find one 100,000-square-foot or 150,000-square-foot building where I could move everybody into,” Ciardelli says. “So I am looking for a long-term solution.”

In the meantime, he will continue to rely on his goals and the dedication of his team to reach those goals to keep the company moving up.

“Constant communication with your employees and letting them know about your success and your growth and where you’re going and what your intentions are is so important,” Ciardelli says.

“Communication with your management team and with all your employees and, most importantly, the people really driving your business, your top salespeople or whoever it might be in that company — communication with those individuals is critical so you can withstand bumps and bruises if you have to.” <<

How to reach: Guaranteed Rate Inc., (866) 934-7283 or

The Ciardelli File

Victor Ciardelli, president and CEO, Guaranteed Rate Inc.

Born: Chicago

Education: Majored in business, minored in history, Columbia College, Columbia, Mo.

What was your very first job?

I was a busboy at the Carlisle Banquet Center. You’re carrying out trays of the salads for the servers to serve. You’re cleaning up, busing tables and taking stuff back and forth. A real glamorous job. I was a young kid and wanted to make money at an early age.

Who has been the most influential on your life?

The person that I feel I connect with more so than any CEO is Jack Welch from GE. When I read his books, philosophically we are exactly on the same page. How he manages and how he deals with people connects completely with me.

The other person would be Wayne Huizenga. My dad bought our house from Wayne in Oakbrook, Ill. when Wayne lived out there when he was building Waste Management.

There is a massive influence of Wayne on my life.

The thing that kept resonating with me was seeing what Wayne was able to do from being a garbage man to building not only one massive organization in Waste Management, but then going over and doing it with Blockbuster Video, with Auto Nation USA, with Discovery Zone and all these other businesses. He was definitely an inspiration. I figured if he could do it, why can’t I?

Who would like to meet or have met from the past and why?

My grandfather on my father’s side. I never met him. He was born in Italy, fought for the Italians in World War II. He seemed like an extremely interesting gu, and I would love to have met him and know more about him.


Have a clear plan.

Don’t go to excess interviewing.

Help new people off to a good start.