Rich Hall Featured

11:31am EDT May 24, 2006
It’s not unusual for Rich Hall to be punching out e-mails to employees at 1 a.m. For Hall, president and CEO of Ace Mortgage Funding LLC, working hard is not only the secret to success, it’s a good way to make sure everyone else is working hard, too.

That kind of work ethic has helped Hall and his partner, Robert Gregory, executive vice president and co-founder, build Ace Mortgage Funding into a 700-employee, $116 million business. The company deals primarily in refinancings, a segment that has taken off as credit card debt has ballooned and consumers who have plowed a large portion of their assets into real estate continue to take advantage of the equity in their property and modest interest rates.

But hard work alone hasn’t been enough. Along the way, Hall has had to learn to hire the right people and to delegate responsibility to them as the company has outgrown his ability to have his hands on everything.

And while Hall believes that leading by example will help the company grow leaders and, in turn, grow the business organically, he’s got his eye out for acquisitions in disciplines related to the mortgage or financial industries.

Smart Business spoke with Hall about the value of communication, leading by example and his copious use of e-mail.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. I have been called an e-mail stalker at times. I frankly communicate daily with everyone via e-mail and usually give a weekly summary of new business and results, as well as a goal of what we are trying to do for the month.

I try to outline the core things to be focused on as well. We set our goals every month versus quarterly or annually, which means every month is a contest to hit goal. We try to communicate any changes or updates to everyone as quickly as we can.

When people know where we are going, they get behind it. It gets down to having winners that want to make it happen, whatever the goal that is set. I think many times, things with companies can get way, way off track before anyone even knows they are off track. Then they don’t even know how they are going to get back to the road. Frequent updates are, in my opinion, the key.

Lead by example. Without question, I try to lead by example, particularly when it comes to being positive and working hard. I think it is very hard to ask people to do things when you are not willing to do them yourself.

Leaders are really leaders when people want to follow them due to seeing how they operate. Probably the biggest thing is work hours and being available. A lot of the times, for the branches — we have offices on the West Coast, and at 8 o’clock there, it’s 11 o’clock here — I’m going to be available and actually putting in the time to be available to solve problems.

What I’ve noticed is the vice presidents that run our branches, they know that they can get ahold of me that late at night, and they’re going to work hard for me when they know that I’m working hard. I just don’t believe that, over a long period of time, people are going to work hard for somebody who’s not going to work hard.

Hire the right people. The principal qualities we look for in people are a positive attitude and high energy level. Did you ever meet a super successful person who is depressed all the time?

We look for people who, historically, have been successful at everything they have done — sports, school, family and other jobs, and people who, in the interview, are not about bashing their former employers but rather talk more about the things that were done right.

Delegate. I’m probably the worst delegator. I’ve had that on my list for improvement a long time, but what we did was we felt a lot more comfortable when we got people into some of those roles.

We watched them very closely at the beginning. The people who run those departments are better at doing it than we were. We were wearing way too many hats at the beginning. When you’ve got 20 employees versus the company we have right now, letting go at those early stages is very hard. But if you do have the right person and monitor them closely at the beginning, until you get comfortable with it — you don’t have to monitor them for a year — but for the first two weeks or a month, just to make sure they’re doing certain major things the way you’d do them, so you know they’re OK.

Frankly, I’m not sure how my business partner, Robert Gregory, and I did all those functions for the first year or two. They and their teams are just better at it than we were. Now, on a daily basis, I’m involved primarily with the big or problem items and how to implement or fix them using the teams that are built up.

Consider multiple growth opportunities. Internally, due to our aggressive growth plans, we are constantly watching our offices to find top-level loan officers that are not only good at production but also at compliance, being positive and product system knowledge.

They have already become leaders within the office and are helping many of the new loan officers excel. Our goal, if it matches with what they want, is to open an office around them.

Externally, we are looking at more deals that match up with the overall financial services concept, including other title company acquisitions.

How to reach: Ace Mortgage Funding LLC,