Interview: Top producer and the CORE training coach Jen Hernandez
Coaching other mortgage originators helps team leader stay accountable and productive
Before Jennifer Hernandez and The Hernandez Team were funding 200 loans a year, she was crashing from working 12 hour days and eating lunch when most would eat dinner. Now, her team is a well-oiled machine producing $65 million in loan volume, and set up to handle even more.
We knew that Jennifer liked to have fun (this video is proof), but we found out during our interview just how hard she works to lead her team and keep their production from getting stagnant. Here’s what she had to say:
Building a mortgage team
What is your background in the industry? How did ‘The Hernandez Team’ come to be?
The Hernandez Team started unofficially in 2003 when I made my first assistant hire, my brother. I’ve been originating since 1995, so I already had quite a few years in the business running solo. I just couldn’t take it anymore, I was a new mom and working 12 hours a day, or who knows how long, and I was crashing. I recruited my brother, who had been living in Tennessee at the time after college. For 6 years by ourselves our structure and process was: whoever gets to it first. We did a great job, we always called people back and we always worked whenever we needed to, weekends or nights. By calling people back and doing the right thing we just continued to excel and be sought out.
I was probably very much influenced by the CORE imploding into my life by accident. You don’t ask for these things, the universe just sort of provides. In 2009 I was introduced to the CORE training and its teachings and I just embraced hiring a second person, because the CORE showed me what that second person would do. I never got a second assistant because I never knew what they would do. My mindset had been, “I have to do all of these things, I’m the only one who can do all of this stuff, nobody else can do it like me”. I was just too busy to think about it. I didn’t even have time to eat lunch, I would eat at 4:00 in the afternoon. So the CORE just gave me the competence and the GPS to be able to envision the structure of who would do what.
My mindset had been, “I have to do all of these things, I’m the only one who can do all of this stuff, nobody else can do it like me”. I was just too busy to think about it.
With that being said, I hired my second official assistant in late 2009, which is when the team really started to blossom. In 2010 I made a couple of more hires. Now the team that supports me, whether thats production support or business development, is 7 people plus I have 3 processors. As far as the 7 person team that directly supports me, there is a personal assistant, my brother Kenny is my team manager, 2 front-end production associates, 2 back-end production associates for the contract to close, and a business development person for relationships and events.
Mortgage office workflow
How does having the team in place change your daily workflow?
The mojo of the mortgage business is the grind and everything is last minute and you’re derailed all the time because you’re always focused on that next, new hot person that needs you right now. But with the team, the beauty is that everything is delegated and has become a well-oiled machine. We’re not perfect by any means, but there’s a very clear structure of “if this, then that”. The flow chart of the life of a loan is very clear and who does what. It allows me to be more in this position that I’m really enjoying of taking a step back so I can lead the team. Kenny manages the team, he’s the one everyone dreads like, uh-oh he’s got a grumpy look on his face. I’m the one that is the good parent, that’s more loving and understanding. I’m not in the details of the file, but I am an expert, let’s be clear. If I had to sit down and process a loan right now if my life depended on it, I would do it perfectly and it would be great. Do I want to do that? No. So, I don’t do all the intricate detail work, because everyone does it so great.
What are your primary responsibilities for the team?
My top 3 duties are: making the phone ring and managing the relationships; leading the team; and meeting the clients for the face-to-face meeting. I’m interrupted, but not with “hey I need a loan and I’m closing in a week and my realtor told me you’re the best person”. So I can now say to my team, “great, you’re going to do it.” I can be the visionary, and I can help, but it’s still exhausting because I have to manage the relationships and go deeper and go more profoundly with the referral partners to show them that I care about them. I need to educate them, educate their teams, I need to help them with tactics to improve their business. It’s not just about buying them coffee and taking them to a play, that’s all the fluffy stuff. But what am I doing to help them grow their business?
It’s not just about buying them coffee and taking them to a play, that’s all the fluffy stuff. But what am I doing to help them grow their business?
You’ve said one of your primary duties is leading the team. How would you describe your leadership style?
It used to be that I would ask the team their opinion, but in the end, I wouldn’t take it and I would do what I wanted to do anyway. The biggest learning lesson for me, and this was early on when I was learning all of this leadership stuff, was when my brother the team manager asked me, “why did you ask us what we thought if you knew the answer anyway?” I was like, “uhhh I don’t know, that’s a good one, I’m not really sure.” There comes a point where you’re in it together, you know? You can lead in all kinds of different ways. Where the culture really starts to become genuine and authentic and it takes up a mind of its own is when you truly start involving the group in the decision-making.
I’m telling you it’s exhausting, but it’s the only way to do it and it’s a lot of work. It’s never-ending. I would never have been able to even concentrate on it, honestly, if it wasn’t for the CORE. They’re taking really good, top producers and really making them focus on the right things. You can have high production, and be a complete loan monster, but if you have no culture and it’s not fun and you’re just kind of grinding at it, you’re going to have high turnover, everyone’s grumpy and it’s going to reflect in how you are with your clients. It permeates through everything that you do.
How do you go about promoting the work environment that you want?
The culture part is exhausting, but it’s fun too. I’ve taken a step back and now I can focus on the little things. Leaving them little love messages on their voicemails at night so they get them in the morning, like maybe every six weeks. Or, writing a note to their spouse saying: “We’re so happy that Jerrie Lynn works here”. I buy snacks in the kitchen so the fridge is stocked with little itty bitty snacks. We do a team outing every month. We do these little “whale of a job awards” and it’s a little whale that you write on when someone on the team does something nice for you. All of these little things are to show them that I care, or that we care about each other, and now I’m able to be more of the visionary because I’m not in that daily grind.
All of these little things are to show them that I care, or that we care about each other, and now I’m able to be more of the visionary because I’m not in that daily grind.
We have a daily team meeting at 10am, we have team power hour every Wednesday at 2pm, and you put these things on the calendar and in the structure, and the team is helping you to follow through with it and everyone is holding each other accountable. Eventually, the culture comes to a point where it’s all clouded and it’s all of us together. It’s really about getting the team to buy-in with everything.
How does the international niche fit in your business?
I’m fluent in Spanish, I studied economics during my junior year in college in Monterey, Mexico at the Institute of Technology there. I met my husband there and we later married, and our household is 50% Spanish because we wanted our kids to learn. As a default, I definitely don’t drive that business, but I do market it. It’s maybe 10% of my business, and it’s very helpful that I get business I wouldn’t normally get. Agents know that I’m the bi-lingual loan officer and there’s not a lot of good bi-lingual people out there.
At Legacy, we have a niche product that not a lot of people have where we can finance people that actually live and work in another country. They can live and work in Mexico or Nigeria or whatever. As I said, it’s not a huge part of our business so when it comes it’s fine, but it does really help me be able to help people that I would normally have to turn away because of the language barrier. I have 2 bi-lingual people on my team both on the front end and the back end because it is important and it’s something I know that we need. We actually just brought on a big realtor account where they’re going to have a lot of Spanish-speaking people. It definitely gives me an edge that is very helpful in this market.
From the CORE training student to the CORE training coach
You attribute a lot of your success to the CORE coming into your life. What did that “implosion” look like?
My first Summit was in November of 2009. I started as a student in January of 2010 for 2 years. You have 4, 6-month semesters. About mid way in, I was approached by Rick Ruby because I was identified as doing all of the work, and exceeding my goals. I guess I was the poster child that semester. They recognize students doing things the way that they say you should because that’s how you’re going to get what you want. They asked me if I was interested in being a coach. I said yes, and I finished the training because you can’t coach until you complete the program. My first coaching semester was July of 2012. I’m now in my fourth year as a coach, and I coach 12 students every 6 months, so 24 students per year.
What has been the difference in your experience from being a student to now a coach?
The more you know, especially as a coach, the more pressure there is. Before, it couldn’t get much worse than where I was so I’m just going to do what they say. Now things are more complex. When you have a bigger team, there are more dynamics. It’s like having 2 kids versus having a dozen. There’s obviously layers of complexity. It’s all been impactful, but I do enjoy and think that what’s kept me going is the responsibility of being a coach.
When you have a bigger team, there are more dynamics. It’s like having 2 kids versus having a dozen. There’s obviously layers of complexity.
If I wasn’t a coach, I wouldn’t say that I would have lost interest, but I might have slacked off more. I have to be more genuine. If I’m telling my students to do something that I’m not doing, it’s hypocritical. It keeps you on your toes more and keeps that drive going. It’s like being on a diet. You’re really gung-ho for a couple of months, but then man you’ve got to take a break. So you lose interest and you hit a plateau. With the CORE, you can’t do that. You cannot, as a coach, you cannot slow down. I’ve had plateaus, I’ve had production plateaus, but it’s based on something personal and we all have that stuff, but my deviations would be larger if I didn’t have the CORE demanding that I get right back on my feet. You can’t slow down, you have to pull your bootstraps up and keep going. Every Thursday you’re coaching people.
Can you give us some insight into your team’s production?
Last year was really a down year for me. I switched companies and bought and sold my own house, so I was all over the place. 2012 was probably my best year and we did about $66M. So last year we had a divot, but we’re back up and this year we’re on pace for about $62-$65 million. We finance about 200 units a year. We have more capacity than that though with the team we have in place, so we’re trying to get to that point.