Connecting the Dots Between Good Culture and Good Results: How We Built American Financing

By Damian Maldonado

What’s so good about success if you can’t bring others along for the ride? Making money isn’t the same as making a life. And while anyone can start a business — this is America, all you need is a few dollars and a piece of paper—it’s difficult, thrilling, and even a bit dangerous to build a company that can change lives.

The entrepreneurs I admire most have taken this challenge head on because they know making money is the easy part. They also know it’s just better to lead an enterprise with heart. I feel fortunate to have met Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and author of one of my favorite business books, Delivering Happiness. In the book, Tony says that “the best businesses really are the ones that can combine profits, passion, and purpose.” We’ve worked hard to bring that spirit to American Financing.

What does that look like practically? Let me tell you the story of how we built American Financing into a national mortgage brand by attracting a team of world-class people who care about the customers they serve as much as we care about their well-being. We deliver happiness by fostering it internally. Here’s how.

The Power of Positivity

Anyone studying my background would have bet against American Financing. We were a long shot. I’d grown up poor as one of four siblings parented by a single mother who earned just $30,000 working full-time. We were on food stamps in the good times. (At one point, me, my mom and 3 siblings were homeless and had to live in a shelter for several months.)

Growing up poor makes you prioritize money for basic needs. So, unlike peers my age, I skipped college and went straight to work performing odd jobs. For a while I worked three separate gigs: yard work in the mornings, cashier at K-Mart in the afternoons, and janitorial work in Denver office buildings in the evenings. The long days put food on the table as we clung tight to savings I’d earned marketing fitness memberships. I believed we could use that money as a springboard to greater things.

“Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is to raise your standards,” writes  Tony Robbins in Awaken the Giant Within, his most famous book and one I’d read many times before starting American Financing in 1999. In its pages I’d learned that combining intense curiosity, a positive attitude, and deliberate action was the path to achieving anything. Long odds or not, I believed American Financing would succeed.

I couldn’t help myself; I’d been practicing positive thinking since reading Awaken the Giant Within as a teen. And I’ve been keeping a daily success journal ever since, tracking each and every step along the path to achieving huge goals — like growing American Financing into a national, billion-dollar finance company.

To get there we need team members who are as motivated and positive as I am. We need cheerleaders, which is why we built our headquarters in Aurora, CO to include lots of open space and a common area where we’ve installed stands like you’ll find at a football stadium. There we cheer for each other as much as we cheer for our hometown Denver Broncos. Spontaneous rallies are common and encouraged. Barbecues in the summer and happy hour on Fridays give staff time to get know each other personally so we can cheer on colleagues as they aim for new individual milestones.

And because I know from experience that it’s necessary to blow off steam when working extra hard and long days, we have games, rest areas, refrigerators stocked with food, and a wellness team for employees to get a massage or try yoga. Giving our team the tools to stay positive and happy turns the inevitable grind of working on a difficult case from a chore into a welcome challenge.

Great Business Is When Everyone Wins

Often in business you’ll hear that in order to win somebody else has to lose. I disagree. A good business beats its competitors; a great business changes the market and makes everyone better. We’re building American Financing to be a great business.

Is it for everyone? No. We expect and reward high performance. We expect our mortgage consultants to forge deep, personal bonds with the customers they serve and deliver a memorable experience. And we expect our team be there for each other as friends and family should be. We want American Financing to be a place where people are happy when they show up here and still happy when they leave for the day ready to see family and friends.

Our results haven’t always been perfect, but we doubled in size in 2015 and are up another 50 percent over the past year. In that time, we’ve set company financial records and watched our people achieve their own personal milestones. Gabie and I have lived our dreams too, meeting some of the world’s most interesting people in fascinating places I never thought I’d visit when growing up as a poor Puerto Rican kid in Manhattan — from adventuring with Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island to joining him in biking, swimming and running from the peaks of the Swiss Alps to Mt Etna in Sicily, to touring Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas and meeting Tony Hsieh. I work where and when I need to; the world is our office and travel is part of our lifestyle. All I need is access to a smartphone.

In that sense, you could say it’s been a long, interesting journey — literally and figuratively — since we started American Financing 18 years ago. And yet, in many ways, it still feels like the adventure is just beginning. For Gabie and I, and for everyone who’s on the journey with us.

Damian Maldonado is an American entrepreneur and businessman of Puerto Rican descent, best known as the founder of American Financing Corporation, one of the most successful privately held national mortgage companies in the U.S.

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