Tips from the top

We were surprised at how much of what inspires the industry's most recognisable faces originated from outside of the board room.

Some of best business advice they picked up along the way is hard nosed, as you would expect, but other of it came from more simple walks of everyday life. 

Yet no matter its source, what is on offer here is a definitive collection of the Australian mortgage industry's most valuable business advice - directly from the horses' mouths.

Gerald Foley, managing director, National Mortgage Brokers

The greatest business advice I've ever come across was when my youngest daughter was five she spent a lot of time in hospital. 
   
Spending sometimes days and nights sitting in the Royal Childrens' Hospital you start to observe the workings going on around you. 
   
What became very clear to me was that every person had clearly allocated roles and responsibilities; they were trained and all performed to an extremely high level. 
   
There was a lot of respect shown from the top doctors through to all the ward staff.  Everyone knew that their role was important and how to do it.  They all also knew that if any of them didn't do their job properly, the results for the patients could be extreme.
   
Now in business, obviously the outcomes of things not going right aren't as serious as in a hospital, but the lesson to learn is to define roles and responsibilities, that all roles are important and everyone needs to execute at a high standard.
   
(Thankfully, she is now a healthy 16 year old loving life!)

James Symond, executive director, Aussie Home Loans 

There are all sorts of excellent pieces of business advice about surrounding yourself with awesome people, being absolutely passionate, communicating effectively and always ensuring that you are a part of change rather than a victim of it. 
   
These are all correct, and appropriate. 
   
However at the end of the day, integrity in business (as in life) for me is the big one. If the people around you trust you, then you can grow to where you want to be. 
   
The opposite is also true. If they don't, you have no chance. 

Kathy Cummings, executive general manager of third party banking, Commonwealth Bank

One of the best pieces of advice I have come across was in Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  
   
I first read this book some years ago and at the time I was dealing with a difficult 16-year old daughter. I found his advice of 'seek first to understand, then to be understood' very useful in dealing with that situation.
   
I also like his circle of influence concept. By separating the things we have no control over we can concentrate on influencing things that lead more powerful and effective leadership. 
   
His win/win philosophy which he sees as a frame of mind - and heart - that constantly seeks out mutual benefit in all interactions is also very appealing.

Garry Driscoll, CEO, Mortgage Ezy

The best advice I ever got was: get the right person on day one and you will reap the rewards. But pick the wrong one, and your problems will be only just beginning.  
   
Everyone says that the greatest asset in your business is your staff. It's true; and they are also the most expensive and the most time consuming. 
   
As with property; where you make your money when you buy, with staff you make your money when you hire.  

Lisa Montgomery, head of marketing and consumer advocacy, Resi Homeloans  

At the age of about six, I heard my father telling my mother: "You have to speculate to accumulate." 
   
It was the first time, but while I was growing up I'd hear him say it heaps more to all of us in the family. 
   
Now, when I look back on my life's so-called milestones I can see how often I have reverted to that simple piece of advice. And, how it has served me to reach the successes I might never have got to without it. 
   
The most profound way that it has impacted my life was when I moved from Newcastle to Sydney to take the job with Resi. At the time, I was really unsure and couldn't make up my mind. I was caught in a comfort zone. Then I remembered my father's words. I did it, and really haven't ever looked back.
      
Peter Hayward, head of distribution and marketing, Citibank Mortgages 

The best advice I ever received came mainly in quotes. These are the ones I still use at various times in my business. I think they sum up beautifully how one acts, works, understands and develops.
  
1. "Whatever you say or do you must be prepared to have it written on the front page of a newspaper"
   
2. "Bite off more than you can chew and chew like hell"
   
3. "Stay close to your competitors as your best referral source is another bank"
   
4. "Work on your strengths if you want to improve.  Work on your weaknesses if you want to be average"
   
5. "Seek first to understand then to be understood"    

Martin Lynch, head of reverse mortgages, RBS Group (Australia)

I assume this will lead to a deluge of things along the line of: work on something you love and are passionate about, and everything will flow. 
    
So, in 23 years of working in financial services my top five are:  

"Don't worry about your staff who wear cardigans; it's the ones with MBA's that will destroy your business." This has been proved true time and time again. 
   
"If a competitor is pinching your worst clients, they will get your best ones in the end." Apparently a dictum that Hewlett Packard held true.

"If you have to go back to the contract, the relationship is dead. If you spend more than a week negotiating the contract, walk away." I wish I had - a few times.
   
"If you don't understand what someone is saying, keep asking questions until you do. Odds are either that they don't understand either or something is badly wrong." Could have saved the sub-prime crisis, this one. But you have to get older to be willing to look stupid.
    
By the way I do agree about working on something that you are passionate about - just remember to be practical and work your butt off, then it has a reasonable chance of happening in the end.
   
Steve Weston, general manager, distribution - broker platforms and lending, Challenger

Funnily, the best business advice I ever received only partly relates to business.
   
Having been involved with competitive sport and now the demands of the fast moving corporate world, one of the key pieces of advice that guides me today is: make sure you look after yourself - and your team members.
   
Many of us spend a lot of time planning for our business but we fail to create a vision of what we should be doing regarding our own health, our wealth, our family life, our happiness and peace of mind. Any one of these things will, if absent, sabotage your business aspirations.
   
Having a balanced life is not just about you, it's about the well being of your team as well. It is possible to take a leadership role and make it okay to live a life beyond work. This will make the team more balanced and less stressed, and the business will benefit.  

Chris Acret, managing director, Smartline 

I had to wrack my brain as most things I think you learn the hard way through experience rather than someone's advice. Then again, maybe that's just me!

There are thousands of pieces of advice that all have their place. Things like: systemise everything and focus on the process, make sure you have the right people in the right roles or question everything. 

I could go on, but the thing that took me ages to learn in business but remains the most useful is: trust your gut instinct. It's almost always right.

Paul Eldridge, CEO, Intellitrain 

The best advice I ever received was that if you're irreplaceable, you're un-promotable.

Many people who start out in business end up buying themselves a job. By that I mean that they work hard and put in long hours. The problem with this is they, in effect, become the business. Without them, the business does not function.  
  
Those who truly succeed in building great businesses are the ones who get it right for it to function efficiently independently of them. They look to replace themselves with systems, technology and people. This enables them to work on the business, not in it. 
   
My first mentor told me I was the best salesman he'd ever seen. But, he said, unless you learn to replace yourself a salesman is all you'll ever be. He was right. As soon as I stopped trying to feed my own ego and looked to actually build my business, I started on the path to growing a business, not just buying myself a job.
  
Steven Ramage, Head of mortgages, Citibank 

Mine came from a very senior executive at a major bank that I was working for.   
   
I was negotiating a contract with a software supplier.  He made it very clear to me that despite the very big size of the bank against the very small size of the supplier, the contract needed to be negotiated on a basis that would be fair to both parties. 
   
The best outcome would be that we would spend six weeks negotiating, and then execute a contract that we would put into a drawer - never to be referred to again.  
   
The most important thing was that the price we were paying enabled the supplier to provide the service we required; otherwise the arrangement would be forever doomed.  
   
He stressed that the relationship between the two parties was much more important than anything contained in the contract.  I have seen on many occasions where a customer has screwed a supplier down on price only to see the entire arrangement turn into a disaster for the customer.  

Paul Gollan, CEO, Australian Mortgage Brokers

Be very careful who you take advice from is my number one rule in business, as it turns out.

Bob Hall, CEO, Sandstone Technology

Seven years ago I was interviewing a bright young consultant to join our company. I asked him what he thought he could add to the business. He said: "If you are going to sell lending systems to banks, you will need to understand lending better than they do." 
   
At that time we were a software company that prided ourselves in being able to produce software quickly and efficiently. We worked with our lender customers and they would tell us what to build. The problem was that each lender was doing things in a different way and this was dragging our product in multiple directions and leading to expensive customisations. I took his advice and started to recruit specialised lending skills into the company, targeting those that were thought leaders in lending transformation. 
   
Having this expertise on board proved transformational. Instead of offering our customers a system that could be heavily customised to handle their existing lending processes, we were now in a position to offer our customers something of substantially higher value: a consultancy-lead program to transform their loan processing. 
   
As a result this new strategy, the company has enjoyed substantial growth, doubling in size to becoming the markets processing systems leader.

Gus Mendez, director and CEO, Loan Services Australia 

When I first started LSA, a successful businessperson whom I considered to be a bit of a mentor said this to me: "Stay focused on the original plan and ignore the noise around you".
   
I have never seen a bad strategic plan or at least one that didn't make some sort of sense, but have seen plenty of examples of bad execution. Mostly, this is due to a loss of focus. 
   
Give me a business with a poor strategic plan with focused execution over a great strategic plan with poor execution any day. 

Joe Sirianni, Director, Smartline 

My dad often told me "The ones that love you most make you cry".

My father was extremely strict and tough on me. As a kid I wondered why, but as I grew older I realised that his guidance and leadership provided me some valuable lessons.  We all know as parents it's often easier to give in to the kids demands to keep the peace, but we should never underestimate the value of tough love.

He also used to pull me close and remind me of this old Italian saying: "Se sei un martello devi martellare! Se sei un chiodo devi ascoltare se srae zitto." 
   
This basically means "When you're a hammer, you hammer! When you're a nail, you shut up".
  
Mark Hewitt, general manager of sales and marketing, AFG 

While working in the bank 20 years ago a very cynical credit manager told me: "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." 
   
When you are young and fresh and full of enthusiasm, every deal that you come across looks good. His advice allowed me to view each opportunity with clear eyes; to sit back and consider whether it is as good as it seems. 
   
Dig around a bit to find all the facts out, rather than accept everything at face value. 

Paul Lahiff, CEO, WD Scott Global 

As a teenager, you are confronted with a range of choices. My father told me at the time to "Always be able to look at yourself in the mirror each morning" to help me make the right decisions - and be able to live with their outcomes. 

John McGrath, CEO, Oxygen Homeloans

Too many businesses start with low expectations and therefore low standards. 
   
Once you've aimed high ask yourself: "What will it take to create the best business on the planet in my space?"
   
Then go and do it.