Susan Meitner, 44, was a mortgage industry veteran when she started Maple Glen, Pennsylvania-based Centennial Lending Group. When her two loan originators left before she launched, she reached out to a former colleague, a man she'd wronged years earlier, to help her rescue her vision.
I got into the mortgage industry thanks to a friend of my father's, John Crits, who owned a mortgage company. I worked for John in a variety of capacities from 1992 to 2006, and he was there during all the major milestones of my life: marriage, kids, and divorce.
After I worked my way up to the vice president level, though, I decided to join another firm to get more executive-level experience.
My leaving blew up the bridge between us. John felt I'd stranded him after he had invested so much in training me to be a top producer. I took my sales team and more than $120 million in assets with me; that didn't help. At the time, however, I really didn't understand why he was so upset. We didn't speak for several years after that.
My team moved with me to three mortgage companies. After I built one into a well-oiled machine, the absentee owner decided he wanted to run it himself. That's when my dad said, "Why don't you start your own company?" I liked the idea in principle, but I was like, "Because I have two young kids and little money," but he convinced me that my team and I could do it.
I needed about $2.5 million to start the business, since we fund loans ourselves. My parents, two family friends, and I all invested significant amounts. Even with the money, we still had to jump through tons of regulatory hoops. In May 2010, one of my two salespeople, whom I considered my right hand, told me he wasn't coming with me. Weeks later, my other salesperson--a high school friend--told me she was out. They both went to work for competitors.
In a flash, a big chunk of my expected revenue stream was gone. I had to call my outside investors and tell them I wasn't sure I could sell enough mortgages on my own to make it. To my surprise, they stuck with me. One said, "I invested in you, not the team." That's when we truly took off. We made our first loan in October 2010.
My heart broke when my salespeople didn't come with me. But I finally understood John's reaction four years earlier; I was standing in his shoes. I felt like I had to swallow my pride and make things right with him. We had a drink, and I told him, "Thank you for giving me my career."
Later, when we were looking for a sales manager, John's name came up. He had gotten out of mortgages, but I needed someone who could sell me, and he knew me best. John joined in March 2011, and our company took a huge leap forward. His reputation validated us to clients and helped us go from five to more than 40 staff members. He boosted the firm, and he boosted me.
I've made some mistakes, but I embrace the failures. Now, I try to say thank you every day--to John and to everyone who works with me. For a while, I felt the need to apologize to him all over again. I still like to remind him how important he is to me and my business.
As told to contributing writer Alix Stuart.