AJ George on Life Lessons, New Perspectives and Innovation

Tom Wilkins of Mortgage Media spoke with AJ George, the Chief Administrative Officer, of CMG Financial in San Ramon, CA, about coming up in a family-owned business, learning the mortgage business from the ground up and how new perspectives shape his views.

George, who began his mortgage banking career with CMG Financial in 2005, gained an impressive background of correspondent wholesale in retail lending, before rising to CAO at CMG, which was founded in 1993 by his father.

But the road to his current position was paved with a lot of hard work. His dad made him and all three of his brothers to have two separate jobs (one in food service and one that required some sort of manual labor in order) to learn some valuable lessons.

He dad always said, “AJ, before you could become a great leader, you have to become a great follower. And what I want you to do is I want you to do to serve.”

For George  that meant working in a deli. 

“So there’s several things that you learn while serving people for food, and what I can tell you, when I worked at this deli, I really got to understand how people are very particular about their food. When they don’t like something they like don’t like it. They don’t not like it just a little bit, they really don’t like it.”

Through this experience, George came to understand how particular people were and what it was like to pay attention to detail,

He also learned what his dad called “The Platinum Rule”.

“The Platinum Rule is do you want to others as others would do unto themselves. And so don’t treat people the way you want to be treated, but treat people the way they wanted to be treated,” he said.

For the manual labor part of the requirement, George and his brothers worked on a ranch his father bought in 2005. George described the ranch as “unlivable.”

“It took a lot of work, about a year, in order to get it up and running, where we had to dig endless trenches of pipe for water, set up a well, set up reverse osmosis system, which basically cleans your water, and several other not fun things to do,” he said. “And what he wanted us to learn from that was what it was like just to genuinely work hard. It didn’t matter what type of education you had, it didn’t matter if you even knew how to read or write, it just mattered that somebody said, “AJ, you’re able to go home after you take that pile of rocks over there and move it over there. That’s it. That’s your entire job.”.

Applying Those Lessons

George said all of those lessons were very important and really reflect the culture of CMG. 

And when it came to learning the family business, he needed to learn it from the ground up in order to understand every aspect and be able to make “valuable decisions”.

“I’ve been in shipping. The jobs that I had in 2005, six, and seven don’t even exist anymore,” he said. “I’ve reviewed endless stacks of title policies, and schedule As and schedule Bs, and having to make sure that the final title policy is right, which is obviously not a very invigorating job, but it’s something that really taught me kind of from the ground up, all the way from being in registration, to dock drawing, to underwriting, to funding, to being a wholesale account executive. I hold my licenses to originate loans still today because I needed to understand what that was like. Even being in accounting, and even in IT support. In 2011 I worked in there. The only place I haven’t really made it to, which they’re probably keeping me out for a reason, is HR.”

Currently, George oversees CMG’s correspondent lending channel, capital markets, and its $7.5 million servicing book. He also started CMG’s broker dealer securities firm, which is another aspect of the company to try and help serve more aspects of mortgage lending and provide more liquidity.

He’s very thankful for the opportunity to work with his brothers, father and other family members, but also found other mentors. He cited Kim Callas  as “a very important part of my life and very instrumental to the growth and development as me, as a … the professional and personal side as well.”

New Perspectives

George’s growth has also seen CMG’s expansion to a national footprint with the three primary origination channels, including correspondent lending, wholesale lending, retail lending and more than 1,600 employees, 

“We’re here to provide liquidity to an industry we love, which is the mortgage industry, and no matter what aspect you are in this industry, we want to make sure we created a platform where you can work with us, because we feel that it’s valuable.” he said. “And it’s also … you know, being a privately held mortgage company, it makes us different we feel, to serve three different channels. It gives us a really well rounded perspective, which I really like.

And when it comes to new perspectives and learning, George is always open.

“Not having ever worked for another mortgage company before, which I don’t … I hope that this is the last job I have for the rest of my life, which I’m planning on it … but not ever working for another mortgage company before, it’s a weakness of mine, right, a lack of experience you could say. And I feel that I’m able to gain some of those experiences that others may have had by having these three different channels, because I get through a lot of other originators across the country, sit in their office, and sit in the president of that company’s office, and learn from them. Right? And that’s given me that experience. And so that’s the area we serve. We plan to expand into other areas of the mortgage industry to help provide a more all encompassing service.”

To further that learning, George attends a variety of mortgage industry conference and while at the first California MBA Innovators Conference, held in San Diego last month, he was particularly interested in learning how other companies are structured.

“A lot of companies, depending on the types of channels of origination you have, are more structured differently,” he said. “I’m very interested in how people implement certain services and technologies, or use them. Because if you have Encompass and if I have Encompass then we may use it in two totally different ways. And so I’m very interested in how people utilize these softwares, and also processes, because I think that that is something that is innovative in and of itself.”

He noted that digesting all those different perspectives lets him to go back to CMG and potentially optimize they way they are doing things. 

“You don’t have to necessarily adopt what company X, Y, and Z does, but you’re seeing it the way they do it and implement it, and just the exposure to that is a new thing for you. A new perspective.”

And attending different conferences offers George a chance to interact with a diverse community of mortgage professionals as well. And the Innovators Conference is an opportunity to hear from the chief technology officers in mortgage and learn from a more conversation-based angle.

“It feels like it’s promoting the task of idea flow..,” he said. “It feels like it’s, hey, you’re here for this type of purpose, which is not just to say, “Hey, yeah, this is how we underwrite a loan” … and there’s only so many ways you can underwrite alone. You can’t really get too creative there. 

Talking about innovation and new ideas are important to George and CMG.

“We’re here to be creative. We’re here to build, we’re here to, we’re here to innovate, no pun intended, but it feels like that. And that is something that I’m very passionate about, as well as my dad and several others at the company.. It’s a pretty big topic here and you’ve got people who can answer those questions in certain aspects, which is really important to the industry.”