This isn't the first time local mortgage banker Jeff Douglas has gone against the grain.
When Charlotte-based LendingTree was blooming into a national online loan-exchange service in 2001, Douglas decided to leave his promising job there as an account manager to start his own business.
Today, as the housing and banking industries scale back amid a crippling recession, Douglas is expanding his Charlotte mortgage bank, Wyndham Capital Mortgage Inc., by hiring dozens of lenders and moving to a larger office space.
"We're emerging from the turmoil really strong," says Douglas, the company's chief executive. "We're on our way to a very strong year, if not our best ever."
By May 2009, Douglas has expanded his staff to 68 from about 40. His goal is to employ 100 loan officers and support personnel by year end. And he recently added two vice presidents to help shape the expanding firm, former EquiFirst executives Rob Zinger and Dione Thompson.
"Now is the perfect time for a business to grow," says Zinger, senior vice president of sales. "The sun, moon and stars are aligned."
Wyndham's business model is built on referrals and online leads. Douglas used his LendingTree experience to turn his company into a top-20 lender on the popular LendingTree.com Web site. But unlike some brokers that use online leads, Wyndham is a mortgage bank that holds most of the loans it makes instead of selling them to larger banks.
Wyndham is privately held and doesn't disclose financial details. But previous Charlotte Business Journal research shows the company closed 918 loans worth more than 8 million in 2007.
Douglas, like many of his competitors, is benefitting right now from historically low interest rates and a strong demand for refinancing. He says Wyndham's month-to-month financial performance is up more than 50%.
But he says he's positioning the company to keep growing after the refi wave subsides. Interest rates are expected to rise in the near future to compensate for inflation. And Douglas says he's taking steps to diversify the company.
Wyndham is licensed to lend in 14 states, and Douglas plans to add several more states each year. He's also growing the firm's online network of leads. And he says Wyndham's reputation for customer service has helped it generate about a third of its business from referrals.
"I believe the moves we're making right now will cushion us into an era of rising interest rates," he says. He notes Wyndham recently received a million line of credit to continue growing its lending operations. "The fact that we got that in this market is a testament to our performance."
Rhonda Marcum, executive director of the Mortgage Bankers Association of the Carolinas, says she doesn't comment on specific lenders. But she says it's reasonable for well-positioned mortgage banks to project growth over the next few years, even in a slow economic recovery.
"One thing we know is people will continue to buy homes," Marcum says. "The downturn hasn't done anything to diminish the dream of homeownership."
For now, one priority is to hire top-quality personnel. Douglas says his human-resources team is interviewing candidates each week, trying to find the right people to carry out his growth agenda.
"We're putting out feelers in every corner of the city," he says of Wyndham's recruitment efforts. "We're bringing people in and showing them you can have a fulfilling career outside of the big buildings uptown."