How a Strong Culture of Mentorship Can Widen the Talent Pool
Earlier this year, Blair Ewalt was working as an inside sales home loan advisor at Neat Loans. But what really excited him was marketing.
Several of Ewalt’s family members had made fruitful careers in journalism, and the tangentially related marketing field had always piqued his interest. Months ago, Ewalt took a chance. He put 15 minutes on Jen Farmer’s calendar. As the VP of marketing and inside sales at Neat Loans, Farmer was the person who could make or break this opportunity for Ewalt. When it was time to meet, Ewalt told her about his career interests, and said his skill set — a background in digital media and marketing research — might be better-suited for a marketing role, as opposed to spending his workday on the phone with clients. He wanted to know Farmer’s thoughts. Her response?
“Let’s talk to Philip,” Farmer said, after outlining the “real” picture of what marketing does — not just the fun stuff, but the aggressive metrics to hit as well.
At the time, Phillip McSween was Ewalt’s direct manager, and together, they quickly came up with a solution to start Ewalt’s transition into marketing.
“I encouraged him,” McSween said. “I told him, ‘Let’s make this happen for you sooner rather than later,’ because I’m really big on people being where they want to be.”
Ewalt made the switch in May 2021, rapidly found his footing, and six months later, received a promotion.
This story is emblematic of the culture of growth and development at Neat Loans.
“We really value mentorship and training,” Farmer said.
These values take shape via informal mentorship, as well as formal opportunities like the company’s Jumpstart Program, which seeks out recent college graduates or people looking for a change, and trains them for a new career path in tech.
Built In Colorado sat down with three leaders at the digital mortgage lender who’ve been active participants in mentorship, both as mentors and mentees, to learn how they’ve contributed to a thriving culture of growth at Neat Loans.
What makes Neat Loans’ hiring tactics unique for its industry?
Jen Farmer, VP of marketing and inside sales: Most mortgage companies want to hire experienced people with five to 10 years of experience. At Neat, we have a different philosophy. We often seek people brand new to the industry. For instance, I hired four people who did not have a lot of marketing experience. We were able to train them, mentor them and grow them into roles over the past two years, and now they’re significantly contributing to lead generation and brand awareness. We have a formal mentorship program called the Jumpstart Program — as it literally jumpstarts someone into a new career. But we also do a lot of informal mentoring at Neat. If someone has an interest in a certain area, they can easily talk to a manager or executive on that team and ask for one-on-one training to help grow personally and professionally.
Phillip McSween, inside sales manager: To piggyback off of what Jen said, the Jumpstart Program isn’t just for college students. It’s also for career-driven people who are looking for change. I manage a team of home loan advisors, and the majority of my team came in with zero experience, which is pretty hilarious because I entered the mortgage industry with zero experience as well. So as I was mentored, I passed it down. This team wouldn't have been able to have the success it’s had if not for the experienced people around them providing help to get them to where they need to be. It’s an honor to see this whole mentorship thing play out, and see people flourish as a result of it.
This team wouldn’t have been able to have the success it’s had if not for the experienced people around them providing help to get them to where they need to be.’’
Tell me more about the Jumpstart Program.
Farmer: We started the formal mentorship program in the beginning of 2020. I was one of the people who founded the program, along with our CEO. It was not just for college grads; it was also for people new to the industry who wanted to switch careers, such as service industry workers, former waitresses, barbacks, cooks, people who wanted more of a career versus a job. They’re hired with a salary on day one, and put into a department depending on their interests and skills. For example, maybe they’re put into client coordination roles, marketing roles, finance roles or inside sales. Each person is assigned a mentor. The mentor could be the CEO, Luke Johnson, or myself, or other executives on a specific team. There are regularly scheduled meetings with your mentor throughout the year-long program.
How have you been involved in these formal and informal mentorship programs at Neat Loans?
McSween: In terms of being mentored, the person that's helped me the most here is co-Founder and SVP of Lending Tom Furey. I constantly picked his brain during my first 30 to 60 days. I took what I jokingly call “the Matrix downloaded” course from him. I learned something new every week. As for mentoring, part of my job is to mentor my team into leadership. I don’t want them to wake up in five years and still be in the same spot they were in when they started here, if that’s not what they want. I owe it to my team to get them to where they want to be.
Kelvin Price, director of global operations and innovation: As mentors, we get something out of this, too. We develop leadership skills and gain a personal sense of satisfaction from knowing that we’ve helped somebody. And from the mentee, they can expand their knowledge, skills and gain valuable advice from a more experienced person. It’s symbiotic. We’re both left with the feeling that we’ve contributed, learned and want to do great things for the company.
Why did Neat Loans implement these mentorship programs?
Farmer: One reason was due to growth. Neat Loans had spent the first few years of its existence building an excellent tech product. It wasn’t until 2020 that we really entered growth mode. We had roughly 25 employees when I joined in 2019. Now, we have close to 130. Since we weren’t necessarily hiring people with experience in the industry, we had to make sure we had things like mentorship and training.
Price: These programs also allow team members to join interdisciplinary projects and develop their own ideas for innovation and continuous improvement. A new hire is immediately empowered to think in this manner and collaborate with co-workers. That’s what we do really well here. It’s a great way to introduce someone to the company culture.
Aside from mentorship and growth, what are some other aspects of Neat’s company culture?
Farmer: Trust. We’re not a company that has a lot of silos and micromanagement. I am given trust to do my job, and I give that to my team members as well. I’ve worked at startups and Fortune 500 companies where that’s not always the case.
We also have a fun culture, with activities like ski days, company happy hours and a recent Oktoberfest celebration. But happy hours and ski days only go so far if you’re being micromanaged and you don't have support from the top down.
We’re not a company that has a lot of silos and micromanagement. I am given trust to do my job, and I give that to my team members as well.’’
Price: Micromanagement doesn’t exist at Neat. We focus on understanding the bigger picture, and the ripple effects of our actions and tasks. I always tell my team, “Let’s make the next person or the next team look good by what we are doing.” When we all think that way, we’re setting everyone up for success. That’s the culture at Neat.