Fast companies tend to have in common the focus on leading with core values in mind. They make their values front and center. Discover why leading with core values is not something you can ignore. Today’s guest is Chris Hurn, Founder, and CEO at Fountainhead Commercial Capital. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1221 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. They made this list three consecutive times. Fountainhead is a nationwide, nonbank commercial lender specializing in helping small to midsize businesses finance their growth. Chris shares why leading with core values is essential for growing companies. We look at how the company operationalizes its values. Learn how leading with core values will change how your company aligns with the work.
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Chris Hurn: The Transcript
About: As the Founder/CEO of Fountainhead Commercial Capital and Fountainhead Small Business Finance, we’re focused on financing owner-occupied commercial real estate nationwide for business owners to help them create wealth via our SBA 504 or conventional loans. They also help them finance business growth through our SBA 7(a) loans, as one of only a handful of licensed SBA 7(a) lenders. As a nonbank, direct, commercial lender specializing in just these three loan products (SBA 504, SBA 7(a), and low LTV (<65%) conventional loans), their business owner clients, and their trusted advisers (our referral sources) choose to work with them because of their speed; sincere service; and our specialized, industry-leading knowledge. They’re entrepreneurs just like the people their finance. If working with the best in an industry is what you want… for all the value that can bring you, for the time and effort saved, for a tremendous customer experience… then look no further. You’ve found your commercial lender.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Chris Hurn: There’s always a little bit of anxiety related to any time anyone, whether you’re an entrepreneur or even a consumer applying for credit, there’s always a bit of anxiety about whether you’ll get approved or not for the amount of money that, that you, that you, applied for and, and frankly, and how long that’s gonna take. And so, we’re, we’re big advocates of trying to get some basic documentation upfront when somebody wants a small business loan from us and actually trying to give them an approval in 24 hours or less. And it’s, it means we have to really be on ours, A-game to do that. We have to get the documentation. We have to analyze it quickly. We have to send the, send the approval letter out fast. And oftentimes when we do that, people are so grateful.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank this is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: Creating a team who makes decisions and really does take ownership of their projects, requires you to do a few things, right. As a leader, one of the things that is often overlooked is to have a set of core values and you must be leading through your core values. Those core values are really guardrails to you creating the kind of place that you want to come to work every day. And then others want to come to work every day. I believe that core values are initially shaped by the founders, but typically they’re picked up by each person that you hire. So if you’re bringing in the right people, they’re taking those core values and they’re really amplifying them. Now, if you bring in the wrong people, you’re going to have hell to pay because of that. I say that jokingly, but it is true. You are going to have a lot of problems. When you bring in people who don’t align with the values of the company. Today, we look at leading through your Core Values.
We have a very special guest today, he is the founder of Fountainhead. They are a commercial loan company, but they’re not a bank. They’ve done a number six in the number of PPV loans. And this last year, with only 35 employees, they had some contractors, but we talked with Chris Hurn about leading through your core value. And he shares with you, his three S’s that really will allow you to understand how he uses them on a daily basis, how he leads to them. Well, how important they are to the organization. I’m not saying you should follow the S’s just for yourself, but you should have values that have this kind of impact and effect. One of the things that’s really interesting is about how the values have really allowed him to attract great talent. You’ll find out the details inside of this episode.
If you’re on a journey to be an extraordinary leader, that we’re here to create content for you and challenge you, and support you in every way we can. If you’re not sure what your next step is, you don’t know what mindset shift is necessary. You don’t know. A strategy you need to focus on or how to spend your time. As you move to a visionary leader and CEO of your company, then make sure you check out the fast growth boardroom. If you want to see if you can apply there, just check it out. If it’s right for you, you’ll fill out the application. We’ll get on the phone. We’ll chat. I will tell you all about it. I will get to know you and I’ll invite you in. If you are a good fit. Because we’re only as good as the people we invite. So this is by invitation only, but when you apply, you get a chance to go straight to the front of the line and see if it’s a fit for you. Just go to fastgrowthboardroom.com. Now here’s the interview with Chris,
Chris, how are you?
Chris Hurn: I’m good. How are you doing Gene?
Gene Hammett: I am great. Excited to have you on the podcast. , still got a lot of space at the top.
Chris Hurn: Sorry.
Gene Hammett: Let’s dive into this. We’re going to be talking about your company, but specifically some of the things you’ve learned along this journey, but let’s look at the company first, tell us about Fountainhead.
Chris Hurn: We’re a national small business lender, and we are a non-bank, which is kind of unusual most, most people that do what we do are depository institutions like a bank or credit union or one of the few non-banks that specialize in small businesses. We actually have a special license from the US government to do what we do.
Gene Hammett: Why did you get in this area?
Chris Hurn: I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, Gene it’s, it’s just, it’s my passion. I like helping other entrepreneurs get the fuel, the capital. They need to continue to grow, to grow smartly, you know, to help restructure their existing, their existing debt and just, I’m a bit of a change agent. So I think it’s, it was an interesting space for me to go into competing against, you know, traditional ordinary banks who tend to be a little slow-moving compared to how. So it’s, it’s just what we like to say. We’re entrepreneurs financing, other entrepreneurs and we’re very passionate about it.
Gene Hammett: Well, I love that. Sure. A lot of people listening in here can appreciate the not working with the red tape of the bank. Is that where’s the red tape. Well, we’re going to dive into some of the things our team does research on every, everybody we have on the show. And you had to talk to Sarah and trying to get an idea of where you really fit into these interviews. You talked about the three S’s were a significant factor to the success of your company. I think we can all learn from these three S’s. So what are those three S’s?
Chris Hurn: We as part of our corporate culture, we call them the three S’s speed service and specialization. I think it’s a big piece of what’s made us, succeed as much as we have over the years.
Gene Hammett: When you say a part of the culture, is that the core values or is it something different?
Chris Hurn: These are three of our core values. I mean, we have more in the news this, but these are, these are three of the top ones and we kind of, you know, day to day we operate this three.
Gene Hammett: I think it’s okay to have favorite values. You may not have favorite children.
Chris Hurn: Correct. Right.
Gene Hammett: You didn’t have favorite values.
Chris Hurn: Yep. For sure. For sure.
Gene Hammett: So let’s walk through this, which you don’t have to say, which one of these is most important, but where do you want to start and kind of unpacking this.
Chris Hurn: Well, I, I usually start with the first, which has speed. , just because that’s so strange for a financial services company to, to focus on speed and it’s, and you have to be careful with it. It’s one of those things you have to balance because obviously, you want to be meticulous if you’re in the financial services industry, and oftentimes. , a lot of my competitors mistake, or I should say trade in meticulousness for speed. And that’s why that tends to be very frustrating for a lot of people. I always liken it to, you know, we live in the Amazon prime economy these days. And so, you know, if you can order your dog food today and get it tomorrow, you probably want your small business loan to be gotten in somewhat of a similar fashion. Can’t probably happen that quickly, but there’s a lot of these pieces that have just traditionally taken so much time that can, that can be accelerated.
Gene Hammett: Give us an idea of what you. If it means the loans.
Chris Hurn: Well, I think there’s, there’s always a little bit of anxiety related to any time anyone, whether you’re an entrepreneur or even a consumer applying for credit, there’s always a bit of anxiety about whether you’ll get approved or not for the amount of money that, that you, that you applied for and frankly, and how long that’s going to take. And so, we’re, we’re big advocates of trying to. So basic documentation upfront when somebody wants a small business loan from us and actually trying to give them approval in 24 hours or less. And, and it’s, it means we have to really be on ours, A-game to do that. We have to get the documentation, we have to analyze it quickly. We have to send the, send the approval in our fast. And oftentimes when we do that, people are so grateful and appreciative that, that the anxiety has been taking out of the equation. I just think it’s something that’s, that’s really benefited us over the years to really focus highly on that and constantly refine it. In fact, I’m on this podcast right now, missing a call with some of my, my key managers who are actually refining the process even further, because we think we can do it even faster. ,
Gene Hammett: I’m glad that they can do it without you.
Chris Hurn: Yeah, well, I’m glad to, but, , I’m a little irritated that they’re carrying it on, but whatever, as I said, I’m, I’m, I’m kind of the catalyst to doing this process and they’re, they’re running with it, which is a good thing as an entrepreneur. It’s a good thing.
Gene Hammett: If I were your coach I can get you to shift that thinking. Because what my clients gave themselves by, you know, how many things they don’t have to be involved with.
Chris Hurn: Right.
Gene Hammett: And I don’t move to yourself themselves. Yeah,
Chris Hurn: no, I don’t really do too, but I just, it’s one of those things that, you know, we’re, we’re coming off having done, you know, almost a 300,000 PPP loans. Last year and a half, and it just worked the back to the regular business and it’s kind of fun to be roll my sleeves up and jump into certain aspects of the regular business again so that’s all.
Gene Hammett: Let’s, where else would we see speed inside your business? I know that’s more, those are things kind of customer-focused, but internally, how are you guys, you know, really rallying around the speed aspect?
Chris Hurn: Well, I mean, during, during the pandemic. We used some certain things that we’d never done before. Like, like Microsoft teams that became a big thing that we worked on in terms of being able to quickly message each other and, and have sort of a, a list of, you know, the typical topics, you know, and what the certain answers four and things, it just became a little more efficient than doing email. And we also used a lot of screen shares, which, because we have, most of us were working from home anyway. , it was just an easier way to sort of bridge that gap of, of training and, you know, transfer of knowledge, which normally. You know, go to somebody’s cubicle or in the conference room or what have you. But, I, I found that sharing someone’s screen was very, very valuable and recording it as well. So we’ve, we use that a lot. It’s really helped us, accelerate a lot of these processes. I mean, we do it, we do a number of things related to this, you know, I gave a lot of people have about 20 different drinks to choose from in the offices. Most of which are the caffeinated cause, you know, I’m, I give them that that is their drug of choice if they want, , just variety of things.
Gene Hammett: I want to give you one more question in the speed aspect. How would we see it in your life? Your, your soul shows up?
Chris Hurn: What’s it say that again?
Gene Hammett: How would we see it in your life and in the house speed shows?
Chris Hurn: Like in personal life? , I mean, I’m, I’m, I’m one of these guys who are sort of always playing a game against myself to see if I can do things faster better, more efficient. So, , I’m, I’m probably horribly time obsessed. , don’t like to waste it at all. So I think that’s, that’s probably a big piece of what, what occurs on a daily basis anytime something seems to drag, it starts to search to irritate me a little bit and I try to try to get through things much quicker.
Gene Hammett: I said there was no more questions, so maybe I’ll come back to this. Okay. Let’s move into the other aspect of this. If this we’re going down the line, let’s go with service. Tell us what we need to know about service.
Chris Hurn: Well, again, financial service industry companies are not exactly known for great customer service. So I feel like all of these things, any time, you know, it’s, it’s an industry norm, it’s probably makes a lot of sense to go against the, the conventional wisdom and, and try to do something that’s 180 degrees where everybody else is. So, you know, high touch service. I mean, it’s been a big piece of what we do. Oftentimes when we’re financing a small business owner, this is the largest purchase of their life. , whether it’s sports real estate or buying another business or buying out their partner or what have you. And so, you know, oftentimes they’ve never done this before and they need a little handholding and, and, , it can be very frustrating. I’ve heard horror stories from, from dealing with her, their bank, for instance. And so we just, we just try to go the extra mile. , we like to think that we’re hyper-responsive. Now there’s a downside to that as well. And we found that out during PPP, where we tried to be hyper-responsive, like usual, and we were just daily rushed.
And we finally decided we had to go a different way because it wasn’t a normal time. And so we couldn’t operate like we do normally.
Gene Hammett: When you set up this as this, you know, going to opposite of what the industry average is and whatnot, did you set benchmarks to how you want to. To really create the service through your company and be known for,
Chris Hurn: I wouldn’t say necessarily benchmarks, but, no, I w I wouldn’t say that per se because every, every situation we work on is very, very unique. Every single loan submission is very unique. , Some, we have to handhold a lot more than others. , sometimes borrowers are less sophisticated than others so that just takes a lot more of the high-touch service. So it’s a little, it would be a little difficult to set benchmarks in this room.
Gene Hammett: Is there a brand that you have in mind outside of your industry that you try to. , adhere to when it comes to service.
Chris Hurn: Well, I will tell you, I met Tony Hsieh about a decade ago and visited him at Zappos. And I was very inspired by that. It’s, it’s tragic what occurred last year with him. But, I, you know, I went on the tour and met him. I spent some time with him and they talked about a lot of that, and I’m not suggesting you’re going to call Fountainhead and get one of my team members on the phone for two hours. But, , or longer I should, I should say, but, but I find that you know, being a, being a real person and, , you know, just having that kind of a conversational, attitude with people when you speak to them on the phone. And it’s just, again, it’s I think about it in, in my life when I’ve tried to get financing from a bank at sometimes. There’s some condescension, sometimes there’s too much jargon used that you don’t understand me. Just a lot of those things that just it’s, it’s a little off-putting and, and we just, we try not to think of ourselves as, as one up over our, our borrowers are referral sources and I think it makes a, makes a real difference.
I think people, people appreciate. We’ve heard it all a lot, that we’re real people and, , you know, with real emotions and if we show legitimate, serious concerns, sincere concern for trying to help them. I think that is a huge differentiator for us.
Commentary: Now, Chris just talked about Zappos and maybe it’s an inside joke to a lot of people who know the story, but they sell shoes online, but they’re not really thought of as an online shoe store. They’re actually thought of as a customer service business that sells shoes. Now, why is that different? Because they really do put customer service first. And when everyone thought that shoes wouldn’t be bought online, because people like to try them on and people like to feel how they fit and walk around and I totally get it, but they have absolutely crushed it because they put customer service first, they’ve done something different than. Amazon ended up buying them and they continue to keep that brand and that value alive. And so that’s what I wanted you to remind you of today because Zappos is an incredible company. But what Chris was talking about is really modeling from a company that puts customer service first. And what that really has meant for the business and what it’s meant for the impact they’ve made and the people that work there. Now they do have a little bit of a, an ongoing kind of joke of how long can you keep someone on the phone with most customer services? How quickly can you get them off the phone, serve them and move on to the next one. But they think about and measure, how long can you keep them on the phone? And I think there’s even an urban legend. Someone actually called them and said, could you help me order a pizza? And they did. So, this is a little bit about Zappos and the background of that. Now back to Chris.
Gene Hammett: When you think about your brand of leadership and what you bring to the organization, what, what do you say about service more often than not? You have a phrase that you use, to align people together. ,
Chris Hurn: I basically, I don’t know. I don’t know if I have a phrase I used as a sailor. , I basically, I oftentimes will say, you know, how you would want to be treated in the situation is exactly how you should treat somebody else if not better. , and I think that resonates a lot with our, with our people again, because, you know, I have some really talented folks, a lot of which I. I brought in, never been in financial services before, and we sort of trained them up to our way and now they’re, they’re hooked. I mean, they, they, they love what they do and it’s not just about a paycheck. And I think, I think in order to get to that place, I’m not saying we don’t pay our people well, we certainly do, but I think. For them to feel like it’s more than just a place of work and that they actually make an impactful difference in people’s lives, which we do. , and, and they can be themselves. I think that’s, that takes the work, but I also think it takes just being transparent as a leader, you know, being real to them as well. I’m not, I hate office drama. We don’t have any of those office politics. You know, there’s none of that type of stuff that you see in much larger corporations, oftentimes where people are trying to, you know, stay on the shoulders of somebody else to, to continue to move up the ladder. We don’t, we don’t do things like that.
Gene Hammett: There’s something that I have kind of coined. I talk about a lot on stages when I get a chance to meet with audiences to face to face live in person. , we talked about the transparency line, which is really where do you draw the line? What’s something you hold back versus something that you share. Have you thought about where your transparency line is?
Chris Hurn: Yeah, I mean, I don’t, I don’t share individual employees’ wages with one another. I think that’s an important one. I don’t think that actually benefits anybody. Other than that. That’s, that’s, that’s the big one. And if there’s any other, you know, HR or personnel issues, I don’t share those either in my, , my calendar everybody’s got access to it. They, they know what’s going on. Sometimes I get weird questions. Like what, what does this mean on your counter? I’m like, oh, that was, was a dermatology appointment I had. That’s how I put it down and I go, okay. Whatever. I mean, yeah, I mean, it’s just, that’s about, that’s about it. That’s my that’s. That would be my big area that you don’t go to. Other than that, I mean, we’re, we’re very open with everybody.
Commentary: Now, I just asked Chris about the transparency line. Have you thought about where your line is? Do you draw the line at financial? Do you share a strategy? Do you share other things that employees could really learn from? If you’re truly transparent? The transparency line is really where you feel comfortable sharing information. It could be personal information. It could be information about the strategy, the financials. You just have to decide where you draw the line. All have this line. Many of the fast-growing companies out there have a very remarkable transparency line. It is so far to the point of transparency that they have this place where people go, God, I can’t believe you share that many people kind of outrage and kind of afraid for them, for sharing so much because they’re afraid themselves. The transparency line will tell you where you are in your business and the courage you have moving forward. Now I’m not saying you need to share everything. There are certain things are illegal for you to share depending on your business, but you want to make sure that people feel included by pushing that transparency line as far to the place of remarkable transparency as you can. And maybe just a little bit further back to Chris.
Gene Hammett: I want to move into the last one, which is specialization, right? It’s a little bit different than the other two. What you mean by specialization?
Chris Hurn: I mean, what I mean by specialization is, is we are, we are not generalists and we never want to become generalists. And again, this is a bit of a differentiator with some of the folks that we compete against in our industry, which generally banks are you know, they, they have 40 some products and services that the reps are rupturing and therefore they don’t do any of them. Very good. , we have, we have three products and that’s it. , and actually, if you count the last year and a half, we had a fourth product, which was the PDP, and that was just derivative of one of our other products of seven-eight. So, , I think you can do really well and stand out from your crowd of competitors. If you pick a niche and you really stick to it and try to be the best at that niche that you possibly can be, it’s. Initially, it’s, it’s nerve-wracking. It’s terrifying, to limit the number of products or services that you have. But I also think it’s, , people that, that take that calculated risk that will soon learn that that’s how they can Excel. That’s how people get to know you by the person that only does three or four or five things versus everybody else. And she might compete against that. They’re constantly trying to do more and more and more, you know, the consultants for years, Gene talk about vertical integration and the, you know, you just one-stop-shop. And you know, when they say that at a giant. The adage. Well, yeah, but didn’t, we also learn as kids and not to put all your eggs in one basket. I mean, people fundamentally want to, you know, you want to work with somebody who hopefully is the best in the world at what they do and it, and in order to do that, it means you have to constantly define and redefine what it is that you want to be the best at. And hopefully, you can be. And I think it makes a huge, huge difference.
Gene Hammett: I, I used to give this speech, I don’t give it anymore unless someone has a real interest for it, but basically sum this up, this whole idea of specialization. Would you rather be the choice or a choice, right? And the choice is that special place. And actually, it has a benefit across the company that you didn’t mention. I mean, marketing has a benefit in sales. It has a benefit for sure. But when your employees know that you’re the leader in certain aspects and they know that you guys do this better, you feel like it actually, you know, they’re, they’re inspired to do better work and more meticulous. And maybe it’s faster. Maybe it’s higher level of service. Because they know that they’re the leader and someone else’s coming from.
Chris Hurn: Yeah. Not only that, but it’s actually, I will tell you, gene it’s helped us in recruiting people because as the more, you know, the bigger we’ve gotten in our industry, the bigger our reputation has grown, the more people that know of. We’re able to recruit some of the absolute best people in the industry because they want to come work for us because they know our singular focus on these areas. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be a part of a team that is focused and not just kind of this meandering, the ordinary lender who does all sorts of things, but probably doesn’t do any of them very well.
Gene Hammett: Well, Chris, you’ve shared a lot with us today. I am going to be curious, you’ve had other businesses that have been on the Inc 5,000 and probably made a mistake or two in this journey. What’s something you think that our leaders really need to learn from? Maybe it’s a mistake that you made that you had to learn the hard way. What comes to mind?
Chris Hurn: Well, I, back to what I mentioned before, which is, relating to service where we believe we’re very hyper-responsive in normal times and in the last 15 to 18. I’ve not been normal times for us. And, you know, we completely pivoted our business to doing PPP loans, at the expense of our regular business, we came back to it eventually. But, you know, we learned that we, it’s not possible when you’re getting a thousand phone calls an hour, a team of our size, even when I’m hiring contractors to manage, the inbound calls, we just, it’s not humanly possible to handle that much. So, you know, it took me a little while. I probably. , you know, when you’re in the Fox hole, sometimes you can’t see things as clearly as when you’re outside of it. And so it took me a little bit longer than it normally does to realize, and to recognize I literally one day said, well, what, why the hell can Southwest and jet blue have a phone tree? And we can, that doesn’t make any sense. Of course, I had to violate one of my, one of my core values over the years, which is when it’s business hours, I want a real human to answer the phone and try to help people.
But again, when you’re getting 9,000 plus calls a day, you can’t do that. So, we literally ripped out the phone, , phone system and put in a phone tree, very detailed. I was, I was, I was very meticulous in terms of giving information exactly how we needed it, but I think that was a big learning experience for us. And, , you know, probably. I know a few people that used to cry in the bathrooms. Cause it was too much for a couple of days. There that’s really was the tipping point for me to say, God, I got to help. I got to help my folks. And we got to do a better job in this. And that’s ultimately going to it frustrated a lot of people though. I mean, a lot of people, you know, would say, well, we can’t reach a live person writer stand it’s because we’re helping, you know, 300,000 business owners just like you. And it’s really difficult for us to just answer your one phone call. You know, we got, we got through it and I think we helped more people than were frustrated with us. And that’s, that’s the main thing the end of the day.
Gene Hammett: Well, I’m sure all the people that got their money PPP from you guys that couldn’t get it from your regular banks, which is I couldn’t get mine from a regular bank. So I had to find someone else. I didn’t know you at the time, but there’s probably a lot of people out there that, that really are looking at that relationship they had with their banks. Oh yeah. And to be honest, we had a number of conversations with my wife, who is the CEO of the company around, you know, should we have a personal relationship with our banker?
Chris Hurn: Right? Yeah, it is. It was a very disruptive time. And I think, there wasn’t much loyalty going into the pandemic towards banks. And I think there’s a lot less now as a result because some banks stepped up, of course, only half of the lending institutions in America actually participated in that program. So, I think it’s, we’re definitely at a crossroads. I think technology is moving so fast. particularly in the financial services industry, which normally it doesn’t, but it’s, these things are being thrust upon it. And, yeah, so I got shocked me if there’s fewer, fewer banks in the future that we have now and a lot of people who are using other alternatives to the traditional banking environment.
Gene Hammett: Well, I appreciate you being here, Chris, and sharing your insights and leadership wisdom.
Chris Hurn: Thank you for having me, Gene.
Gene Hammett: You know, I want to recap here. I know Chris is listening in to me, but I really wanted to, for you to understand what he was trying to say here about having these core values that are the anchors and the foundation of the company, it really does help you create the kind of team you want to hire the right people and what he talked about with, speed service and specialization. Yours might be different, but the key here is that you have something that someone can go back to and say if this is what we stand for. This is how we solve for these problems. This is what we have to do next. And many times they’re making decisions when you’re not in the room. When you have these things really intentional, no, one’s reacting to this. They’re responding to the world and that’s really what you want inside of your companies.
My job is to help you be the best leader. You can help you be extraordinary. If you want to check out some of the things we have here at the fast-growth boardroom, which is founder CEOs. Learning about leadership from other founders and CEOs is being challenged by me, the coach, and go race cars and do plan stuff and make sure you check out fastgrowthboardroom.com as always lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.
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