Jay Farner Interview: Leadership and Personal Productivity Lessons
I sat down with Jay Farner, president of Quicken Loans, former CEO of reverse mortgage lender, One Reverse Mortgage and advisor to the Rockbridge Growth Equity family of companies. Prior to his current role, Jay was the head of Web Mortgage Banking at Quicken Loans, where he helped grow the company into the nation’s largest online retail lender. Jay did this with a team of over 2,200 mortgage bankers located in 5 different offices around the country.
In this interview, you’ll learn how Jay Farner prioritizes his time, who has had the biggest influence on him, what he teaches new companies, and much more!
How do you determine what to focus on every day?
Jay Farner: It starts by recognizing what’s urgent and what’s important. I manage my time religiously with my Outlook calendar, and combine both work and personal onto one calendar to make it that much easier. To make sure I focus on the important, but not necessarily urgent things, I block off 2 to 3 hours of time, 2 days per week. I guard this time and do not schedule other things over it. This allows me to move forward on those initiatives that are outside of the normal day-to-day, while still giving me enough time to focus on all of the issues that do come up daily.
What makes a leader? What do you look for in new leaders?
Jay Farner: There are several traits that comprise a good leader. First off, they have to be a positive thinker. Someone who has a negative view of the world will have a very hard time leading others. Beyond that, they must have a high energy level, be enthusiastic, and believe in themselves. I really think that you need all of those things to be able to create a positive vision that inspires others to follow you.
Of course, once you can create a vision – paint a clear picture of where to go – you need to be able to take action and execute. And, once you are in execution mode, you need to be open to constant feedback and focus on continuous learning.
Are there two or three people you “role model” or work with who have consistently challenged you and your thinking?
Jay Farner: For me, the person who taught me how to treat people, deal with tough situations, stay calm, and stay positive is my Dad.
Another person who has had a substantial role in my development has been Dan G [Dan Gilbert, Chairman of Quicken Loans, Owner of the Cleveland Caveliers and founding Partner at RockBridge Growth Equity]. Dan has taught me how to:
- Think deeply about issues (never staying “at the surface” of a discussion)
- Always ask the right questions to the right people
- Challenge myself to always be better by asking two simple questions: What’s next? and What should we do?
What are the top client service lessons you have learned over the course of your career?
Jay Farner: I think it all starts with a quote Steven Luigi [Piazza, VP at Quicken Loans] always says: “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Using that as the basis for Client Service is key. Beyond that, I believe it’s about:
- Asking really good questions
- Demonstrating you can find the right solutions
- Adjusting your approach to your Clients’ best way of learning
- Being open minded to possibilities
- Being insanely responsive to your Clients’ needs
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned that you try to teach all young companies you work with?
Jay Farner: To focus on taking your dream and turning it into a reality. It basically all boils down to focus: finding those Top 3 things you need to do in the business, and then applying the following formula to them:
- Develop the strategies that will help you hit your top 3 goals/priorities
- Develop the tactics that will support those strategies
- Develop ways to measure your progress, and measure/adjust like crazy
Working with people is so critical, and so magnified, when you are a small organization. So, beyond the 3 step process above, it really comes down to finding the best people for the organization, and ensuring that everyone works extremely well together.
You’ve led very large groups of people. How do you inspire people you lead to work on the right things every day, and how do you measure success?
Jay Farner: Constant communication is key, especially in writing. This is true for sales people, but it’s also important for everyone else. The idea of writing down what you want to communicate can be very powerful. Writing forces you to think about what you are saying and the impact it can have.
Once you have communicated the direction you want the team to go, it’s about the old Ronald Reagan “trust but verify” approach. You have to trust that your leaders are going to communicate and execute the direction. But, there is nothing stopping you from what is often called “management by walking around” – essentially walking around the office(s) and asking others what they know about the new direction. “Have you attended any training on X?” “What do you think about Y?” – you get the idea.
It’s also critically important as a leader to choose which new initiatives you want to roll out. You don’t want to roll out things too frequently and cause confusion or lack of implementation. It’s a fine line and takes a huge amount of trust in your leaders to help you execute.