Leading reverse mortgage lender HighTechLending announced this week that it hired industry veteran Eric Ellsworth to serve as EVP of sales. His responsibilities will include oversight of the call center, outside sales, branches and third-party business.
Ellsworth’s hiring has been in the works for some time, and former HighTechLending President Don Currie was involved in the negotiations prior to his death, according to Erika Macias, the company’s co-founder and COO.
Prior to his role at HighTechLending, Ellsworth held roles at other major lenders, including Reverse Mortgage Funding (RMF) and Liberty Reverse Mortgage. While at RMF, Ellsworth served as VP of retail sales and assisted in growing its loan officer corps to 140 loan officers across the country. While at Liberty, Ellsworth managed its inside and outside sales divisions.
“We’re very excited,” Macias said. “It’s something that Don was very much looking forward to as well. We had been putting this together for a while in talks trying to move him [to our company]. So, we’re very excited to have Eric on board. His talent and what he brings with sales is just exactly the right fit for us.”
In terms of how the reverse division will be positioned with Ellsworth on board, Macias said it comes down to Ellsworth’s prior sales experience and personnel matters.
“We’re very excited for him to bring on some loyal loan originators with him,” she said. “We’re excited to grow. Right now, our whole modus operandi is growth in the reverse world. We’re still going to stay strong in forward, but right now, all of our goals and expectations are on the reverse side. We’re looking forward to expanding the branches and also bringing on corporate LOs, and that’s what Eric is going to be doing for us.”
Ellsworth also noted some of what he hopes to accomplish at the company.
“We have also begun to build a unique lead platform to assist our reps that are interested in leads and will expand our program to our TPO partners as well in the coming months,” Ellsworth said. “This is a challenging market, but we are planning now, and I am confident we will come out of this even stronger. We have many exciting new strategic initiatives that we look forward to sharing soon.”
State of the market
Macias said that market conditions are helping to dictate the company’s focus on reverse growth, but it’s not a stretch to devote resources to the division, since the company has an affinity for the space.
“We’ve always loved reverse,” she said. “It’s definitely one of those big visions we had [when we launched the company] 15 years ago: jumping into reverse as well as forward. And so, after doing that, it just seemed like the right balance for the company, especially with forward being a little more volatile and rate-sensitive. And we love seniors; we love helping them. So, to us, it’s just growing what we love to do anyway.”
Currie spoke about companies in the reverse space being able to benefit from an influx of RMF talent in the wake of its bankruptcy during one of his final interviews with RMD. Macias said Ellsworth is one such talent sought out by the company.
“Obviously, we’re not the only ones who were lucky enough to have taken some other great talent out of an expanded pool,” she said. “But we do see that as part of the growth [we’re reaching for], and we’re very excited about it. We knew that [many from RMF] were very talented people, and Eric is just as talented as you can get.”
Bringing in additional originators will be key for Ellsworth, as will helping to identify additional efficiencies the company can execute, Macias said.
“He’s going to be reevaluating all of our technology to see if there’s anything we can do to help the growth and follow-up activity of our branches,” she said. “As far as what we currently do, anytime we have somebody of his caliber coming in, it’s my goal that we listen to them. So, I want to know where he feels about ways we can improve, whether it be operations, marketing, sales efforts, you name it.”
Ellsworth is also expected to be directly involved in marketing and sales, and with lead generation teams.
“That’s the forte that we’re looking for him to bring in,” she said. “Not only just branches and new LOs, but his talents in marketing and lead generation.”
Ellsworth was a hire that was already in the works when Currie unexpectedly died earlier this month, Macias explained.
“This is where we were going with it before the unfortunate passing of Don,” she said. “This is what we had envisioned. It was already done; it was just that Don had left us right before he saw it come to fruition. So, this is definitely part of the succession planning, because this is what we already have put in place.”
In addition, Macias said the company remains strong despite Currie’s passing.
“We didn’t do this as a knee-jerk reaction,” she said. “Don’s passing was very sudden and unfortunate, but this is what we had planned. We’re meeting our goals and expectations that we had as owners of the company. And so, we do want [the reverse mortgage industry] to know that we actually are strong. Bringing on Eric took a lot of wooing, and it was just unfortunate that Don passed right before Eric joined us.”
In terms of future succession planning, it remains in process — but Macias anticipates that someone will fulfill the role of president for the company in the future.
“Don wouldn’t want the company to sit there without a president,” she said. “This is my forte as COO, and I have a sales background as well, but I’ve been doing operations since we opened the company. This is where I’m going to choose to stay, and we are vetting out several different people that we had already started setting up before to also take a different step in bringing more sales support during this time. So no, it won’t be long before we do decide to bring on a new president, and we have been in communication with several people to move in that direction.”