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Todd Feager and Dave Bray were friends and colleagues in the mortgage industry when they decided to combine their experience in St. Louis.

In May 2016, Feager and Bray partnered with Top Flite Financial to open a mortgage lending office at University Club Tower in Richmond Heights. Top Flite, founded in 2002 and based in Williamston, Mich., has branch offices nationwide.

Feager said that he and Bray together have more than 40 years experience in the mortgage business.

“We joined forces and decided we’d open our own branch in St. Louis,” Feager said.

They began small, with only nine employees, but have since grown the St. Louis office’s headcount to more than 50.

“We’ve just been adding talent and people over the last three years,” Feager said.

About 70% of Top Flite’s loan officers had no previous experience in the mortgage business. Feager said he looks for talented people who have sales backgrounds or work in a service industry, which includes bars and restaurants.

“We then train them our way,” Feager said.

Top Flite took first place among small-size employers in the 2019 Top Workplaces survey. The survey showed that Top Flite employees are more confident in their workplace as a benchmark of employees of small-size nonprofit, human and social service agencies.

New Top Flite hires get a guaranteed minimum salary for 90 days while they work to earn their mortgage loan officer license and begin to learn the business. After that, many mortgage officers, through commissions, earn six-figure annual incomes, Feager said.

“People with experience in phone sales tend to do well because they’re used to that environment,” he said.

Top Flite’s hiring and training strategy produces a motivated and collegial workforce, Feager added.

The company provides the usual range of mortgage products but focuses on offering borrowers with less-than-perfect credit debt consolidation and cash-out refinancing plans.

“Mortgage rates are important but consumer debt is on such an incline,” Feager said. “We produce a pretty aggressive solution to help people consolidate debt.”

Top Flite’s loan officers have a special incentive to work hard. Top performers earn week-long, company-paid vacations, which are awarded monthly. Hawaii, Fiji and places in Europe are among the approximately 300 available destinations. Top Flite initially paid only for the hotel but now provides flight credits, too.

Most Top Flite loan officers in St. Louis are in their late 20s to mid 40s. Formal education is not always a major factor in hiring decisions, said Feager, adding that spotting talent is key. Getting along with co-workers also is important, he said.

“We have a really tight-knit group,” Feager said. “We really don’t have much turnover at all.”

After the initial job interview, the potential new hire spends a day in the office to get a feel for the place. People who get through that process go through a third interview to discuss job details and industry trends.

“Technology is starting to play an even greater role in our industry,” Feager said.

Mobile apps, texts and other evolving technologies are becoming more common and allow customers to get mortgage answers quickly.

“A lot of customers don’t want to explain their life story for a credit application,” Feager said. “If they can do on their own and not waste a lot of time, it’s a win.”

Top Flite paused its hiring spree early this year but plans to take more space this year at University Club Tower in anticipation of growing its workforce further in the next 24 to 36 months.

All loan officers should shoot for an annual income of at least $100,000, Feager said.

“Our model supports that we’ve got a bunch who will be over that this year,” he said.

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