ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | CHRIS GEORGE

Chris George is the Founder, President & CEO of CMG Financial, a privately-held mortgage bank headquartered in California, and conducting business in all 50 states. CMG has over 2000 employees, and will record a volume of over $25 billion in 2020. Chris is one of the most notable leaders in the mortgage industry, having served as the Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association. He has also testified before Congress, and met with key leaders on issues affecting the the housing industry. Chris sold Cutco almost 40 years ago, and his original manager was current Cutco/Vector West CEO Bruce Goodman! Today, Chris lives on a 1000+ acre property overlooking the San Francisco Bay Area. He aspires to leave a legacy through his family, his business, and his charitable CMG Foundation.

Q&A WITH CHRIS GEORGE

5:25. Q: Take us back to when you first got started selling Cutco.

• I had recently finished high school (Alhambra HS in Martinez CA) found myself in the midst of being not sure what I wanted to do in my life.

• I answered an ad in the local newspaper, and went to the office in Concord CA.

• I was slightly late for my interview, which was handled with a small group of others, so Bruce Goodman made me leave and come back the next business day.

• Lesson from my father: “Early is on time, on-time is late, and late is never acceptable.”

• I came back 30 minutes early on Monday, and fell in love with sales that day, even though I had never thought of myself as a salesperson before.

• Tried and testing philosophies and lessons I learned, and still teach today to my own employees:  Story-telling, explaining a product, eliminating objections.

 

9:02. Q: What was it like working with the young Bruce Goodman?!?

• Here, Chris tells a story of a potential customer that he prejudged and pass on approaching, then Bruce got an appointment with her and sold her virtually everything he had available to sell.

• Sometimes, adversity causes us to give up a little too early.

• SEALS Training — One of the common denominators of getting through this kind of experience is not looking too far into the future.

• Focusing on the NOW

• All too often we talk ourselves out of just ASKING for things.

• A lot of people lose sight of the fact that you think the experience of your life is similar to that of other people, and so you assume you know how others feel.

• I told myself I wouldn’t talk myself out of the sale any more.

• I learned this lesson the hard way from Bruce Goodman.

• The Golden Rule vs. The Platinum Rule — Learning to treat other people the way THEY want to be treated.

• How do you know how other people want to be treated?  You have to ASK.

— Establish with others their preferred method of communication.

— Sales without good communication isn’t sales.  

— Confused prospects rarely buy.

— It’s important that people understand each other.

• The other lesson that this particular episode taught me … Of the who, what, where, why, and how … Ask WHY.

• Be really curious about things.

• “Why” is the way dumb rules get out of your business.

• By taking a deeper look at why we do things a particular way, we might find a better way that’s quicker, more efficient, and might provide a better customer experience.

• The story with Bruce was a springboard moment for me.

• By not digging deeper, I missed an opportunity.

• If you’re not tuned in, you’ll miss opportunities.

• Bruce had this innate ability to see things, a very valuable skill to have.

 

19:30. Q: Who are Monk Van Arsdale and Nick Ulloa?

• Mythical figures from conversations at the Denny’s in Pleasant Hill

• I wasn’t a super-scholastic guy, had bad grades in high school, never went to college.

• I wanted my 4 boys to all graduate from college because I wanted them to have the experience that not everybody is the same as they are.

• It’s important to understand that some people think differently than you do.

• I didn’t have any of that, so my acclimation to that was Bruce Goodman and others on the team (Chris Hall).  

• I learned that these guys knew things that I didn’t know.

• I needed to supplement that in other ways, so I became a voracious reader.

• Important lesson from those days:  You never know what you don’t know.  Never stop learning.  Have that insatiable itch for constantly learning about things.  This teaches you how to remain curious, and it exercises your memory.

• There are so many things that are a bedrock of our organization, that if you followed them all the way back to their origin, so many of them evolved from my early days at Cutco.

• Cutco is not just a knife company.  It was FAR MORE than that for me.

 

24:30. Q: Tell us about the journey building your company.  How did get into the financial industry, and how did you build CMG?

• I was recruited by an old Cutco guy at Household Finance

• I also interviewed with Beneficial Finance just across the hall.

• I went to work at Beneficial Finance because they offered me $5 more per month ($800 vs. $795 per month).

• Beneficial’s style of sales was opposite of Cutco’s style of sales:

“We wait here, and if somebody needs us, they’ll come to us.”

• I went out and proactively created business, and was promoted to management at Age 21 … youngest Branch Manager ever at Beneficial.

• The thing that I was challenged with was that it was not a diverse organization, and I didn’t like that.

• I left to start my own company in 1988, sold it in 1993.

• I started CMG in my garage in 1993 with 5 other people.

• Today, CMG operates in every state of the USA, and will do $25-$30 billion in business this year.

• I still wonder how a guy like me ended up in a chair like this.

 

28:00. Q: Tell us about some of the biggest challenges you have faced.

• You understand we had a housing crisis in America around 2007-2008, which was as close to a near death experience as we could have had.

• The only thing that rivals that was that when my youngest son was born, he had a liver disorder that put him on the transplant list.

• Here, Chris tells the compelling story of his young son, Adam.  

*** You just have to listen to this part.

• That next big scare of my life was in 2007-2008, when my company nearly went out of business.

• I borrowed millions of dollars just to keep the company alive.

• Late in 2008, air came back into the mortgage industry, and we paid back every penny over the next 6 years or so.

• Today, we have over 2000 employees, across the United States.

• We are militant about our culture, doing things right.

• Everyone we deal with is elevated to the level of customer.

 

32:45. Q: I know your company tagline is “experience extraordinary.”  Tell us about that, and any other values or concepts you hold closest as a leader.

• We later on took on this tagline:  

Every customer, every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

• This means that I want it to appear that you are the only customer working with me this year, like no other experience any customer has ever had.

• This was born out of my early desire to simply make customers like me.

• Happy people refer you to other people who want to be happy.

• Along the way, I started making some real money through this process.

• The process of referral from previous customers is what truly helped me build my business.

• “I’m going to take care of you so well, that you’ll never call someone first when you need something in the future.”

• I built the company centered around this process that I would make people’s experience so extraordinary that it would be memorable enough that they would refer me to their friends and family.

 

36:30. Q: Tell us about some other important leadership philosophies that you have? 

• I’m more interested in doing things properly, and right by one another, than I am in necessarily making a profit.

• We really try to take care of our employees.  We have by far the best benefits of any other company in our industry.

• You can do these things when you’re a single owner.  There is literally a place where the buck does stop — HERE, at my desk.

• The Senior Management Team helps me navigate difficult decisions, like right now, navigating COVID-19.

• What I worry about today is losing the connected culture that we have built up over the years, losing the very essence of who we are.

• We are thinking through new ways to communicate with our people, and ideas to let our people know we are thinking about them.

• I think this (now) is close to the new normal, and we are going to re-think how work will be.

• The positive side is all the emails from people who are happy about not having to commute to work.

• Pushing life back to the individual family unit is another one of the positive things coming out of all this.

• My boys are all working with the company now.

• Early on, when you’re growing a company, you miss some things.

• Now that I get to watch the boys grow up professionally while working at CMG, it’s a very rewarding experience.

• I’m so incredibly proud of them all.

• There’s a similarity to Cutco here, in that it’s family-owned and the buck stops at the desk of a single owner.

Cutco Motto:  We don’t have to make business decisions that affect our people, we can make people decisions that affect our business.

• I learned a lesson like this from Bruce Goodman and Don Muelrath.

• Blending business and personal relationships

• The relationship I observed between Don & Bruce was the kind of relationship I’d want to have in my own business someday.

• If you think about your life, there is a teacher or a coach that made a profound difference in your life.  If they didn’t come through your life, you may not have learned a lesson that you needed to learn.  

• Clearly Bruce Goodman was one of those people who came through my life.

• My dad said something to me a long time ago … Whatever you’re going through now is preparing yourself for something in the future.

• No matter how difficult things are right now, you’re being prepared for something in the future.

• 1995 taught me how to get through 2008.  And interestingly enough, 2008 taught me about how to get through what we’re going through right now.

• What you’re going through right now is teaching you how to get through something else.

• It’s hard to imagine that the Coronavirus may be preparing us to go through something even worse.  Maybe it is.

•. What you are in the midst of right now is most certainly a lesson.  Eyes wide open. 

• Lessons of today (with Cutco):  How to communicate, how to educate, how to console, how to counsel, how to give people faith when they don’t think they can do it, how to make people understand that there may be a different way than what they’re accustomed to, … 

• All of these lessons will take us to another place.  Learn these lessons now because they’ll serve you well in the future.

 

49:15. Q: What’s most exciting to you as you look into the future?

• Diversifying our company, and the mortgage industry

• People like doing business with people they can relate to.

• Creating new methods for people to be able to buy a home

— Crowd-sourcing down payment funds

— For the younger generation, their social network is their social net worth.

— Altering how student debt affects a home payment

• Ideas we are implementing come from a younger generation’s viewpoint.

 

53:48. Q: Are there any other words of wisdom that you would like to share with the audience today?

• I’m the glass half-full guy, optimistic to the end.  If you’re ever down, call me and I’m the guy who’s gonna tell you it’s going to be OK, and I believe that.

• Life is pretty fragile.  

• The most valuable you own is time.

• In your own career, you are going to encounter 2 segments of your world that deal with time … 

— Stop wasting your time.  If you want to start your own business, quit waiting around and just do it.  If you fail, get up and brush yourself off, and get back into the game.

— At some point in your career, you’re going to get the choice to stop other people from wasting your time.

• Some guy went to work at the port in Beirut, Lebanon (on Aug 4, 2020), doing what he does every day, and he didn’t come home that day.  

• Last story — My dad was suffering from dementia, in the last months of his life.  He slept most of the time, but one day, he woke up and remembered a time when the family was fishing at Fallenleaf Lake near Tahoe.

• At the end of our lives, it’s not really about what we made or bought or owned, it’s those memorable moments that stick with us forever.

If you would like to provide Chris George with your reaction to this conversation, please feel free to leave a comment below, and we will make sure that Chris gets the feedback. 

To learn more and get access to all episodes, visit our podcast page!

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