How an intentional corporate culture makes for more engaged employees, accelerated growth, and happier clients
True Title’s John Duckworth (president) and John Banjak (general counsel) have spent many years in the title business. While working together at another company, they began discussing the problems in their industry.
They saw stressed-out employees, executives who had walled themselves off from their staff, and companies unwilling to go the extra mile when a real estate deal hit an obstacle.
They had an idea for a new kind of title company. One that would celebrate people—both employees and clients. One that would thrive on solving difficult problems instead of avoiding them. One that created a supportive team environment.
They imagined employees working together to ensure the success of their clients and each other.
With all of this in mind, they opened True Title in 2012. The results have been astounding. Starting with three employees and one office, they’ve expanded to a staff of thirty-two and will open an eighth office in St. Charles County in the coming weeks.
In an industry that has grown an estimated 27% since 2013, True Title has seen a remarkable 882% increase during the same period. And while the number of real estate transactions in the region hasn’t measurably changed, True Title’s closings have increased by more than 500%.
When asked about the secret to True Title’s success, president John Duckworth answered, “You’ve got to take care of people.”
Not just employees. Not just clients. People.
Achieving sky-high employee engagement
Productivity experts agree with the data: Engaged employees generate far more revenue than those who are disengaged. According to Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace”, only 33% of American employees are fully engaged in their work. This isn’t the case at True Title.
In a recent company-wide survey, 96% of True Title Employees said they felt proud to be part of the True Title team.
And in the words attributed to legendary management guru, Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Escrow Division Manager Deanna Skiles, who moved to True Title with twenty-eight years of experience, said coming to work for True Title is “one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”
Jamie Walters, the 18-year industry veteran who will head the St. Charles branch, was surprised by the positive True Title environment. She said, “True Title feels more like a family. [Duckworth and Banjak] are there for us … There isn’t that disconnect between me and the ‘higher-ups.’”
This high degree of employee engagement is no accident. Duckworth and Banjak created this culture intentionally.
When surveyed by a third-person agency, 96% of True Title’s employees indicated they respected their supervisor, and 100% agreed they respected their colleagues. That attitude of respect comes from the top.
Duckworth and Banjak motivate their team to:
- Celebrate people.
- Thrive on challenges.
- Commit to their client’s success.
- Win as a team.
Branch manager Deanna Skiles says of her employers, “They make you feel appreciated all the time. They always let us know what a great job we’re doing.”
And when it comes to a sense of personal agency, she says, “They treat us like adults … They give us a lot more responsibility to allow us to do things ourselves [so we can] grow.”
This ethic of respect for the individual extends to True Title’s clients as well.
Banjak says, “From the beginning, I had this simple philosophy: The title company sending the most handwritten notes and returning phone calls the fastest will win.”
Turning Problems into Opportunities
Though many different companies can handle title insurance and closings, not many will work as hard as True Title to resolve inevitable legal and title issues. This requires a high level of competency paired with a can-do attitude.
Walters says, “We have an inside joke that you have to be a detective to do this job … One of the first things you have to learn is not to let the high stress get to you. Everything can be dealt with.”
This attitude is part of True Title’s culture. John Banjak believes “we earn clients when we solve difficult issues,” rescuing deals other title companies had written off as too risky or too burdensome to handle.
Armed with this idea, employees feel comfortable dealing with title issues of all sorts. Skiles agrees, noting she’s encouraged to work through problems others in the industry would dismiss out of hand. The reason? She feels comfortable talking to her bosses, knowing they are willing to engage with the issue, educate her, and work to find a solution.
Skiles says, “The answer is never just a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It’s a ‘Yes we can and here’s the reason why.’” Through this kind of coaching, employees are continually improving, constantly finding themselves better equipped to serve their clients.
Cultivating a Strong Team Environment
Duckworth and Banjak implemented a pay structure unique to their industry. They set aside a portion of the company’s profits, distributing it to employees on a quarterly basis.
Banjak comments that to give some of the company’s profits back to other team members is “more respectful of those who are driving the business … [those] ensuring our company continues to thrive.”
However, Gallup’s publication, “State of the American Workplace”, notes that financial compensation isn’t enough to keep employees engaged. They write, “Employees need to be in an environment where there is mutual respect for one another’s results.”
True Title has been able to develop this environment. Skiles was impressed as she realized John Duckworth both understood and respected her day-to-day task list, something she feels is unique in the industry.
When Walters recently joined the organization, she had her work cut out for her—a branch to open and clients to serve.
But the rest of the team came through for her. She said, “It’s much easier to get your job done when it’s more of a team … Everyone rallied together to help get things ready.”
Duckworth and Banjak keep the staff engaged outside of the office too. Through holiday and summer parties, happy hours, and other events, True Title employees love getting together. They enjoy each other’s company, and that shows during work hours as well.
Turning Recruitment into a Team Effort
Since True Title’s staff has internalized their organization’s culture, Duckworth and Banjak lean on their employees to scout for new talent. As team members interact with other real estate professionals, they keep an eye out for people that exemplify their values.
This creates employee engagement in a whole new way: Employees have a say in who they work with.
Banjak says, “The whole staff—quality team members—are looking for other potential title team members … [They’re] confident enough that if they bring in other competent people, they sort of become friendly competitors. They’re not threatened by that. They thrive on the ability to work alongside another fantastic employee.”
More Closings + Higher Employee Engagement = Happier Clients
John Duckworth and John Banjak designed True Title to be a different kind of title company.
While any reputable title company can handle some aspects of the title business, True Title is working in unique ways to serve their customers.
- Maintaining strong core values.
- Instilling a can-do attitude resulting in more solid closings.
- Creating a healthy team environment.
- Employing an exceptional recruitment strategy.
True Title employees have developed the grace and expertise to turn difficult or stressful situations into positive experiences. Though not all real estate deals go smoothly, True Title is committed to working collaboratively to create an exceptional client experience.