Welcome to “Letters from,” a column that examines the intimate thoughts of members of the real estate industry.
Name: Tristan Wright
Role: Team leader business and professional banking M&T Bank
Years in business: 12
1. Why did you get into this business?
Growing up in Mississippi, we didn’t know a lot of bankers. My family moved to Northern Virginia when I was in elementary school, and my accent was so heavy that my teacher couldn’t understand me. This was in the ’80s.
I remember feeling second-class. A few years later, I saw the original “Thomas Crown Affair,” then later saw the remake with Pierce Brosnan and was set on a career in finance.
I love that character, who happens to be an investment banker. So what’s the connection? I’m still figuring that out, but the reason I love what I do is that I get to connect with and help great people who have often been overlooked for various reasons, mainly because they too aren’t “blue bloods.”
Cash flow, length of time in business, credit issues, pie-in-the-sky idea, etc., I approach banking from a different place than most bankers, mainly by being more collaborative and accommodating.
More often than not, I get my clients in front of someone who isn’t me but who can still help them achieve their goals.
2. What is the biggest challenge you face right now in your business?
Market share: 66 percent of new bank business historically comes from cross-sell wins via a said bank’s portfolio base. My team and I are building a new portfolio organically where nearly every client is new to the bank thus requiring our approach to the market to be almost surgical in nature.
Interestingly, our close percentage on self-sourced deals approaches 90 percent, a statistic I’m very proud of. This means we understand our products and are transferring that knowledge to our customers and meeting their financing needs.
3. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started the business?
- Don’t take anything personally.
- You don’t know the answers unless you ask the questions.
When I first started out in business, it was as an underwriter — and not a particularly good one at that. As I moved through the banking system and ultimately became a commercial lender, I would wrap myself up personally into deals and invest emotionally.
If I ran into resistance internally via credit, externally via competition or even with a customer, I’d lose sleep over it. I’ve taken my share of leadership courses and read enough self-help books since then to now understand that communication commands over all else.
Today, I practice a precision leadership tactic where over-communicating — to ensure both I and whoever else is involved in a transaction are on the same page — is the norm.
The result is that when it comes to the tedious parts of a deal, issues like negotiating structure, terms and pricing, [details have] all but been pre-determined. It’s a simple way to do business that sounds easy but not something that everyone can do well, and that requires a level of trust on both sides that is difficult to achieve.
Doing business this way filters out the white noise and allows me to maximize the time I have available on the right opportunities. And I’ve never had a client tell me that they didn’t appreciate upfront and open communication.
4. Who has made the biggest positive impact on your business?
An old family friend named Tom Beckett invited me out to Colorado where he was in the early stages of finalizing a bank start-up. The kind of startup that doesn’t exist anymore, where you raise local money, local investors and build out a solid local portfolio.
I was working in D.C. in a high-pressure sales job with little banking experience. Tom opened his home to me for a full year and personally credit-trained me, which ultimately got me into a credit analyst role with the bank.
It’s moments like these that your instincts kick in and you know something special is happening. After all, it’s not every day that you get to help start a bank. We were looking at dozens of deals monthly.
It was an exciting time; we grew organically from roughly $35 million to $2.5 billion over a short period, and the byproduct in this for me was exposure.
There is no substitution for doing something versus reading about it. My start-up experience taught me credit, grassroots lending, networking and how to market yourself successfully.
Don’t get me wrong; it was also the most challenging time I’ve had in my career. I reported to an incredibly demanding manager, and there was a lot of pressure from investors to outperform our peer group, which we did.
Throughout it all, Tom stood by me and supported me. He’s an exceptionally talented lender and an even better person who got into banking for all the right reason — to help people. I’ll always remember that and be thankful for the experience.
5. What is one thing someone could do to help you in your business?
Meet me, get to know me, and if you’re comfortable with who I am as a person and a banker — refer me your clients’
business. I’ll do the same back.
6. What tool has made the biggest positive impact on your business?
Community banking is still very much a human contact sport. Old-fashioned networking events and strong centers-of0influence referring relationships are still the most reliable sources I know of to acquire new business.
Sure, there are plenty of online channels available to secure financing, but I still find that at some time in a company’s life cycle, it will need a reliable traditional banker to work with.
7. What do you think is going to be the biggest change in real estate in the next five years?
Interest and occupancy rates and how banks equate that to risk.