If there’s one thing it takes to make it in the mortgage business, it’s hustle – and Sarah Valentini, who grew up working nights and weekends at her family’s small restaurant, certainly acquired that in spades.
“There wasn’t a single job in a restaurant that I didn’t do,” she said. The experience taught her values that she’s carried with her when launching her own company. “You have to be a multi-tasker, to make split decisions and keep customer service at the core of what you do – because the customer is standing right there in front of you,” she said.
After college, Valentini traded in her memo pad for a banker’s briefcase, taking a job in the trust department at Rockland Trust Co.
“The problem with the trust department is that the files that you work on, the people are deceased,” she said with a laugh. Not an optimal situation for a people person. “Being out of school and young, I really wanted to work with people, and someone suggested to me, you should really go into the mortgage department. So that’s what got me started in mortgage banking.”
Her go-getter attitude and enthusiasm soon led her to success as a loan officer with GMAC mortgage, where she eventually became a district manager. By the late 1990s, however, GMAC was undergoing corporate restructuring, which decentralized departments and made talking to an underwriter about a problem loan a matter of setting up a conference call instead of knocking on the door down the hall.
“You no longer have control to give the level of service that you want,” she explained. That prompted Valentini and her partners to go out on their own and found Radius in 1999.
The beginnings were humble: 13 employees sharing eight desks, with an ancient phone system that meant sprinting from one side of the office to the other if a call came in on another line. Today, the Norwell-based firm has a headcount of 84, with seven different locations across Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
“Looking back, we were just so energetic about what we were doing and convinced we were doing the right thing that even with the 80-hour weeks we were putting it, it just seemed fun,” Valentini said.
Maybe it seemed fun to Valentini because leading her own firm has called upon one of her greatest talents, mentoring a new generation of loan officers and shepherding their growth in the business.
Valentini’s love of mentoring is certainly reciprocated by her mentees, who appreciate her willingness to get her hands dirty in order to show them the ropes. She’s “the most incredible coach I could ever ask for,” said Andria Dolce, a loan officer at Radius, and one of Valentini’s nominators for a 2013 Women of FIRE Award. “She has been on appointments with me, is available at all hours of the day, and cares so much about my development and growth. I owe a lot of my success to her.”
It’s a role which in many ways has allowed Valentini to come full circle. Shortly after starting Radius, she ran into a waiter at a little breakfast joint whose charm and enthusiasm impressed her. It turned out he was a veteran recently returned from Afghanistan. “I said to him, I think if you survived that, you can probably survive the mortgage business, and I think you have the personality for it,” Valentini said. Eleven years later, he’s now Radius’ top producer. “It’s been so rewarding, watching him grow.”