Mark Figert is a native of St. Louis and earned a degree in finance from Missouri State University. After graduating, he held district manager positions for MCI in Springfield, MO and DOT Foods in Dallas, TX.
Mark started his career in real estate finance with the Citadel Group in Chicago. He was eventually promoted to Senior Vice President. After starting a family and desiring to return to St. Louis, Mark accepted a senior position with a residential lending company in St. Louis.
Shortly thereafter, Mark’s entrepreneurial interests led him into co-founding Fidelity Bancorp. The company was started with 3 people in a one room office. Today, Fidelity Bancorp has over 30 employees and originates close to $100,000,000 in loan volume per year. In 2009 Fidelity was named one of St. Louis’ “Best Places to work” by the St. Louis Business Journal…a testament to Mark’s positive leadership style that created a culture of positivity at Fidelity Bancorp.
In 2012, Mark sold Fidelity Bancorp to a community bank. He continued to run the company as President through August 2014. Mark continues to consult in the Banking Industry and is currently serving as President at The Optima Group (a financial management consulting company).
Mark has served on the Board of Directors and is a Past-President of the Crestwood/Sunset Hills Chamber of Commerce (www.ourchamber.com) and has served on the Board of Directors of Children of The World Charity.
Mark, his wife Christie, and their four children, Emily, Ethan, Lily and Oliver reside in Chesterfield, MO. Mark enjoys playing golf, snow skiing and any outdoor activity with his family.
How did you get started? What sparked this business idea?
I was playing golf with my boss on a random Wednesday afternoon. The country club was packed. I mentioned my observation about the club being crowded on a Wednesday afternoon and my boss said that 80% of the members of his country club owned their own businesses. I thought to myself, “If all of these guys could do it and be successful, so could I.” That day I knew I’d one day start my own firm.
How do you make money?
I was working in the commercial lending field. We did structured finance for large institutional companies. I really enjoyed the finance/lending side of the business, but wanted more consumer contact and wanted to be able to complete more transactions, so I decided that residential lending would provide the best of what I was looking for.
How long did it take to get your business into the black?
Residential Lending is a transactional business. You are only as profitable as next month’s closings, so there is always a need to grow your pipeline of business.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Once we started Fidelity, we were profitable pretty quickly. We had very low overhead (myself, my partner and one employee sharing a 1 room office), and that gave us the flexibility to spend excess revenue on marketing. That formula helped us grow revenue pretty quickly.
How did you get your first customer?
Our first customer was referred to us by a realtor I was friends with. That was actually very enlightening for us as we realized that purchase business (doing loans for people that are buying homes) is the most consistent residential lending.
Refinancing is dependent on interest rates: If rates are low, people will refi. But if rates are high, the business slows down. Rates were a variable that was out of our control. We figured if we focused on the purchase business, we’d stay busy through the ups and downs of rates. That turned out to be a wise decision.
How are you marketing your business? What strategy works best?
We found that focusing on first time home buyers was our best bet. Again, they were much less affected by rate fluctuations and thus a more steady business to pursue.
Is there a trend in your industry that particularly excites you right now?
There is a trend toward higher standards and higher regulation that is long overdue. Mortgage Lending had received a bad reputation from a small minority of unscrupulous companies that were taking advantage of consumers. In recent years those companies have been regulated out of our industry, leaving the true professionals. This will go a long way to bring consumer confidence back to the high levels that our industry deserves.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Our most satisfying moment is when we were awarded the “Best Companies to Work For” designation from the St. Louis Business Journal. We had really tried to instill a culture of team work and cooperation within our company. This award validated that we were going the right direction as a company.
Tell us about one of your hobbies when you’re not working.
When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my family. I’ve got 4 children, so there is never a dull moment around our house.