When ill health forces change

WHEN successful car finance broker John Mason was diagnosed with a life threatening, stress related illness, his and wife Susan’s lives changed suddenly and dramatically. Mr Mason operated his own business within a big dealership. He was good at it, business boomed and his young wife left the property management field she had worked in for seven years to help the expanding business. For three years after that, everything went well. There was the big house in Mullaloo, the boat and the cars, all the trappings of success. Then, in early 2001, came the hammer blow. “The doctors advised him to give up the business or he wouldn’t be here in a year. The business revolved around him and the car industry is very male dominated,” 35-year-old Ms Mason told WA Business News. The first decision was to walk away from the auto financing business. It was a very self effacing time for both of them. Ms Mason looked at herself and saw a person “pretty much self taught in property management and financing”, with a sick husband and seven year old son. “I needed something I could head up and run, with a flexibility that would allow me to spend some time with my son and husband,” she said. They looked at a number of options, from retail to manufacturing, before narrowing it down to mortgage broking. “It suited my recent background and seemed less discriminating.” Ms Mason then went on to research four or five different mortgage broking models available in the market and opted for the publicly listed Mortgage Choice, founded in Sydney in 1992. She then went and spoke to a couple of existing franchisees. “I liked the company primarily because of its integrity, it was also well branded, had an established franchise network and provided good back up,” she said, It should be noted at this juncture that WA Business News approached Ms Mason for this story, not the other way around. With the Mortgage Choice option came the decision as to where to establish the franchise, one option being to stay in the Mullaloo area Ms Mason knew. Some research threw up Mandurah, a region experiencing phenomenal growth and without a Mortgage Choice franchise. It has proved to be an excellent choice. Ms Mason started the franchise in her dining room in May 2001. Her husband switched from top flight executive to ‘Mr Mum’, not without some adjustment pains, and the business took off. A year later, with more phone and fax lines in, and clients waiting in the lounge room helping young son Josh with his homework, it was time for a shop front in town. With hindsight, Ms Mason said she should have moved much earlier, but it did give her time to build a cash flow and get a handle on the business. From herself and a receptionist, the business has since added two full time administrators and two new loan writers start this week. In September last year, with Mandurah’s growth showing no sign of abating, Ms Mason opened a branch in Miami/Falcon, just south of Mandurah. The added benefit over other possible locations was that its proximity to the first franchise meant Ms Mason did not have to pay for another one. Miami/Falcon now has a branch manager and full-time administrator. The success is in the numbers. In 2002 Ms Mason wrote 173 loans for $27 million; in 2003, 268 loans for $39 million; in 2004, 400 loans for $59 million; and in 2005, 431 loans for $72 million. It has not been easy, but Ms Mason acknowledges it has become easier. And that has a lot to do with good staff selection. Her three administration staff has more than 50 years’ banking and lending experience between them. It has also taken several years of cashflow gobbling advertising to build the Mortgage Choice brand in Mandurah, to acquaint the market with the products and properly service it to generate the all important referrals. In January of this year, Ms Mason won the coveted national Mortgage Choice business excellence award for Multi-Operator of the Year. Hers is the story of some hard decisions born of a potential personal and business calamity that has resulted in a flourishing, flexible lifestyle and business.

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