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The Patriotic Recruiting Gospel of a Chief People Officer

If you’re trying to brand your company as something more than just a paycheck, you’ll want to hear about HomeBanc’s Dwight Reighard. The former pastor is running a fiery recruiting campaign inspired by the U.S. Marines.

July 2, 2003
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Staffing Management
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When Dwight Reighard was 23 years old, his girlfriend’s grandmother suffered a devastating heart attack, and by the time the couple got to the grandmother’s bedside, it was too late. Reighard watched the hospital’s chaplain comfort the bereaved family and was so touched that he felt "called" into the ministry. "I'd always wanted to help people," he says, "but I didn’t know how to do it. Until then."

   Reighard has been an ordained minister for 30 years, but last December he made an unusual career switch, becoming chief people officer at Atlanta-based HomeBanc, one of the largest retail mortgage lenders in the Southeast and one of the top 20 online mortgage lenders in the United States. Going from being the head of a church to the head of human resources may seem a bit of a stretch, but Reighard says there’s plenty of overlap.

   "My goal is to see people exchange ordinary living for an extraordinary life. To me, a job is too small to fill up a person’s spirit. I want to help them find purpose in what they do, see the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization," he says.

Big expansion
   Reighard took over as CPO of HomeBanc last December, after an arduous 18-month search by the company. He already had a thriving practice as a leadership and organizational-behavior speaker, something that grew out of his role as a pastor. For years, CEOs and senior managers in Reighard’s congregation had been asking him to speak to their employees. "I would go in and help people with goal setting, help them devise personal mission statements," he says. "I did it as a pastor unintentionally for a long time, but then I started doing it as a consultant for companies."

   When he took up the HR reins, HomeBanc had 900 employees and planned to expand by 40 to 50 percent. Within weeks, Reighard, CEO Patrick Flood and chief marketing officer Stacey Cost met to devise a recruiting campaign that would find not just employees, but employees of a certain caliber: those who had a strong value system, were involved in community service and would buy into the "service-leadership" model that Reighard espouses. That model is based on the writings of Robert Greenleaf, an essayist and teacher who defined the "servant-leader" as a person who wants to serve first, before aspiring to leadership.

   To find these employees--loan officers, underwriters and customer-service specialists--Reighard, Flood and Cost came up with a campaign modeled on that of the U.S. Marines. Reighard says Flood had read a book that described how the Marines put their model together, and how they garnered their "privileged few" aura. The trio wanted to duplicate that feeling at HomeBanc.

    "You don’t get more of an education, you don’t get higher pay than in other service branches," Reighard says, "yet there is an elite feel to the Marines. For us, the few and the proud were going to have a self-sacrificing nature and already be involved somehow in their communities."

Good timing
   The company launched its recruitment drive in early March, just weeks before the war with Iraq began, which Reighard admits inspired a certain feel to the campaign. "We thought of the men and women who went to Iraq to serve our country, and the dream and vision they bought into. Stacey then came up with a very patriotic look for the ads."

   The campaign, which is expected to run the company about $300,000, combines general branding ads featuring stars and stripes, a waving flag and a serviceman with recruitment advertising that includes terms like "service oriented," "dedication" and "loyalty." One ad reads "Got What It Takes? Seeking: Dedication, motivation, talent, character and integrity."

   That’s an awful lot of requirements in an industry that can’t find people fast enough. Mortgage-industry employment is at an all-time high; a recent forecast by the Mortgage Bankers Association of America predicts about $3 trillion in mortgage lending this year. HomeBanc itself expects to close $5.4 billion in mortgage loans in 2003. In this booming industry, with its intense competition for able-bodied employees, some would argue that it’s self-defeating for Reighard to be this picky.

   He won’t compromise on standards. "These are the kind of employees who look at others and think: ‘How can I serve them as I lead them?’ They treat others, no matter what space they occupy in the organizational hierarchy, as equal."

   John Lewis, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based Campbell Lewis Communications, an advertising and marketing firm specializing in financial services, says HomeBanc’s advertising is unusual for the industry because it is so specific about the kind of employees the company wants. "Usually, you see a couple of themes," says Lewis. "One is an appeal to greed: ‘We pay the most money,’ and the other is trying to sell the prospective candidates on the size of the company: ‘Don’t you want to work for the biggest and the best?’"

   Lewis says that in the last several years there has been such a shortage of qualified people in the industry that most companies just want to fill seats, period. Yet HomeBanc’s campaign could be a differentiating factor in the competition for people. "It may wind up helping them," he says, because they won’t see HomeBanc as just another mortgage company with too much work and empty seats to fill.

   Or maybe not. Ken Gaffey, a staffing specialist based in Melrose, Massachusetts, says, "This is a candidate pool that’s heard it all before, and the more the hype, the greater the suspicion and the likelihood of disappointment." There’s also the danger, he says, that HomeBanc could overestimate its own importance. "Is there really a patriotic reason to work for a mortgage company, on a par with joining the Marines?" asks Gaffey, himself a former Marine.

Waving the flag
    Despite the odds, HomeBanc has already hired 200 people and plans to add between 200 and 300 in the next few months. In February, without advertising, HomeBanc had 400 on-line applications. That number jumped to 1,203 in March, sunk a bit in April and May, but hit 1,551 in June. The news of HomeBanc's campaign generated additional free publicity when it was picked up in publications in Atlanta, Tampa, Charlotte, and Jacksonville.

    As of mid-July, HomeBanc's per-person acquisition cost was about $1,030 per person hired. It estimates that the cost would have been $3,000 to $7,000 per hire without the campaign. In addition, the campaign communicated to potential customers that HomeBanc only hires the best--key information to get in the head of a customer about to make a complex investment.

    The company has upped its original goal of 400 new hires to 500. Speaking with Reighard--a man who is used to sweeping people into his fold--it’s not hard to imagine that those hundreds will be hired through sheer force of will. In 1997, he founded NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, and in less than five years had more than 2,000 people coming to his Sunday service. His goals for HomeBanc are equally ambitious--or suspicious, depending on your point of view.

   The company may not be a church, but in its branding ad, the words "God Bless America" are spread out wide over a waving American flag, with the HomeBanc logo beneath. Before being hired as CPO, Rieghard ran a monthly--voluntary--Bible study for employees.

   For now, however, Reighard’s goals are simple: "We want to become one of America’s most admired companies; we want to be one of the greatest places to work in America," he says. "We’ve already gotten some phenomenal people this way. Truly the few and the proud."

Workforce Online, July 2003 -- Register Now!

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