Wisdom From the CEO: Ryan Craft

Insights» Wisdom from the CEO

November 1, 2020by Originate Report Team

Read the full November edition of Originate Report here.

Can you explain a time where you faced adversity or had struggles early on in your career? How did these experiences mold and shape them into the leader they are today?

During the summer of 2008, I was a Non-Agency & Subprime mortgage bond trader at Merrill Lynch, and it felt like we were on the wrong side of recurring tsunamis. Every couple of months, there was a new disastrous wave unfolding upon us in the mortgage and securitized bond markets, the resulting global financial crisis was beginning to erupt, and I was sitting at ground zero.   Much of that year, I spent many days, actually every day, in the trading floor trenches simply trying to survive – while hoping our firm would survive.  Many years later, I look back fondly, as they taught me so much about the markets and about people.  It honed my belief that many things are simply out of our own personal control, and the only rational and productive concern a person can have daily are the very limited things that are actually within our control, and that can be changed by our actions.  It’s this ability to focus, and distill down key priorities, that I believe allow leaders and teams to thrive – regardless of broader challenges put in their path.

What did you do in the beginning of starting your business? What risks did you have to take and how did you have the courage to continue to push forward?

Saluda Grade is a unique player in the alternative lending market, deploying a strategy of combining capital markets services with a growth equity fund and a debt asset management business. So, there’s not a lot of road maps to build off, and that’s what made it risky – but without risk, where’s the fun?!  Our courage and confidence is driven by the conviction that most of the lending markets we focus on are simply imperative to the American housing and homeowner landscape – and without American housing, there simply isn’t an America.  Forgive the hyperbole, but so much of the American Dream is the goal of homeownership – and we believe we are playing a vital role in that ecosystem.

What habits, mindset, or perspective have helped you succeed as a business owner?

Jerry Rice often gets credited with “Do today what others won’t, so tomorrow you can do what others can’t.” There are mental games that everyone plays inside their own head; to fuel themselves to work harder, prepare more, and strive to outperform their competition.  We still have a long way to go, but if we focus daily on the things we can control while working harder and preparing more than our competition – I am confident about our chances.

What excites you about your role as CEO currently today?

The best part about being CEO is that you get to pick your team. Our team does things the right way, and our clients and investors feel   My partners Tim Carr and Brian Brennan are experienced and savvy operators that anchor our team with a foundation of gravitas and competence.  Jay Ford and Brad Hartung are the gasoline in our engines, pushing our many strategies forward while keeping a team, now working remotely, aligned and in sync.  We have been building a much deeper bench around this core initial group, but when there are low moments, it’s been the conviction this group has in our mission that keeps me perpetually excited.

What has been your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur over the years?

The intoxicating part of being an entrepreneur is the process of creating an idea from scratch, engineering it from design to deployment, and eventually seeing it succeed as a viable branded entity in the market. The first time you overhear someone else discussing your company, or see it affirmed out in the market  – it absolutely floors you – that’s a concept that once lived in your mind, and now it thrives in the market.  It’s an incredibly empowering moment of pride that begins a virtuous cycle to challenge what else is possible – what else can we create?  It was Saluda Grade’s launch that has led to us launching and spinning out Unlock Technologies (Unlock.com), and it will be Unlock’s success that will lead to the next launch.

What piece of advice do you have to share with other entrepreneurs and CEO’s that are in the early stages of building their company?

I can only offer something we are struggling with ourselves right now as a company. We are working hard to try to remember to try to take a moment to truly celebrate a “win,” and not sprint to the next goal that needs to get done.  COVID is making this extremely hard, and with the market on a tear lately, we are constantly just trying to keep up with it all – like drinking from a fire hose.  While these are great problems, as there are “wins” to be celebrated, it can truly grind on your team if there is no release.  So, we are all trying to remember to “enjoy the journey,” and remember that the end result is never as fulfilling as the hard work it took to get there.

What activities or resources would you recommend other entrepreneurs to invest their time in?

I’ve found that most entrepreneurs are always on – wheels spinning, thinking through new ideas, or trying to solve a problem in their head. The best advice given to me has been to just make sure you are finding time for yourself, for your family, and allow your mind to pause and recharge.

How do you make sure your company stays ahead in this industry?

We really work hard to take feedback from our originator lending partners on what they are seeing “on the ground” from their borrowers. Those are the real estate entrepreneurs that are seeing trends happen as consumer demand for different products is constantly shifting. By translating that feedback up the chain, and then providing the cheapest and most flexible institutional capital to solve those problems – we can continue to build our originators by helping them grow their borrowers’ businesses – regardless of how housing demand will evolve.

Who is someone that has had a significant effect on your career and why?

Ted Oberwager was my college roommate at Georgetown and is now one of the rising stars in KKR’s private equity division.  He usually is the smartest guy in the room, but he leaves nothing to chance and outworks everyone just in case.  His relentless work ethic has challenged me over the years to constantly push myself further, and his insights on business and markets have helped shape how I view the world.

Is there anything that you wish you could go back and tell yourself at the inception of your company?

Enjoy every minute of it.

What tools do you use to aid you in your role as CEO to be most efficient, organized, and focused?

Calendly.com – I can’t recommend it more strongly.