Meet John Lawson – A Man of a Distinct Vintage

John’s our Chief Compliance Officer. He keeps us in good standing with state and federal regulations. That puts him in charge of compliance and quality control.

We sat down with John to chat about everything from the Dodd-Frank Act to the science of creating a Pinot Noir.

CHM: What’s your position at CHM?  I’m our Compliance Officer. I deal a lot with risk management. I prepare for regulatory audits and make sure that the Federal and State agencies are pleased with us. I deal with licensing in the states where we operate, paying close attention to the different mortgage laws in each state.

I inform senior management about best practices and support the company in building controls and procedures. In addition, I’m helping to maneuver the company into a more mature stage.

CHM: How long have you been with CHM, and in the mortgage business?  I started as a consultant in 2009. The company was going through a Federal Reserve audit and asked me for support during the process. I’d been a Senior Examiner with the Fed for several years prior to that, and was working as an independent consultancy.

During the course of the audit, Commerce management noticed that I had other skills. I had a deep mortgage banking background. I’d been the Risk and Compliance Officer at E-Loan, and been in Operations Management for Bank of America. I was the right person at the right time and came on board in 2010.

CHM: Why did you decide to take a position at CHM?  During my time with the Federal Reserve, there was lots of travel. I would jump on an airplane and go where they sent me. Each place I went, I was doing the same thing at a different location. It got a little old. With Commerce Home Mortgage, I have the opportunity to help a company succeed and get to stay near friends and family.

During the audit I discovered that I really liked the management team. They’re very open. They’ve created a culture that’s very much like a family.

I’m good at working independently. At BofA and E-Loan, I set up my own departments. At the Federal Reserve, I designed training and audit programs. I’ve been able to work in the same way at Commerce, setting up systems and procedures while working directly with senior management. It’s a great collaborative environment.

CHM: What got you interested in the Home Mortgage business?  I started out as a music major in college. Eventually I changed my major to business and graduated with a Bachelors Degree is Business Finance from San Diego State University. We were in a recession when I got out of college, so I took positions as an entry-level auditor at Union Bank of California and then Tokai Bank in Los Angeles, and worked my way up.

In 1988 I got a call from Ameristar Financial. They asked if I could join them as CFO the following Monday. I didn’t feel that I had enough experience yet, so they agreed to bring me on as Controller. A few years later I received a similar call from BofA that led to a position as interim COO and eventually to VP – National Production.

I was first exposed to the mortgage industry in San Diego in 1987. I saw that it was the cornerstone of many banks. I like working with good people, and people in the mortgage business are good people.

CHM: I understand you have a wine business on the side?  I’m a Managing Partner of Goodfellow Wine. We buy grapes and produce about 300 cases of wine per year. About 150 cases each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

I learned winemaking at an early age. In college I took the academic route and read about the science of winemaking and went wine tasting between semesters. I transferred to the Bay Area in 1999 and started driving up to Napa Valley wineries. I worked on harvests for several wineries and learned from the vintners.

My sons have followed my lead and work in large wineries. One also works with me at Goodfellow.

CHM: Where can we get your wines? We have a wine club and host barbeques and wine tastings about three times a year. You can also try them at some restaurants in Walnut Creek.

CHM: How does your hobby influence your work at CHM?  I keep my networking in the wine and mortgage businesses separate, but there are similarities in the mechanism behind both. One’s more art and one’s more science. The mortgage industry requires more insight into overall economics.

CHM: Any insights you can share with us?  With all of the new initiatives in the works, there are gigantic changes happening in the mortgage business. I’m working now to get the whole company ready for the changes and to help management be sensitive to the new regulations. My goal is to make the transition seamless to our customers.

CHM: What initiatives are the most impactful?  The DoddFrank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 requires that regulatory agencies perform their functions. Previously, regulators couldn’t dig deep enough. The laws aimed at getting agencies to do their jobs means that everyone else has to do likewise. At Commerce Home Mortgage we’ve built an infrastructure with all of the regulations build seamlessly into our systems. We rely heavily on technology to remain compliant.

CHM: Did you ever think you’d be so involved in technology?  When I was in college, IT was big. I recall going into Citibank in New York where they had their first technology network. I knew then that it was the future. Now it rules the world.

CHM: Any final thoughts?  I must say that I really like the people here. They’re earnest and professional. It’s a wonderful group who truly want to do the right thing and operate using best practices. They’re not just going through the motions. So, it’s a great place to be and to grow. Sure we have frustrations like anyone, but it’s because we’re working through issues that are real and important to us, and to our customers. With the family orientation we have here, everything is working well.

CHM: We’re glad to have John looking out for us and our customers. We all feel a little smarter, safer, and more sophisticated with him in our midst. Cheers!