“We would not be the company we are today without our talented employees,” says Deborah Sturges, founder and CEO of Hallmark Home Mortgage, LLC. “I have always believed that investing in people is key, regardless of the line of business you pursue.”
Having spent her entire career in the mortgage industry, Sturges is well-respected both nationally and locally. She knows what works and what doesn’t.
“On the surface, Hallmark provides financing for the housing needs within our community, but to its employees, there is often a deeper meaning to this critical work,” she says. “A dedication to servicing its customers is at the very heart of Hallmark’s success.”
That success did not come easily, but instead through a challenging set of circumstances that involved heartache, risks and an uncertain future.
“I spent the first half of my career at Waterfield Mortgage where I was blessed to learn about the business from the ground up. The company was headquartered here in Fort Wayne, but well-known all over the country. Eventually, I was promoted to executive vice president. I valued the career path that I had and how it led me to a point where I could run my own business.”
Sturges wasn’t planning to run her own business. But that changed in 2005 when Waterfield’s majority ownership decided to sell the company.
“All of a sudden, I was unemployed, as were more than 650 people — good, hardworking people. These were people I had worked with very closely for years and dearly loved. I was just heartbroken. I couldn’t even put up a Christmas tree that year.”
Fortunately, as an employee shareholder in Waterfield, she had invested wisely and was in a good position financially. She spent a couple of months trying to figure out what she was going to do. As a single mother with a daughter in college, she had many things to consider.
After consulting with a number of people and doing some deep thinking, she made the decision to take a huge, albeit calculated, risk: start her own mortgage company.
“Keep in mind, it was 2007 and we were entering a recession. Many businesses were facing bankruptcy, including some high profile mortgage companies. Most people looked at me like I was crazy when they learned of my plan. But I believe that if you do something for the right reasons, the success will come.”
Her first priority was to recruit as many of the top notch Waterfield people as possible before they left the community to pursue employment elsewhere. And she explains how a longtime friend who had faith in her and her abilities, helped to bring her vision to reality.
“Gary Probst, a familiar name in the Fort Wayne area, was an investor ready to help Hallmark get off the ground. Gary told me he invests in people, not businesses. His infusion of added capital allowed me to grow beyond northeastern Indiana within the second year of Hallmark opening. I remain very grateful to Gary for his trust in me and the team I assembled.”
Slowly, but surely, that team came together. Sturges found office space at the corner of Coldwater and Cook roads on Fort Wayne’s north side. Then she began reaching out to her former colleagues, starting with Chrissy Buchanan.
“When Deb approached me about her idea, I did not hesitate for a minute,” says Buchanan, who now serves as the executive vice president/operations manager at Hallmark. “I had all the confidence in the world that Deb would create a successful company considering we had been working together since 1996. After being displaced at Waterfield, I had job offers in Indianapolis and Chicago, but that would have forced me to move out of a community that I had grown to love. Deb set a very high bar from the beginning for ethics and quality in our company, and all of the employees at Hallmark wear that badge of honor.”
Sturges respected the fact that her offer to Buchanan and others required a huge leap of faith.
Tina Bennett had already landed a position at a top ten national lender after life at Waterfield and was scared to take the risk.
“I was excited and terrified at the same time, yet I was also encouraged by the knowledge that Deb had much more experience than I did and she had already been a mentor of mine at Waterfield. I decided to take the challenge and join her because I was confident in her commitment and knew she would never lead me astray,” says Bennett, who now serves as branch manager/SVP at Hallmark.
Today, Hallmark is originating more than $1 billion in mortgage loans annually, which equates to helping nearly 5,000 families per year. Headquartered in Fort Wayne, Hallmark’s footprint now spans 14 states and the company employs several hundred people, nearly half of whom had been at Waterfield.
While Hallmark continues to grow, its mission and core values hold as a beacon to ensure its commitment to customers and employees never changes.
Sturges and her team promote the following:
• Team Over Self
• Doing the Right Thing (Being Ethical)
• A Deep Commitment to Customer
• Performing with Excellence
“This always has been and always will be about people,” says Sturges. “Mortgages are common to get families into homes. Still, there is often a more profound connection for the employees at Hallmark, knowing that their work gives families a brighter future. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we like working together and being around each other and we look forward to getting that back. When you have people like that, the future is indeed bright.”
Address: 7421 Coldwater Road Fort Wayne, Indiana 46825
Phone: (260) 469-0900 (888) 490-1428
Years in Business: 14
Number of Employees: 267
Products & Services: Hallmark Home Mortgage offers a variety of home purchase and refinance products to meet the needs of every homebuyer and any homeowner who would like to leverage the equity they have in their home to achieve their financial goals.