Platinum Capital achieved success despite defections, market downturns, and a killer opossum attack
IT'S NOT EASY growing a I fledgling finance firm, especially if your business is accident prone. Southern California's Platinum Capital Group has faced some truly grisly obstacles, but the company has lived to tell the tale -- and turn a profit.
Platinum specializes in mortgages and home-equity loans. The company started in 1993, when Canadian entrepreneur Mark Moses, 34, moved to California in search of new opportunities. The loan officer on his new house was an aggressive young man named Brett Dillenberg. "I liked Mark's energy and tenacity," says the 32-year-old Dillenberg. "I think he felt the same way about me."
Moses and Dillenberg decided to go into the mortgage business together, using their own capital. They rented office space in Manhattan Beach and opened for business on August 5, 1993. That was the day of their first crisis.
AN EMPTY OFFICE
Dillenberg had sworn that to of his colleagues from the mortgage company would join Platinum immediately. "Well, on our first day of business, our receptionist turned up, and that was it," Moses recalls. "Not one of Brett's buddies showed."
Plan B was the want ads, through which Platinum assembled a team of talented loan officers. But just as the company was taking off, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates eight times in a 15-month period. As a result, 60 percent of California mortgage companies went out of business.
Platinum found a creative solution: sending loan officers to work side by side with local real-estate agents. That way, customers could both find a property and apply for a mortgage in the same office. This turned out to be a dandy idea: Moses and Dillenberg persuaded some of the loan officers already there to come and work for them.
In 1994 the government began insuring home-equity loans for up to 125 percent of the value of a property. Platinum leapt into the new market. In seven months, the operation grew from four people to 80...