This piece originally appeared in the October 2023 edition of MortgagePoint magazine, online now.
Authentic human connection and empathy are the keys to building great technology products. This is the core belief of PhoenixTeam, a technology company that specializes exclusively in the design, delivery, and care of mortgage technology solutions in the federal government and commercial spaces.
“PhoenixTeam is in the business of people. We celebrate the power of relationships, empathy, and intellectual curiosity,” says Tanya Brennan, Managing Partner and CEO of PhoenixTeam. “Great teams make great software.”
PhoenixTeam refers to each of its team members as practitioners, an ode to the continuous journey of practice and learning that is required to create delightful products. PhoenixTeam’s practitioners form and lead empowered teams to develop a deep understanding of their client’s problems and discover the optimal solutions. Brennan says that as practitioners we know the best way to overcome a challenge is to roll up our sleeves, ask questions, and learn by doing the work.
Often referencing a popular Theodore Roosevelt quote (see below) to inspire practitioners to take chances, PhoenixTeam encourages its team members to learn through failure and to pursue
ambitious goals on behalf of its clients. As Roosevelt said, “…The credit belongs to the (person) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…” Brennan says, “That is PhoenixTeam, through and through.”
In the Right Place, At the Right Time
The founders of PhoenixTeam—Tanya Brennan, Tela Mathias, and Tom Westerlind—first met in 2001, fresh out of college working as entry-level management consultants who aspired to make
a difference. Tela, Tom, and Tanya, who together refer to themselves as “T3,” were each assigned to a multi-year project to support Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan Guaranty Service (LGY) through its major redesign of the LGY program to include regulatory, operational, and technology changes.
From the beginning, T3 knew that one day they would start their own company.
“The goal was to build a company we would want to be a part of,” says Tela Mathias, Managing Partner and COO of PhoenixTeam. “We wanted to create a great place for the talented people we already knew in the field, people that had been with us for years and years, while making a real difference for the mortgage industry, both on the federal and the commercial side.”
PhoenixTeam officially launched as a minority, woman-owned small business in 2015, just as the industry was implementing the new TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) Rule.
“Looking back, it was an opportune time to start,” says Tom Westerlind, Managing Partner and CFO of PhoenixTeam. “We were in the arena with our customers, working side by side to implement TRID on a tight timeline. We were able to help our customers be successful during a difficult time, and word spread from there.”
With more work coming in, PhoenixTeam hired its first two practitioners, Lindsay Bennett and Melanie Lewis. Both quickly took on client engagement leadership roles and went on to lead two of PhoenixTeam’s biggest commercial accounts. In 2019, they became the first two team members invited to join the PhoenixTeam ownership group as Partners. Since then, the company has grown from a team of five to over 130 passionate, dynamic, and creative humans.
“They say you become who you surround yourself with, and I first joined PhoenixTeam because of the opportunity to reunite with a remarkable group of individuals who had left a lasting impact
on me, both personally and professionally,” says Chase Carpenter, Managing Practitioner.
To date, PhoenixTeam’s growth has been organic and 100% via personal referrals from its clients and practitioners. Brennan notes that the company has never relied on outside funding and has never hired a business development or sales team. “At PhoenixTeam,” Brennan explains, “every partner is a practitioner, and we sell by word of mouth and our outstanding performance.”
It is not the critic who counts; not the (person) who points out how the strong (person) stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the (person) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends (themselves) in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that (their) place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
A Commitment to People
PhoenixTeam’s emphasis on authenticity and human connection harkens back to when T3 (the founders) first met. The lead Partner on that original LGY account back in 2001 was Ann Hopkins, Tela’s mother. Ann was a management consultant extraordinaire and civil rights advocate. “She taught by example to be a leader, take care of each other, and to challenge the status quo,” says Mathias. In her landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court recognized that Price Waterhouse had denied her partnership and discriminated against her based on sex stereotypes.
Within her practice, Ann taught five guiding principles: have fun, learn a few things, deliver a quality product that is perceived as a quality product, teach a few things, and make money. PhoenixTeam has taken these guiding principles as its foundation and continues to evolve them.
“We are committed to people, lifelong learning, service, diversity, and wellness,” says Mathias. In the spirit of that philosophy, in 2018, Phoenix started covering 100% of healthcare for its team members and their families, and now also pays for mental health services.
“Our team members deserve to come to work with less stress and we know healthcare is at the top of the list. Our desire is to do what we can, what is in our control, to reduce external stress so our
team members have fewer things to worry about and wake up ready to crush the day,” says Melanie Lewis, PhoenixTeam Partner.
When asked what qualities of PhoenixTeam allow it to attract and retain top-tier industry talent, Peter Read, Managing Practitioner, puts it simply: “Leadership…I know darn well I can text or cold call any of the partners or managing partners to talk personally and professionally. They have helped me flourish into a strong leader and have put me in positions where I am able to succeed based on my skills. They continue to invest in people both emotionally and financially. You will not get that anywhere else.”
The PhoenixTeam Difference
PhoenixTeam’s recipe for success is simple: top-tier mortgage technology talent, joy and purpose at work and home, and relentless focus on client outcomes. They believe this recipe enables their team members to become trusted advisors and deliver better outcomes for clients.
Top-Tier Mortgage Technology Talent: PhoenixTeam’s roots are mortgage and technology excellence. The company recruits mortgage technology talent with many years—often decades—of experience running mortgage lending and servicing operations. When you combine that with deep product and software development lifecycle expertise, you end up with a company of people like Becky Griswold.
In her 29-year career prior to coming to PhoenixTeam, Becky held several leadership roles at a top-10 mortgage bank leading product, technology, and enterprise services teams. Currently, she
leads the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization (MISMO) accounts for PhoenixTeam. Earlier this year, Becky became PhoenixTeam’s newest Partner.
“I had been with Phoenix for about a year and was given an opportunity to lead a key initiative for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),” recounts Becky. “The catch was that we needed a team (like yesterday) … This began the journey to find the right talent in my network who would deliver high-quality value for USDA. I quickly assembled a team of 12 who hit the ground running in less than three weeks. Each is still part of the Phoenix village today, executing with passion.”
Joy and Purpose
“One of the great joys in life is finding your purpose, excelling at it, and discovering that your impact matters to something larger than yourself.”
— Maxime Lagacé
Early on in its formation, PhoenixTeam locked in on a vision to bring “joy and purpose” back to software development while bridging the gap between technology and business teams. PhoenixTeam believes fiercely that individuals who have a clear purpose, who are connected to their teammates and clients, and who know that each of their colleagues and leaders have their back, will find greater happiness, dedication, and focus to the outcomes they drive. That can be a powerful thing.
Paul Weakley, a PhoenixTeam Partner and brilliant technologist, says he always seeks out difficult, enigmatic situations where the road to success must always be discovered. “I pursue the things I love…creativity, imagination, and problem-solving to support a mission that results in a positive impact on the world while working with friends who truly care for each other,” says Weakley. “Paul’s joy and purpose with clients is infectious,” says Brennan, recalling when he was nominated for Technologist of the Year by a mortgage client he supported even though, ultimately, he was ruled ineligible given he was not an employee.
Client Outcomes: Change is inevitable. PhoenixTeam leadership structures its contracts, software development approach, and management approach to expect change and adapt accordingly. They measure success by solving the business’s needs and achieving the outcomes set out by the client, even as those things change.
PhoenixTeam’s practitioners are experts at transforming legacy systems into modernized platforms that drive greater efficiencies. As a Salesforce Partner, PhoenixTeam is well known as a company comprised of “craft masters” who develop a clear understanding of each client’s vision and create custom strategic plans for discovery, development, and implementation of the new stack. PhoenixTeam’s experts work to break down every requirement thoughtfully, focusing on the “art of the possible” and helping to open clients’ eyes to process improvements and efficiencies
that previously seemed out of reach.
Lindsay Bennett, Partner, sums it up best: “Delivering better outcomes comes from embedding with our clients, internalizing their situation, and working together as one team. We’re not interested in showing up, ticking off a set of deliverables, and going home. We’re here to deliver value. Full stop.”
PhoenixTeam’s record aligns to this mindset. When a top mortgage FinTech engaged Phoenix to transform its lending process after more than a year of trying to implement Salesforce, PhoenixTeam wasted no time. Within a matter of weeks, the team reimagined the product vision, mission, and scope. They defined the first container of rapid value and 12 weeks later, onboarded the client’s first users. “Speed to value realization is the name of the game,” says Mathias.
When Jacki Frazer, Managing Practitioner, joined PhoenixTeam six years ago, her decision was based on a number of factors, but primarily because of the proven leadership of “T3.” Frazer recalls, “I knew that this company would be a major player in the mortgage industry, staffed with premium talent and a laser focus on our mission and purpose. In my six years with PhoenixTeam, those beliefs were confirmed. PhoenixTeam has been wildly successful due to its top talent, deep knowledge of the mortgage industry, and unwavering dedication to our clients. It is this winning combination that will keep PhoenixTeam at the forefront of technology delivery and ensure its continued success.”
“PhoenixTeam has supported USDA RD on multiple key initiatives over the past five years. They provided business advisory support services for GUS 2.0 to launch the new URLA; helped us develop the Business to Government loan and underwriting specifications leveraging MISMO standards; and, most recently, [are] leading the development of the Direct Loan Program loan origination replacement solution.”
—Dean Daetwyler, Director, System Implementation and Management Division, USDA SFH
At PhoenixTeam, the company’s leadership tells MortgagePoint that the word “impact” is not thrown around lightly or loosely. PhoenixTeam earned its reputation as an organization that “walks
the talk” because of the continuous impact it strives to deliver for its clients, community, and team members.
With its mission to enable homeownership through technology, PhoenixTeam initially supported mortgage banks and mortgage technology vendors to provide a better experience for borrowers and homeowners. PhoenixTeam then sought to partner with our country’s largest federal housing agencies to help them achieve their respective missions to enable affordable and accessible homeownership for all Americans. While it took several years to accomplish this goal, PhoenixTeam is honored to now support Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service (RHS), and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loan Guaranty Service.
“Community” is described by the PhoenixTeam leadership as a vital component to PhoenixTeam’s culture, and the company prides itself on supporting numerous causes near and dear to the hearts of its team members. As an organization that emphasizes inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (I.D.E.A.) in its day-to-day, PhoenixTeam supports, partners, and sponsors causes that increase awareness, affordability, and equal opportunity for minority and underprivileged communities, like Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the Down Syndrome Association, and the Florida Department of Blind Services. PhoenixTeam embraces its team members’ passion for community support too, marketing and matching funds raised for causes they care about.
A New Venture: Blue Phoenix
In mid-2023, PhoenixTeam partnered with Blue Bay Solutions, LLC, to form Blue Phoenix, a mentor-protégé joint venture (MPJV) committed to serving those who serve by delivering technology excellence for federal agencies. Whereas PhoenixTeam’s niche is mortgage technology, Blue Phoenix serves all industries within the federal sector.
Blue Bay, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE)-certified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB), was formed in 2022 by John Trodden who was on a mission to provide a pathway for servicemembers as they reintegrated into civilian life and workforce.
“Veterans contribute technical and interpersonal skills, discipline, leadership, loyalty, commitment, and many other attributes to a company’s workforce—all of which improve the organization and the bottom line,” says Trodden, a disabled veteran who tirelessly served our country for over 25 years. John retired from the United States Marine Corps after serving 15 years as an enlisted member earning his commission to Second Lieutenant and then went on to serve an additional 10 years as a Commissioned Officer. Deployed overseas multiple times, John led troops into and through battle, receiving numerous meritorious, commendation, and achievement awards for leadership excellence.
John says his decision to retire from the Marine Corps was not easy, but he was confident that he could apply his skills, military mindset, and passion to an industry also hungry for mission success and outcomes. He joined PhoenixTeam as part of its Department of Defense (DOD) SkillBridge Program, where he was able to learn and master the fundamentals of designing and developing software.
Within a few months, John started to connect the dots and bring to life the parallels between his military and civilian experiences that are so applicable to all industries. “I quickly came to realize that these young men and women are making a living, work hard, are smart, and are dealing in projects that are intricate with many levels,” notes Trodden. “Drawing upon my military leadership skills, I had 400 people from different walks of life, religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities under my command. But we all shared one driving force and mission, as we truly took care of one another. Troop welfare was huge, and we had each other’s backs. We were more than just brothers and sisters in arms. I thought, well, let me bring that mentality into this industry and see if we can make it work.”
Last month, PhoenixTeam and Blue Bay celebrated the launch of Blue Phoenix with their clients and partners in our nation’s capital. The founders reflected on their journey that night and the future state vision for PhoenixTeam, Blue Bay, and Blue Phoenix.
“Each of these companies put people first and seeks to deliver impactful and meaningful outcomes,” says Brennan. With PhoenixTeam’s long history serving commercial and federal agencies, and Blue Bay’s mission to help veterans transition to civilian life, Blue Phoenix is in the arena to solve tough problems and deliver outcomes for federal agencies.