The Inside Story
The Azur family got their entrepreneurial start in 1981 when Fran Azur left Liberty Loan Corporation to help found Lender's Service Inc. (See Bio) It was apparent to Fran that the industry needed a more efficient way to obtain the real estate appraisals, title searches and closing documents needed for each mortgage loan.
As lenders centralized their operations, the task of identifying local attorneys and procuring documents from county courthouses was highly inefficient. (Imagine rifling through yellow page directories for contacts and the trials and tribulations of entrusting vital, time-sensitive tasks to perfect strangers.) Lender's Service created a network of appraisers, abstractors, closing attorneys and other vendors in every market across the country and offered national lenders a "one stop shop." Because Lender's Service represented multiple lenders, they had the buying power to obtain quality services faster and at better rates. Appraisals were sold at a standard price to national lenders who enjoyed considerable savings by outsourcing the work on a transaction-by-transaction basis. The difference between the negotiated cost and the standard price created the profit margin for the business. By developing a new industry model, now generally known as vendor management or settlement services, the company was able to grow rapidly. Within a few years, Lender's Service had several hundred employees and annual revenues over $100 million.
In 1993, Prudential Home Mortgage acquired Lender’s Service. Fran’s partners retired but Fran stayed on to manage the company. When the Corporation brought in their own management team, Fran left in pursuit of greener, more entrepreneurial pastures. Working with 33 previous managers from Lender's Service and sons Chris and Bryan, Fran launched ATM Corporation.
ATM (Appraisal, Title Management) was a success from the outset. Within three years, it was one of the largest privately held companies in the industry.
Citigroup offered a handsome sum to purchase the business, but after a heartfelt family discussion, the owners decided the company was not for sale. Rather than lose their valuable customer relationship with Citigroup, ATM presented a counteroffer: ATM would clone itself specifically for Citigroup. The result was a new joint venture made up of ATM-trained employees using ATM proprietary software and the ATM network of vendors. The following year Countrywide Mortgage approached ATM with a sales offer and another joint venture was launched. Over the next ten years, ATM cloned and sold itself a dozen times to major mortgage lenders and to Equifax, a credit reporting agency. By 2007, market conditions had changed significantly. ATM faced multi-billion dollar, publicly-owned competitors and the directors were becoming concerned about subprime mortgage markets. They sold the business to Fidelity National Financial for a princely sum.
After the sale, Fran, Chris and Bryan assessed their options. There were few buyers and investors in the marketplace and lenders were extremely cautious about business loans. The family decided to address that need by looking for promising small businesses open to intellectual and financial investments.