I wear a lot of hats. These hats serve a bigger purpose—to equip me to being the highest value to humanity as the best entrepreneur, coach and speaker I can be. Let me tell you my story. If you're inspired by it, I'd love to talk to you about your challenges and how I may be able to help.
Cover Story of 'Broker' Magazine June 2022 Issue: "New Radical" Interview and Story of finding my purpose and becoming a thought leader.
Laura Scarlett Martin is a force of nature. Seven years ago, she stepped into the COO role at Canadian firm Matrix Mortgage Global and set the business on a new trajectory with prodigious results. A risk taker and change maker, she’s a mortgage broker with a degree in psychology and cognitive science, a thought leader and visionary who believes purpose and radical authenticity are the real secrets to success. Bold and vibrant, not only in her style but in her ideas and how she articulates them, once you meet Laura Scarlett Martin she is imprinted on your memory.
Since 2016, Laura has established a reputation as a global finance influencer, openly sharing knowledge and insights and demanding equality in the industry. As COO at Matrix Mortgage Global, Laura has proved her words. Under her direction, the Canadian firm has achieved 550% year-on-year revenue growth the past year and today employs 110 mortgage agents.
Growing up in Toronto, Canada, the youngest of three kids to a real estate power couple, Laura had unconsciously assimilated real estate knowledge her entire childhood – even possessing the ability to guess a property’s value at a young age.
Curious and intelligent but not particularly interested in school, it was a logical move for Laura to start her career in a real estate office in 2007. Her stint as office manager didn’t last long though, after Matrix Mortgage Global CEO Shawn Allen suggested she get her mortgage licence. “I thought, ‘why am I making twenty bucks an hour? I want to make six figures!” recalls Laura.
Armed with natural leadership ability and the desire to constantly improve, Laura shot up the ranks quickly. She began training agents and leading training sessions. In 2010, after three years as a broker, she opened her own office on the 40th floor of a skyscraper in the epicentre of Toronto. By the numbers, her business was highly successful, but Laura says she hit a wall after just a few years.
“It was Friday night. I was sitting in my office, by myself. I had no peers, no mentors, no nothing. I was losing sleep, I was stressed-out, and I really felt my career was becoming meaningless. I was just not that engaged with it anymore. I had this unshakable, cognitive dissonance with it. I asked myself, ‘what am I doing here? Am I just selling money? I don't feel fulfilled in this work anymore.’”
Laura decided to step away from her career and enrolled at University of Toronto. “I chose to study psychology and cognitive science because that's literally the study of consciousness and the mind.
As a teenager, Laura had suffered from depression and self-destructive behaviours. Doctors had attempted to treat her depression not with talk therapy or interventions but with medication. When the medication didn’t work the doctors would change pills or dosage, until Laura made a second suicide attempt. “While in the ICU, I received a letter from the company that made the pills, directing all patients under 18 years old be taken off the medication immediately – because it was found to increase suicidal thoughts,” shares Laura. She ceased taking the medication, and spent years ignoring the mental health struggles she had endured as a teenager, but they were ever-present, sitting just below the surface, still not fully healed.
“The most transformative course of my study was positive psychology, which is basically the study of people that are savant and examples of excellence, people that have overcome great challenges and created a growth mindset to succeed. I read about people that had gone through trauma, for instance, Viktor Frankl, who wrote Man's Search for Meaning. He's a Holocaust survivor, neurologist and psychiatrist who developed logotherapy, which is the psychology of finding meaning and how you can create meaning through struggle. It acknowledges that challenges and struggles are absolutely unavoidable and we really must come to terms with that and see them as opportunities for growth,” explains Laura.
“It was through reading about these people and healing myself that I thought, ‘okay, I've got this. Now I understand how to be resilient, how to talk myself through challenges, how to approach life.’ The question for me then became, ‘how do I marry this knowledge with business, with the only kind of business that I'm trained in, which is the mortgage business?’ Because after four years of study, I had to get back to work.”
While I was studying business psychology at the University of Liverpool, Laura reapproached Shawn Allen at Matrix. “I said, ‘Shawn, are you ready to light this thing on fire? I want to create systems and processes and infrastructure and training systems and build a national brand and a team. Can you give me the reins? Can you let me do that with you? He said, yes.”
Laura wrote her own job description, under the title COO, and hit the ground running alongside Shawn as CEO. “Being visionaries, we always have new ideas, so we knew that we needed people that were more grounded and based on the reality and the logistics and the management,” says Laura, “which is where Carla Allen comes in. Carla is Shawn's wife and the Managing Director of Matrix. She's really the person that keeps us grounded, the string to our balloon.”
Together, the team has achieved exceptional success and along the way Laura has openly shared her secrets.
Laura’s first action was to niche and rebrand. She shortened the website to mmgb.ca, overhauled all marketing materials to ensure clear, cut-through messaging, and focused the business on one thing – private lending. “Instead of trying to be everything, we just tried to do one thing really well. We knew private lending was going to be our great strength because during the great financial crash of 2008, we saw all of our lenders dry up. If we don't actually have control over the money, we can't control anything. So, we were able to forge relationships with private lenders. And now we have our own private funds, so we are the lender.”
Next, Laura sought to position Matrix as a market leader in the customers’ eyes. “Matrix kept getting nominated for awards, but never won. They were nominated for Best Private Lending Brokerage for four or five, six years in a row, never winning. When I got my hands on the award submissions, suddenly win, win, win, win. We’ve now spent five years on the Top Broker list, and expect to win our fifth consecutive Private Lending Brokerages of the Year Award.
“So many people that are good at sales or are great analytically or great with numbers are not great with written words. I was able to take my work ethic, my industry knowledge, my ability to grind and ability to put together a persuasive argument and apply that to getting that award recognition. So, now in the eyes of the market, in the eyes of the consumer, we are the best. As soon as we got these award wins, we had credibility. We could add that to our value proposition – See, we really are the number one private lending brokerage. We really are the top brokerage in Canada.”
While Matrix was generating leads, at significant cost, Laura discovered these weren’t always being followed through. She implemented new process and strict instruction to ensure leads were followed up and entered into a database. As with any change, there was pushback. “We cut up the process into three steps and hired new people that weren’t just mortgage agents,” says Laura. “It's unreasonable to expect someone to excel at sales, excel at marketing, excel at underwriting, excel at understanding products, excel at emotional intelligence and handling people who are stressed out and everything else that goes along with mortgage broking.
“Step 1 was getting the data and calling the lead in a timely manner. Step 2 was getting the customer mortgage application details and talking over what they’re qualified for and creating the relationship, like an account manager. Step 3 was building out our underwriting department. So, we separated the customer service aspect, the sales aspect and the technical aspect.
“We kept building these layers, and we got better and better. In 2017 we went national. In 2018, Matrix’s tenth year in business, we created a private fund capital. Our last year we had 550% year-over-year revenue increase. We underwrote 654 deals last year, and now have 110 mortgage agents throughout Canada.”
“To build a personal brand you have to be real. Often, what we do is we trade being real for being liked. People really connect with, want to be with and want to work with real people so you can't make this trade off. Customers can absolutely sense when you're being inauthentic. If you honour being real, you will find you work with people you connect with authentically, who give you more referrals, who are less of a challenge and a drain to work with. That leaves you with more energy, more focus and more everything else follows.”
Laura encourages all brokers to cultivate self-awareness. “Look at your life story, your challenges, and how you can turn those challenges into opportunities for advocacy, for raising awareness or for creating a passion project – and create real impact through those.”
For Laura, creating meaning within mortgage broking has given her work purpose and fulfillment. “Most people are just focused on the next client, on the next deal. We have this corporate culture at Matrix that is so collaborative and supportive, it’s taken the ego and competition out of sales. We have a chat group with all 110 Matrix agents, where they can ask each other questions. We’ve created a system that everyone flourishes within.” Outside the office walls, Matrix has created a not-for-profit called Matrix Cares, and runs initiatives for financial literacy.
Online, Laura has been building both hers and Shawn’s social networks since 2016 when she stepped into her new function at Matrix. “Every day I added people in the real estate and mortgage space. Today I have about 30,000 followers. I also focused on thought leadership, so I would post weekly, about things like, ‘how do you work with rate shoppers?’ Or ‘tips for productivity’. I’d get a little bit of traction and I would use it to build referral networks and relationships with other brokers. We were always connectors, looking to collaborate not compete. I looked at other brokers as potential partners.”
Her social following exploded when Laura posted a piece speaking out against the way women were being treated at industry events and the inequality in leadership opportunities. In her own experience, Laura had been grabbed at, leered at and had people be inappropriate towards her at events. “I thought, I’m the COO of a top brokerage in Canada, how is this still happening?” shares Laura. “The post went viral, got more than 200,000 views and hundreds of comments from women and men.”
With Laura in the COO seat and Carla Allen as Managing Director, Matrix has 60% women in leadership – the most women in leadership out of any brokerage in Canada. It is also “quite by accident,” the most diverse brokerage in Canada. “Shawn is Guyanese, Carla is Jamaican, I’m mixed Irish/German and Jamaican on my mother’s side. We're all culturally Canadian, we're all born in Canada, but our office is diverse — there’s no stereotype of what a broker looks like. A leader can be someone with hair extensions and black skin.”
A common thread in Laura’s leadership style has been her transparency. In her posts she talks openly about sexism, about being vulnerable, about mental health and her history, about having ADHD and how she handles it. “My goal is to just normalize these conversations.”
Using positive psychology and her natural leadership ability, Laura is a true force of nature. COO at 24, carving out a mortgage business brimming with purpose and authenticity, leading with clarity and vision, Laura has created the very meaning that was lacking from her career before. “I took responsibility for my self-actualization and for creating my own vision,” reflects Laura. “I boldly asked for it and got it.”