From yesterday’s Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat:
By SHAWN PIATEK
It’s no secret that finding a way to stay in the Johnstown region is a trying endeavor for many of those raised here.
The challenge was no different for area natives Dave Bassett, Bob Grove, Scott Geisel and Frank Grandas. In fact, the quartet that makes up the executive management team of PennWest Home Equity Services Corp. all found themselves as Flood City expatriates at some point.
But as many former Johnstowners, all four admitted they kept an eye on their hometown.
“My wife and I were both career people when we were living in northern Virginia, working about 50 to 60 hours a week,” said Bassett, president and CEO of Penn-West. “It was a great situation for our career development.
“But once we decided to start a family and had kids, we realized we didn’t know our neighbors or anything about the schools in the area. At that point, Johnstown started looking pretty good.”
Also at that time, Bassett, who had considerable experience in the mortgage banking industry, started his own company. He soon realized that the business could operate from anywhere, so he uprooted it – along with his family – and headed back home.
As the company grew, it created opportunities for Grove, Geisel and Grandas to all follow suit. And it wasn’t a difficult decision for any of them.
“In a word, it came down to family,” said Grandas, the company’s vice president of marketing. “It was a matter of wanting to raise our children in a better place, or be close to the ones who raised us.”
Geisel, vice president of compliance, said the tight-knit nature of the region’s communities was another drawing card.
“You feel very isolated living in bigger cities,” Geisel said. “Maybe in your cul de sac, you know a few of your neighbors. But you never really have a chance to get close to them because it’s such a transit population.”
As it has grown, Basset’s business has provided an opportunity to return home for many more than the four executives.
Last month, the company announced its purchase of the former BT Financial Plaza at the corner of Main and Clinton streets in downtown Johnstown. It bought the building to accommodate additional growth, which will include hiring 80 to 85 new employees in 2007.
The four credit the company’s success largely to the hard work of its employees. But Grove, executive vice president, said that work ethic hasn’t been a surprise.
“You go somewhere like northern Virginia, and they want to hire people from western Pennsylvania because they know people from this area are dependable, reliable and hardworking.” Grove said. “That’s exactly the type of people we have working here.”
Another reason for the company’s success, the executives say, is its deep religious ties. The company’s leaders espouse their Christian values in advertising, with billboards frequently mixing biblical and marketing messages.
They even purchased the former Grace Brethren Church in Riverside, where Bassett, Grove and Geisel attended services in their youth, and remodeled it for use as their headquarters.
Bassett said the company’s Christian overtones aren’t always the most popular topic of conversation. But he and the others firmly believe that foundation is what set the pace for success.
PennWest’s established code of beliefs reads like passages from the Bible, with lines such as “Nothing is impossible with God,” and “A man will reap what he sows.”
“Some of those things are biblical,” Geisel said, “but they are also solid business practices.”
As for PennWest, Bassett said the company will continue to aggressively pursue growth, reflecting the company’s philosophy: If it isn’t growing, it is either stagnated or declining.
And when Bassett looks at the rest of the industry, he believes the sky is the limit.
“When you look at our competition, we’re about as small a mortgage banking company as there is that’s making a blip on the industry’s radar screen,” Bassett said.
“I think the room for growth is endless. And when you look at the size of some of the companies we compete with, you could fill all of downtown Johnstown with the employees from just one of them.”