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Damon Pistulka, Michael Haltman
Damon Pistulka 00:01
All right, everyone, welcome once again to the faces of business. I’m your host, Damon Pistulka. And with me today, I have Michael Hallman. And we, from Hallmark abstract services in New York City, we are going to be talking about reinventing your business. Michael, thanks for being here today.
Michael Haltman 00:22
You know what, Damon, thank you for having me. This is a great opportunity, and I really appreciate it. We’re gonna have a great time.
Damon Pistulka 00:27
Yeah, I’m excited. I’m excited. There’s a lot of stuff for us to talk about a lot of things we were getting going back before we started here, and I’m really excited to talk today. So Michael, let’s talk a little bit about your history, your background, and kind of how you got in a situation where you needed to do a significant reinvention of your business.
Michael Haltman 00:53
Okay, well, I’ll give you the back of the napkin summary of my of my life. So when I got out of business school in the 80s, I was a bond analyst and a bond trader on Wall Street. For a few of the big firms that aren’t in existence anymore. Then I became a proprietary equity trader for many years, at a firm that ended up being the largest proprietary equity trading firm in the country.
And at some point, it was about 2002, I decided to open up a commercial mortgage lending company, and it was going great, you know, we, we would make the loans, we would table fund them in the bank’s name, actually, in my name, you know, it was being funded by a bank, and we would sell to the CMBS market. And in 2008, that was a tough time when it was, you know, the CMBS, market went away.
And my business was no longer viable. At the same time, as if that wasn’t enough, my wife was in a family business of hard money, residential construction, lending. And my, you can’t get it in a more illiquid part of the market than that. And 2008 was not very kind to them either. And they went out of business. So my wife and I were, both of us had a business, we had two girls in college, we had one son who was on his way. And we needed to reinvent very quickly. And here, and here we are today.
Damon Pistulka 02:40
You know, I this this, the situation that you are in? I’m sure it had to cause some sleepless nights and things. Definitely, definitely.
Michael Haltman 02:52
No, I left that one part. We also lost most of our money. Yeah, yeah. Sleepless nights. Definitely. Yeah.
Damon Pistulka 03:04
So I don’t laugh at you. I’m laughing right alongside you. Because that, that, that that will be a tough situation, trying to envision that and just thinking what? Where, where? Where do you start at a situation like that, in situation like that? Well, I
Michael Haltman 03:29
think the first place you start is you have to get your mind on straight. You know, the, there’s a part of the brain, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, it’s called the amygdala. And it’s, it’s basically the flight or fight or flight part of your brain. And you have two choices. You can either curl up in the fetal position and let it let the river take you wherever it takes you where you have to get up and fight and, and work to make the situation better. And, you know, through my life, I’ve never been in the fetal position kind of guy. And you know, we got up and we fought.
Damon Pistulka 04:09
Yeah. Didn’t I say see that you actually were a boxer in the past life.
Michael Haltman 04:15
Actually, that’s true, too. So, in the 70s, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the with the Catskills in New York. So I worked as a bellhop at grow singers, which was like the queen of all of those hotels. I would I went to school up in Albany, we would drive down on weekends, we would work the weekends, but that was the day when all the professional boxers trained in the Catskills.
And there were Boxing Clubs around the hotel, so I did partake in boxing. But the only time the only the only sanction fight I ever had was about 10 years ago in what’s known as the Long Island fight for charity, where businessmen train, raise money. And then get in the ring and and fight. Yes. Yes, I was. No. So you really? You have to fight?
Damon Pistulka 05:12
Yeah, you have to fight because it’s right. It’s, it’s so many people after the situation like I am now look at it and go wow. And when you’re in those situations it’s it’s a lot different. So do you think that? Did you just kind of go? Okay, this is where we’re at. I can feel sorry for a little while and then did you just go boom, now it’s time to turn it on.
Michael Haltman 05:41
You know what I gotta be honest with you. I don’t recall ever really feeling sorry. You know that. It wasn’t really, you know, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. And it wasn’t unique to me, it was really a time of pain for for a lot of people.
So, you know, you have to kind of try and sit down and think about what it is you, you know, what your options are, what the opportunities are you we actually looked into some crazy things like working that there’s a thing, there’s a website called gov Boondocks, where the federal government the RFPs, for everything they buy, you know, we looked, we looked into a few different things. But at the end of the day, you know, for my wife, title, insurance was a key part of her business. And in my business of commercial mortgage lending, title insurance was also a key.
So we knew we knew the product, we had actually looked into title insurance as a little bit of an ancillary stream of income while we were still had our companies. And, you know, fortunately, there was a woman who was unhappy with the title company she was at. And you know, what we brought her on, she’s still with us today. And, you know, we started it was a tough time to start a title company, I can tell you that.
But, you know, what we’ve grown, we’ve grown well, you know, the actually the issues back then there weren’t a lot of barriers to entry. But the good title insurance, underwriters wouldn’t take on a fledgling company, particularly at that time. So we had a go with some of the lesser underwriters, which created its own catch 22 Because they just want a good underwriter. But you can’t get the good underwriter until you’ve built up to a certain point. So it was a you know, it was a little bit of a struggle at the beginning.
But you know, what, what doesn’t kill you make kills you? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And, you know, we just persevered. And, and I’ll tell you something else is that when, when the going gets tough in a lot of marriages, that kills marriages. Yeah. You know, when everything’s great, everything’s great. And it doesn’t take much work. But when things go to crap, you know, you kind of find out who you’re in the foxhole with. So, you know, the beard. And it’s, and here we are 36 years.
Damon Pistulka 08:20
Awesome. And you’ve worked together in business. Now
Michael Haltman 08:23
we do we own the company together. We sit.
Michael Haltman 08:30
We spend a lot of time together. Yeah, no, it’s great. Yeah, most people don’t necessarily do that. Yeah,
Damon Pistulka 08:41
yeah. It’s it’s just depends just offense.
Michael Haltman 08:46
Exactly. Well, I I’m a little more easygoing. So you know, personnel if you have two people who are not easy going you can be much more difficult.
Damon Pistulka 08:57
So yeah. So as you as you thought about this, and you’ve you’ve started reinventing your business, you’re in title insurance, which you knew a little bit about going into it. What are some of the things now that you you’ve been in the title insurance business for a while, and you’re you’re thinking about reinventing what are some of the things that you brought to the title insurance business that maybe wasn’t there before that people hadn’t thought about that much that really helps you guys to set yourself apart from other companies?
Michael Haltman 09:29
Well, some of the things are so the title insurance industry is a I’m not gonna call it a dinosaur kind of industry, but a lot of the companies are run by older people. Technology is not necessarily something that they think about care about. And, you know, I always thought that I was never really on social media as personally, but it’s a you know, you have to create a brand you have to be broaden your footprint, you know, you have to get exposure. And social media is great.
Blogging is great. Getting on to podcasts and creating podcasts is great, you know, trying to get as much media media time as you possibly can, you know, it title insurance is a funny industry, it’s not the, you know, they, they always talked about how the blockchain was going to destroy the industry. And, you know, it was going to be the be all and end all of a lot of industries. But, you know, it’s the industry is kind of what the industry is, you know, there are some changes, you know, there’s electronic recording.
But beyond that, it’s, it is pretty much what it is, and you have to try and create different avenues to try and set yourself apart. So that’s kind of how I viewed it at the time. You know, we don’t we have some technology that we didn’t create, but that is, you know, we’re probably one of the not very many companies who utilize it that is us to our clients. And, you know, just being out there, you got to continue to be out there.
Damon Pistulka 11:24
Yeah, you talked about a couple things. One, the company’s being run by older people. We run into that a lot in the business brokerage business sales m&a world to it seems like it’s a, it doesn’t seem like it’s, it’s, it’s run by a lot of people that look like URI with with a bit of gray.
And the, as you said, technology and and then just being out there in the media is really non existent for a lot of them. Right. And it’s interesting. So as you’ve embraced the technology, as you embrace things getting on podcasts, you guys have the Do you wonder Podcast? I’m gonna talk about that in a little bit. But what what has that really showed you about business that you didn’t know, when you were in your previous business?
Michael Haltman 12:27
You don’t want to in the previous business, I don’t think that I was out there quite enough. You know, I don’t think that I embrace the networking, the going out and shaking hands, the being the being there, you know, you someone who is early on in this company, you know, I went to a couple of networking meetings, and one guy in particular would always say, you can’t your company can’t be a secret. You know, you have to, you have to be out there, you have to let people know that you exist, what you can do you know, what your track record is. And I took that to heart. It is very,
Damon Pistulka 13:10
it is it is it’s interesting how your way you learn, there is something I did as well, too. And in the corporate roles, I had no reason really to network running companies. It was like, it was a wait, honestly, I looked at it as a waste of time. And I look back at that, and that was one thing that the people that were much more intelligent about, they’re building their, their careers, and I was, it’s a big part of it.
And if you’re not doing that consistently, even when you’re working with, you know, for a company, it’s important to build that network up. And because you can’t be a secret, whether it’s you personally, or you as a company
Michael Haltman 13:52
100% You know, early in my career, I didn’t play the politics of corporate the corporate world as I would today, you know, I guess they say youth is wasted on the young. And I’m going to I’m going to say that’s pretty much true because I always say that if I had to go back and do it over again, you know, it would have been a hell of a lot different.
Damon Pistulka 14:16
Yeah, yeah, that’s for sure. That for sure. And the other thing about can’t be a secret I think that I I talked to a lot of people about that. And I was just actually talking to a company this morning. And we know that we need to talk to more people we need to we need to cast a wider net in business and explain to build the relationship was for people that might someday or could know somebody someday that might want to do business with us. But it seems like that that step to go from I know this is what I need to do. And actually doing it is like is like the Grand Canyon for some people. Oh,
Michael Haltman 15:00
no question. I mean, I think, I think in life, there’s a lot of inertia, you know, it’s hard to change, it’s hard to make change, it’s it’s hard to, you know, things are kind of status quo going along fine. Not, not horrible, not terrific. But it can be hard to, to light a fire under your butt to, to get out there.
Damon Pistulka 15:25
Exactly that that needs to change. Like, when you’re you when you are the situation where well, we got to do something, right. I mean, that’s where that’s where a lot of people that seems like they have to go before they really start to do these kinds of things. Onto percent. Yeah. But if we can get ourselves to kind of stick not, you know, necessarily be in that situation in the real world, but keep our mind mentally, mentally in there. It sure seems like it would help us.
Michael Haltman 15:56
Absolutely. But, you know, they always say changing stuff. A good friend of mine, he was he had a good job at a brokerage firm. And then they did their typical reorg. And he was out, and he ended up creating a new career that is incredibly more successful. And he’s incredibly more happy, happier. And but it never would have happened if, if an outside influence hadn’t forced him to do it. So I mean, unfortunately, that’s, that’s what happens. Most are alive.
Damon Pistulka 16:32
Well, uh, do you feel that way about yourself? Now? Do you feel are you think you’re happier now with this business working with your wife than then you literally were before?
Michael Haltman 16:43
Ah, I think so. You know, I think we are I will certainly, certainly some of the scars of, of those situations, you know, what is it 14 years ago? Some of those scars still remain? Yeah. You know, we’ve had a good run, and I think I would say probably, yes, we are happier.
Damon Pistulka 17:05
Good. Good. That’s awesome. Yeah. Awesome. That’s, that’s great. When you can you can emerge from have a tough situation like that and get in and feel at least like, I think we’re gonna be a we’re better. Yeah. That’s good. So you got a title insurance company? What was the reason behind doing your podcast? Do you wonder podcast?
Michael Haltman 17:36
What do you ever wonder is something that I was in the shower one day, and I the name came to me, but the reason behind it really is part and parcel of growing my footprint, growing our exposure, you know, it’s not, it’s not for my exposure, it’s for the, it’s the exposure of the company. So, you know, what I tried to do is to have guests and it’s, it takes a little time to, to bring on people who, you know, maybe have a little more stature. But, you know, they’re not going to come on, unless you have someone who has a little bit of stature, you know, want to belong to a club that wouldn’t have them as a member kind of deal.
So Groucho Marx, but, you know, I thought it was a good concept. And I thought that it would, if I did a lot of different topics, you know, not necessarily just real estate, but you know, health and wellness or technology, or like Marcus Ogden, he spoke of, you know, how do you create a top 1% podcast? For a much time? I might. You know, those, it’s a I kinda liked doing it. To be honest.
I never thought I would like if you would ask me 20 years ago, hey, do you see yourself sitting on a camera, talking to people interviewing people asking questions to people? I’ll be quite honest. And I could never have imagined that. Well, I kind of enjoy it. So that’s great. But, you know, it’s also the always always thinking and trying to find guests who I think have something to bring to the table.
So you know, this last week, I had a real coup, which was, there’s a New York City commercial real estate broker, who is like, a very well known Bob Knakal. And through persistence, he came on as a guest, and it was, it was great, but I also see having him on as a guest is maybe a stepping stone to other people in real estate. All right, uh, You know, a certain level that people want to hear. But yeah, you know, again, that’s all part of trying to grow the Hallmark abstract service brand.
Damon Pistulka 20:10
Yeah. Yeah. So it’s, it’s really interesting that you said I have saved. I love. I love that too.
Michael Haltman 20:23
I was I was a president of a networking group. And when I was no longer president, they got me this as a parting gift. And one day, I’m sitting in front of the the microphone, this microphone, and I’m like, wow, that looks pretty good. So that’s awesome. My, my logo?
Damon Pistulka 20:42
Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. And the fact that you’re covering different topics, I think is good, too, because you keep it interesting doing that in in different people on it. So what are some of your aspirational people you’d like to have on if you want to share them?
Michael Haltman 21:02
You know, what, some of the leaders of real estate, you know, I’m actually going to be on Daddy Herman’s radio show on Saturday, but I would love to have her on. And she’s you familiar with daddy Herman? No, I’m not. So she’s the CEO of Douglas, Elliman. Okay.
She grew up in the industry, but she’s, she’s, she said the heights. She said, You know, there off the top of my head. I can’t give you specific names. Other than her, but yeah, I mean, there are a lot of people who I think have have achieved and accomplished a lot. And I think people would like to hear about how they got there, how they stay there. You know what their future looks like? I find all that stuff. Pretty interesting.
Damon Pistulka 21:53
Yes, yes, definitely. So what what’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned from interviewing these people?
Michael Haltman 22:03
I think that there’s a constant thread through a lot of them. And that is, you know, they’re they’re workaholics. They love. I guess what they love what they do. You know, and you know, that old saying, If you don’t love what, if you love what you do?
You don’t work a day in your life. And you know, a lot of these people are just focused. You know, really, really? What’s the word? Yeah, they’re really focused on they have their eye on the prize. Yeah. So I would say, you know, a lot of people meander through life. But a lot of these high achievers, they don’t meander, they have a, they have a target, and they’re aimed at that target. And, you know, they fight until they achieve their goals.
Damon Pistulka 22:54
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s awesome. Because I agree 100% when you when you start talking with with people that have achieved things in life, you can tell that they’ve had probably just as many setbacks as anyone else. They probably had to work harder than anyone else in a lot of respects. But that persistence and focus and loving what they do, because I don’t think you can do it without really love. Love in that’s it’s that strong word. I think you need us in the focus to do it, otherwise, they wouldn’t go through that to get.
Michael Haltman 23:31
Yeah. You know, whatever it is you do in life, I guess you have to have somewhat of a passion for and a drive. Yeah, I think that’s right.
Damon Pistulka 23:40
Yeah, really good. So you are also a part of heroes to heroes. I am the fact that explain a little bit about that, because I want don’t want to get get off today without talking about that.
Michael Haltman 23:58
Well, I appreciate that. So the heroes to heroes foundation is nondenominational combat veteran 501 C three, and we work and actually we successfully save combat vets who return home suffering moral injury, and who live it at high, high risk of death by suicide. And I don’t know how familiar you are with moral injury. But you know, basically it’s that you’ve done something seen something so apparent, so against everything that we hold, as as the basic tenets of society that you can’t live with yourself.
So, we work through we have a 15 month program. It’s based in peer support, spiritual awakening and reconnection to faith and the center part of the program. We send teams to Israel, where there’s no more spiritual place in the world. And you know, Whether it’s at, at the Western Wall or getting baptized in Gordon river or a yard of a sham, something, something triggers the understanding that what they did was not a crime, it was their job.
You know, and if I, if I can tell you a quick story, so one, one vet who had been non communicative with his team, because some guys go on, or women go on this trip, and, you know, kind of have to be forced a little bit. But when he came out of the out of a sham, he hadn’t been speaking to anyone. And he said, he called everyone together and said, I have a story to tell. And he told the story of how he was with his platoon.
And a father came up with his 10 year old son gave the son his gun and said, kill the infidels. And this guy had to kill the 10 year old. And he also killed the father, for giving the anyway. But he had a 10 year old son at home. And, you know, how do you, you know, how do you you? How can you reconcile that and why you’re the Shem helped him to understand, to find all exhibited yada Shem is a candle for every child, killed, murdered during the Holocaust. And what he realized at that moment was that he wasn’t a murderer. He wasn’t a sociopath.
He was a soldier doing his job. And there’s a big difference. And, you know, that’s what these guys and not to mention the fact that by being there with peers, people have been saying people who suffer the same. You can’t discuss this with me. You can’t discuss it with your neighbor, but you can discuss it with your peers. And, you know, we’ve been around for about 12 years for 13 years, and haven’t lost a alternative the program.
Damon Pistulka 27:06
Yeah. Yeah. Because isn’t the suicide rate like 17? That’s a date hour or something like that?
Michael Haltman 27:14
You know, what the number it’s kind of a moving target that number. I use 20 plus a day. Yeah. And COVID was particularly destructive with the nation with the freshmen. Very, very difficult. But the woman who runs the program, I met her at a business club one day, I was doing work in Manhattan. As a woman sitting across from me doing work on a computer. I said, Hey, what are you doing? And she told me about heroes to heroes. And I said, You know what, I got to get involved with that. And it’s, you know, how often in life to chance encounters. Yeah. makes such a big difference.
Damon Pistulka 27:55
Apparently, it was such a chance encounter.
Michael Haltman 27:59
You think it was? You think it was divine intervention? Okay.
Damon Pistulka 28:04
I don’t think I don’t think a lot of things happen by chance.
Michael Haltman 28:07
That may very well be true. But that’s awesome. I’m very fortunate that that chance encounter did happen. Yeah. Yeah, it’s it’s she just she’s doing God’s work.
Damon Pistulka 28:20
No doubt. Yeah. Good stuff. Good stuff. Well, what what are you excited for the upcoming year? Michael? What’s what’s on your radar?
Michael Haltman 28:31
Well, in business, I’m hoping that interest rates drop. Yeah, but I don’t know that that’s going to happen. So I’m looking forward to persevering in business, of course, you know, it’s definitely paying a little bit slower. And I’m working overtime, trying to think of ways to bring people together, who can hopefully do business together. And you know, we, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of BNI but givers gain.
So you know, one of the things I focus on a lot is putting people together and you hope that at some point that comes back, but besides business I’m hoping to become a better putter because if I could, if I could put and take eight strokes off my game, because I read putt pretty much every green. So and I’m a 22 handicap so if I could, if I got to put half of them. I’d be a pretty good golfer. So that’s another thing. And my middle daughter is getting married this year. So excited about that. Good stuff. What else? You know what? Just just enjoying life?
Damon Pistulka 29:48
Yes, yes. Good. Good. Yeah. You see, I’ve talked about Go Giver are the givers win and I was I was able to interview Bob Berg the person Net wrote the book, The Go Giver, one of the co authors of it a few weeks ago. And I don’t know if you’ve, if you’ve never read that book, it’s definitely worth taking the time to read it. And but yeah, that’s great. Well, Michael, it’s been awesome having you on today I just your story about how you had to reinvent your business.
And then how you’ve taken that into a different direction, taking your title insurance, Hallmark, Hallmark abstract services, the title insurance company in a different direction, not not just not with really what you do, how you do it with some different technology, and then how you you you introduce yourself to the community and how you cast a wider net through social media and doing your Do you ever wonder podcast and other things? I think it’s a it’s a very powerful story of what you can do if you put
Michael Haltman 30:55
your mind. I appreciate that. And I appreciate you having me on as a guest. It’s been it’s been great.
Damon Pistulka 31:04
The deal. Good deal. Well, thanks for being here today. Michael, if people want to talk to you, what’s the best way to get a hold of you?
Michael Haltman 31:12
Well, they can call me always at 516-741-4723. They can find me at Hallmark abstract llc.com on the internet. Using my name, they will find me on LinkedIn. I’d love to speak to them there or on actually on LinkedIn would probably be the best place. Yeah. All good. All good stuff.
Damon Pistulka 31:37
All right. Well, thanks for being here today. Michael. I want to thanks, James. conkel. He, James was on the show last year. Awesome. Awesome stuff. Thanks everyone else that was listening today. And we will be back again next week. Michael hang out just for a moment or talk for a minute. We’re done.
Michael Haltman 31:54
Absolutely. Thank you, Damon. You bet