Actions speak louder than words
Four decades ago, David Goddard founded Whatcom Land Title. Little did she know when Colleen Baldwin began her career with the company as a customer service representative four years later that in less than 10 years she and her husband would be sharing company property with Goddard.
Perhaps Baldwin’s first steps in the business are key to Whatcom’s land title mission.
“A lot of things come to mind when I think about what’s important to WLT and our team,” Baldwin said recently while reflecting on the company’s 40th anniversary. “Our main mission is to provide our clients with the best possible care by working together as a team to achieve results. Teamwork is the foundation of our corporate culture.”
Every successful business knows it has two customer bases, and those are its employees.
“Personally, this is a great place for me to work because of the amazing people I work with,” said Ken Bugbee, WLT’s chief financial officer and with the company since 1990. Super Nice. We laugh a bit too, so that’s an added bonus.”
Although Bugbee’s duties don’t have much to do with customer interactions, he said WLT staff are “super motivated and interested in making sure the real estate transactions we are involved in go through as smoothly as possible.”
“My desk is located in our main office so I can see and hear how many of our employees interact with customers on a daily basis,” Bugbee said. “I’m always impressed by how polite and helpful our employees are.”
With three locations – Lynden, Bellingham and Burch Bay – and another opening in Ferndale later this year, Whatcom Land Title employs nearly 90 people led by a 13-strong management team. Baldwin stated that the average tenure of the company’s management team is approximately 22 years and the average tenure of its team members is approximately 10 years.
“Our team members and managers are our company’s greatest asset,” said Baldwin. “We learn something new every day, whether we’ve been in business for two years or 20. I find it very special that many of our employees choose title and fiduciary business as their long term profession without having acquired much knowledge in school or any other educational source. That’s why we created and licensed our own WLT School of Education for our team members. This training complements other professional licenses and experiences.”
“Most Valuable Services”
Part of the culture at WLT is “to have a strong presence in our community and to contribute to our community,” Baldwin said.
“We know that buying a home or other real estate investment is often the biggest and most personal commitment one can make,” she said. “The buying or selling process can be daunting and very stressful. We take great pride in the fact that our work is carried out in our offices. WLT does not outsource its work or services like other companies do.”
In addition, it is true that fast service is crucial when your customer is buying a home. But Whatcom Land Title prioritizes “performing an accurate title search and providing a smooth escrow closing process,” which Baldwin says are the “most valuable services we can offer.”
“I know we made him proud”
In 1994 Colleen and her husband Michael bought half the shares in WLT. Together, she and David Goddard ran the company with the help of their management team until 2016 when Goddard retired. At that time, the Baldwins bought Goddard’s remaining interest.
Beverly Ott, who has been with WLT for the past 14 years, recently said she remembers Goddard, whom she described as “quite strong in character”.
“Every year for our anniversary he would say, ‘I started WLT on April 1st, so if it didn’t work out I might say ‘April Fool’,’ which of course made us all chuckle, even though we’d heard it that way before often,” said Ott, director of client services at WLT. “He really taught us to take the important things seriously but always remember to have fun whenever possible. And here is his little start-up, 40 years later, a company in Whatcom County’s top 100. I know we made him proud.”
Competent, ethical, professional
Born and raised in Whatcom County, Bill Ronhaar graduated from Lynden High School in 1970 and attended Western Washington University when it was a public college.
President since 2017 and CEO this year, Ronhaar has been with Whatcom Land Title since 2014 when he was hired as Operations Manager. He recently stated that the key to WLT’s success is providing knowledgeable, ethical and professional service.
“It’s about helping people through the swamp of unfamiliar territory and making it an enjoyable experience, which for many is the biggest investment they can make in their lives,” said Ronhaar. “It’s about being able to explain a very technical, detailed situation in layman’s terms. Property insurance is a risk elimination business, so it’s about doing our job right so you and your family can enjoy your home – your sanctuary from the world’s troubles – without worrying about claims others may have against your property might have.”
“It’s about peace of mind, not just in the process of making you an owner, but making sure no one else can take that away from you,” Ronhaar also said. “WLT differs from other companies in many ways. We believe in family first and try to balance the demands that family life places on your professional life. We believe in a good work-life balance and try to recruit staff accordingly. We believe in doing things as a company that are above what other companies do for their employees. We try to create a family atmosphere among our employees – helping each other where we can to make the whole operation run as smoothly as possible.”
Lynden Grandstand: What makes WLT a great place for your customers to do business?
Jensen Salisbury, Chief Underwriter and Senior Title Officer: We distinguish ourselves by being the only locally owned and operated title agency based in Whatcom County.
As an agent, we have the ability to buy in the insurers we write policies for, to ensure the insured receives the best solution for their transaction.
This allows us greater flexibility in options for the community we serve.
It should not be overlooked that the people who work for WLT are part of the same community and have a vested interest in their well-being.
Many of our employees have been with WLT for over 10, 15, 20 or more years, giving you the expertise of not only an in-house professional but also a local.
Lynden Grandstand: What does it take to stay in business 40 years these days?
Colleen Baldwin, owner: As a local title and fiduciary company, we are uniquely positioned to respond quickly to industry and client needs. We can make decisions faster and adapt our business model to the needs of our customers and the community. Sometimes it can be difficult to anticipate the future bricklaying of our business creation. However, every change and challenge is an opportunity to drive our growth, technology, innovation and learning. Cooperation with our industrial partners and customers further drives our vision.
Beverly Ott, Director of Customer Service: Dedication, hard work, showing appreciation, a willingness to learn new things, caring and concern for others, and building a team and leadership that share these values. Our leaders have gotten really good over the last few years at being flexible, changing plans at short notice and working together towards a common goal. We have learned that we are much stronger and more resilient than we imagined.
Lynden Grandstand: How does WLT stay relevant and current when the business started years before the internet and mobile phones?
Bill Ronhaar, CEO: We stay ahead of the game by participating in state and national organizations that keep us informed of new software and devices available, current marketing trends, and educational and legislative matters that help us compete with national companies.
Lynden Grandstand: What is important to Whatcom Land Trust?
Bill Ronhaar, CEO: We believe in family first and try to balance the demands that family life places on your professional life. We believe in a good work-life balance and try to recruit staff accordingly. We believe in doing things as a company that are above what other companies do for their employees.
We try to create a family atmosphere among our employees – helping each other where we can to make the whole operation run as smoothly as possible.
We are local, coordinating our charitable giving to those less fortunate in the communities we serve.
We donate both money and volunteer time to causes close to our hearts, both individually and collectively.
Beverly Ott, Director of Customer Service: It’s hard to put your finger on your favorite number one, so I’m going to break it down into three parts. We are obsessed with making sure we maintain good relationships with our customers. We are 100% committed to our community and making it a wonderful place to live and work.
We know we have a great team and we work hard to let them know how much we appreciate them.
Lynden Grandstand: Does WLT want to become even more innovative, reliable and customer-friendly in the future?
Jensen Salisbury, Chief Underwriter and Senior Title Officer: I think any big company will answer that question with a resounding and enthusiastic yes.
While plans are great and necessary, plans without action are just desires. WLT is constantly in action to update, improve and innovate for our customers and community. You can certainly see that in the growth of the company (almost 100 employees). In fact, we are very excited to open another office, this time in the heart of Ferndale, giving our clients even more options for offices close to them. Actions always speak louder than words, so instead of listening to the plans, pay attention to our actions.