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Business Profile: Assiduous Albertson expands commercial finance business

If Landon J. Albertson could package his secret to business success and sell it, the product might be called “Superior Work Ethic.”

Its most recent manifestation, LJA Companies, formed at the end of 2006 to provide commercial financing for small- to medium-size businesses. “Our vision is to help facilitate—or inspire—business owners to obtain financing, working capital and real estate for their businesses,” Albertson said. “We can also facilitate property and equipment leasing.”

Albertson traces his route to LJA through the people who have influenced him.

“Three or four mentors were instrumental in the way I think about business,” he said. “At a young age I understood the way business works because they opened their arms to show me both the written and unwritten rules.”

All of Albertson’s mentors embraced a strong work ethic, a concept Albertson thinks goes beyond mere hours worked. When starting a business, “really, truly believe that it will happen no matter what your education, your IQ or your background,” he said. “If you work hard on something, really believe it will happen.”

As early as age 10, Albertson was steeped in business. His parents owned Condev Concrete Construction, headquartered in Eldon, and his father openly discussed business with his son. “He talked to me like an adult,” Albertson said. “He was the key player in all I have ever done as far as work ethic. At 18, I thought I knew as much about business as people 10 to 15 years older.”

Despite that knowledge, he was overwhelmed when he arrived at the University of Missouri-Columbia to major in agricultural economics. The sheer number of people in Columbia unnerved him, but it didn’t shake his belief in himself.

When Otto Maly of Maly Commercial Realty spoke to one of his classes, Albertson was struck by the businessman’s charisma.

“I have never met anyone who can overtake a room with his personality like him,” he said. Although intimidated, Albertson approached Maly after the talk and asked whether he could intern with the company. “Certainly, if you’ll work for free,” Albertson remembers him replying. In 1997, Albertson worked at Maly Commercial Realty, and he graduated the following year.
By 2001, Albertson was working in an affiliated company, and that fall, he acquired a different kind of teacher: leukemia.

“It put the brakes on a lot of things,” Albertson said. “Any time you’re in your mid-20s and hit with leukemia, you tend to do a lot of soul-searching.

It rips down your soul-being to the core where you reevaluate situations—every conversation you’ve ever had, every move you’ve ever made, personally or in the business world.” He was unsure he would survive. He hit his lowest point after chemotherapy ended—when his marriage failed.

Albertson returned to business in 2002 with new clarity, turning from finance to the mortgage industry. Talking to clients, he learned that most viewed mortgage firms as impersonal. With that in mind, he formed Mortgage Trust, where his customers were greeted with hot coffee, bottled water and comfortable surroundings. Albertson partnered in the business with Kal Cleavenger of County Bank in Brunswick, Mo., who introduced Albertson to risk assessment. “Kal taught me to analyze problems, issues, growth—analyze what the future will hold and put yourself in the position to [be successful],” Albertson said.

Although Albertson’s firm competed with Clay Bethune’s Gateway Mortgage Group, the two men became close friends, occasionally bouncing ideas off each other. In 2005, Albertson bought out Mortgage Trust. The company gradually expanded to include commercial lending, and in 2006 Albertson bought Gateway Mortgage and created LJA Companies. Although Bethune remains a good friend, Albertson’s minority partner in the new business is his associate Wendy Swetz, a part owner who has two and a half years of experience in originating loans.

“LJA is really at its early stage,” Swetz said. “However, the company already comes with so much experience and clientele from Landon’s past and mine.”

Swetz calls Albertson “a pioneer. There are so many things that his business could do to help a business owner, and Landon’s experience can make that process of commercial lending and representation the easiest and most cost effective for all parties involved to meet their goals together.”

Albertson’s goal for LJA’s first year is to expand the company and its affiliates throughout the Midwest. “I’d like to increase the number of commercial transactions in Columbia and the Kansas City area—not only SBA lending but commercial real estate acquisition,” he said. His goals? “Let the business morph and evolve.”

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