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A winning team

A 30 percent annual growth rate for the last two years, being ranked among the region’s fastest-growing private companies for the last three years and an ever-growing workforce are all good reasons to celebrate the success of WebTitle Agency.
 
Yet nothing makes President and CEO John Nitsche prouder than being called "Papa Nitsche" by many of his 122 team members.
 
"We call everyone here a team member, not an employee," Nitsche says. "Our philosophy is that we all work together. No one works for us. We all succeed together. We are all invested in this company."
 
WebTitle, a dba of Rochester Equity Partners Inc., does the legal research behind real property.
 
"Anytime there’s a real estate transaction of any kind, we’re always behind the scenes," Nitsche explains. "We find the history of the property: Who’s owned it? Do they owe anything on it, the IRS? Are there any easements on it?"
 
WebTitle formed in late 2005. It employs 122 title professionals, including three attorneys, real estate paralegals and licensed title producers.
 
Nitsche attributes the company’s growth to services in specialized segments of the real estate and legal communities, including foreclosure and default service providers, as well as tower owners, site management companies and wireless service providers in the telecommunications industry.
 
The company’s headquarters is downtown in the historic Knowlton Building in the Cascade District. Workers enjoy free parking in an adjacent outdoor lot, a perk Nitsche notes is not easy to find with downtown locations.
 
"We picked downtown because we believe in the resurgence of downtown," Nitsche says.
 
Nitsche has three partners: Alan Roides; Matthew Schuler and Kevin Whiting. Having a leadership team is in line with Nitsche’s business philosophy.
 
"My partners and I have a strategy of teamwork. We are committed to long-term relationships," Nitsche says. "We treat people like people, not like accounts. For example, we don’t have an automated voicemail system.
 
"You call here, you get a live person. Same for our accounting system: We don’t track our customers by their account number. Of course they have one for our database, but we don’t ask for them by number, but instead by name."
 
Nitsche is so committed to personal service that he and his partners make a pledge to visit every customer at least once every year. That is quite an endeavor, considering that WebTitle has hundreds of clients.
 
"It’s important to us. Usually when you are on the phone with a client it’s to handle a problem," Nitsche says. "So visits are crucial. This is a personal relationship business. There is no substitute for one-on-one."

Getting his start
Nitsche has been in the title business since the year after he graduated from Bishop Kearney High School in 1983. His best friend’s father gave him his first opportunity.
 
"He said, ‘Do you want to work for me?’ I was just out of school, not sure what I wanted to do, and thought, ‘Why not?’ That was Don Garvey of Pittsford, and the company was Public Abstract," Nitsche says.
 
He worked there for three years, learning the title business from top to bottom. He moved to Four Corners Abstract Corp. in 1987 and worked there for 10 years, then went back to Public Abstract Corp. in 1997.
 
After seven years with the company, he decided it was time to move out on his own.
 
"Having been in the business as long as I was, having a good client base, and being the age I was, I thought it was now or never. It was time for me to take a leap of faith," Nitsche says. "So we started this company, and it has all worked out."
 
Since then, WebTitle has grown from a handful of team members. There are six different departments including sales, accounting and title examination.
 
WebTitle has been named to the Rochester Top 100 list of fastest-growing private companies three times, debuting at No. 27 in 2009, holding that spot in 2010 and then taking No. 36 in 2011.
 
Since it is a privately held company, Nitsche does not disclose revenue figures.
 
The company’s target market is the real estate industry-residential and commercial-and it does business with homebuilders, office builders, commercial developers, mortgage lenders and cell tower companies.
 
The real estate sector is seeing the most growth among the sectors it serves, Nitsche says, noting that WebTitle’s market share is up substantially since it started.
 
The company has clients from New England to California.
 
Nitsche attributes much of his company’s success to his and his partners’ goal of being broad-minded but centrally focused.
 
"We are very diversified. There is not a product or service we do not offer," Nitsche says. "Yet we tout ourselves as locally owned and operated. We don’t source our work overseas. We keep jobs here."
 
His business model could be getting more difficult to find, Nitsche points out, because multibillion-dollar companies are buying up family-owned title companies across the country.
 
"They change the way business is done," Nitsche says. "We are local. We are flexible. Not all clients want things the same way. Some larger companies can’t adapt as quickly as we can. We don’t have to run things up a governance board."
 
With its success comes day-to-day challenges, and for Nitsche the biggest is trying to gauge the future so he can keep his company and those who depend on it on course.
 
"How or do I need to reposition my company? Where do we see the real estate market going? How do we get there? How do we cross-train our people so they will be prepared? These are the things that keep me up at night," Nitsche says.
 
His concerns for his company and for the people who work with him go hand-in-hand. He makes it a point to walk the two floors of his office to say hello to every team member each morning.
 
"Some days it takes just 20 minutes, and some days it’s an hour and a half," he says with a laugh.
 
There is camaraderie in the office that goes beyond the comfort of the casual dress code and regular company cookouts and Super Bowl pre-parties. His letterhead identifies him as John Nitsche, but often in emails or while passing in the walkways, team members refer to him as "Papa Nitsche."
 
"People here feel comfortable coming to me about their troubles, coming to me for advice-that’s where the name came from," Nitsche explains. "It’s a term of endearment."
 
Michael LaTona certainly feels as if Nitsche took him under his wing. LaTona says he thinks of WebTitle as his second home. He joined the company seven years ago and has risen through three positions.
 
"Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned hands-on. They taught me so I truly understood, not just so I could perform the task," LaTona says. "I love my work here, and I don’t plan to leave it."
 
LaTona started as an entry-level team member doing basic proofing work. He was promoted after seven months to tax searcher, which he did for a year and a half, before moving up to the position of search coordinator.
 
He now has the experience to deal with clients directly, to place orders with vendors for foreclosure, refinancing or closings.
 
"When I started there were only 15 people here; now there are almost 130, but the atmosphere has never changed. We are a family. You know what they are thinking. You feel you are part of the company. You are helping to make it even better," LaTona says.
 
As LaTona continues his education, he plans to move even higher within WebTitle. He graduated with an associate’s degree in business from Monroe Community College in December. He would like to begin working on a bachelor’s degree in night classes. His next goal is to move into sales.
 
"I talk to our clients Monday through Friday, 9 to 5. I would like the chance to meet them and build up business," LaTona says. "I want to stay here and help our company grow."
 
Helping others to grow their business is what clients say Nitsche does best.
 
Robert Sant, general counsel at Superior Plus Energy Services Inc., formerly Griffith Energy Inc., met Nitsche 25 years ago. It was a $2 bottle of wine that brought them together, and Sant says it was one of the best investments Nitsche ever made with him.
 
"I ended up switching title companies because of that," Sant says with a laugh. "Nitsche brought that bottle to me, introduced himself and offered to do business."
 
The wine was just an introduction. It was Nitsche’s proactive style and can-do attitude that won Sant’s favor. He had been frustrated by his other contracted vendor, and Nitsche was stepping up at the right time, Sant says.
 
"I didn’t understand the lack of responsiveness, given the amount of work the other company was getting. I liked that John was a go-getter," he says.
 
Sant and Nitsche have been doing business ever since and became good friends.
 
"As the years go by, I find myself gravitating towards the good people, and John happens to be one of those," Sant says.
 
Another close friend and business associate, Richard Coia, owner at Panzarella & Coia P.C., recalls Nitsche’s early days as a young desk clerk working in the Monroe County Office Building. Even with the drudgery of a job filled with paperwork, Coia says, Nitsche always had an upbeat attitude. Nitsche also has a persistence that is second to none, Coia says.
 
"I know stories where John would go into offices for two or three years until he makes that deal," Coia recalls. "He never quits."
 
Nitsche also is known for his innovation, Coia says.
 
"He comes up with ideas to save time and money. He looks at things from the other side. He gave us a title package that made us ready in just days to close with the bank. In our industry, it’s all about saving time."

Off the job
Nitsche, 46, spends a good deal of his time at the office and on the road meeting with clients. But he also makes sure to spend plenty of time with his family. He lives in a rustic log home along Lake Ontario in Hamlin with his wife, Mary Lou, whom he calls his No. 1 supporter and best friend. They have been married for 26 years and have one child, Stephanie, 23.
 
The couple loves to travel and celebrated their 25th anniversary with a trip to Alaska. When they are home, Nitsche loves cooking, especially if it involves complex recipes or tasty meats on his smoker.
 
"I like to put a ballgame on, relax and experiment," he says.
 
Nitsche and WebTitle support several non-profit organizations in the community, such as the American Cancer Society, the Hillside Family of Agencies and Alternatives for Battered Women.
 
"There’s such a waiting list there," Nitsche says of Alternatives for Battered Women. "It’s so sad. I’d like to help them expand."
 
As Nitsche’s own company continues to expand, he keeps his eye on the future so he can develop his business. But he adds: "I try to remember that the decisions we make every day affect not only this company but 122 other families, plus everyone else who is impacted by them. It’s our responsibility to remember that."
 
Lori Gable is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

John Nitsche
Position: President and CEO, WebTitle Agency
Age: 46
Education: Bishop Kearney High School, 1983
Family: Wife Mary Lou; daughter Stephanie, 23
Residence: Hamlin
Activities: Spending time with family, cooking, travel
Quote: "Our success and growth can be directly attributed to the dedication of our devoted team and the loyalty of our client-partners."

2/17/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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