Ted Fellman is capping a stellar 30-year career in state service, the last 17 at the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA).
He has been executive director of the agency for the past seven years, during which time THDA has allocated millions of dollars to affordable housing through the low-income housing tax credit and other programs. It has also helped establish and manage a state Housing Trust Fund and pioneered staff development programs that are models for the rest of the state.
“I fell in love with the mission, the organization, and the people here,” Fellman says.
In return, he pushed the agency to be better. “Ted’s leadership has been exemplary,” says Brian Bills, THDA board chairman. “He accepted the position while THDA was in a strong financial position. It is stronger now, and with his outstanding leadership [THDA] it has grown in its effectiveness, financial soundness, connections, and respect from the housing industry and communities across Tennessee.”
Ralph M. Perrey, who has been on the THDA board, was recently picked to take over as executive director.
As for Fellman, he is starting a new chapter in the private sector.
What was your first job at THDA?
I came in as the controller, so I was responsible for the accounting department and some of the operations. I did that for about five years, and then the chief financial officer at the time was named executive director. She promoted me into her position. I was CFO for about five and a half years and then got the opportunity to be named executive director. I’ve done that for seven years. I fell in love with the mission, the organization, the people here.
Why do you think THDA was a good match for you?
I think my personality is one that I enjoy public service. The job of government is to help make people’s lives better. I found it to be the perfect marriage of working with private funding and business finance. It’s a public and private partnership. That really appealed to me.
You’ve been in state service for 30 years. What was your first job with the state?
I started in the Department of Finance and Administration as an accountant. It was right out of school after I received an accounting degree from Tennessee Tech. I found out that I hated that job, but the great thing was that I got to deal with every other department in state government. I learned I liked state government. Even though the job was not very much fun, it was great experience, and I met people who set the tone for the way I wanted to do my job, which was to build relationships and learn about what other people were doing and how my job fit into the overall structure.Why did you decide to leave THDA?
It’s a combination of several things. From a professional standpoint, I felt I had done what I had set out to do here. We are more creative, more progressive, and much more of a leader. There are some things that I didn’t do that somebody else can probably get done. The 30-year mark was in the back of mind as a good benchmark. I also thought I have a skill that I’ve developed over the years. Does that translate to the private sector?I think I wanted to try it while I was relatively young.
What is the biggest change that you brought to THDA?
I felt we weren’t fulfilling our potential. We were really good at administering programs, but we weren’t leaders. We weren’t customer focused. I think the big thing that I’ve been able to do was change the culture, the mind-set, to say we can do a lot more. We can improve on our relationship with the General Assembly, and we created a legislative liaison position. We can go out and improve our relationship with our partners and grow the business, and we created a business development position that had not existed. One thing we did off the bat was our Housing On Tour, where we went out and visited different communities and asked them what can we do differently.
One of your accomplishments is the establishment of the Housing Trust Fund.
When I took over in 2005, I was the former CFO and familiar with our financial condition. I worked with the board to use our financial strength to try to help those who are less fortunate—very low-income, special-needs, elderly Tennesseans. We decided to use some of our profit each year and create a trust fund.
The General Assembly gave us about $4 million over two years, and the THDA board has authorized over seven years $43 million in THDA profits to go into the fund. We continue to make that commitment every year to the tune of about $6.5 million. Part of the trust fund goes to the Emergency Repair Program. We make grants available to local entities that are helping elderly homeowners with emergency repairs. We won a national award for this program. Some residents have needed a new roof, a new heating and air system, or a ramp because they have become disabled. It has been tremendously rewarding. These people would have had to move in with their children or a nursing home. Now, they are able to stay in their homes.
What was learned through Housing On Tour?
We learned about the unmet needs. The Emergency Repair Program is an example of where we heard about the need to preserve homeownership for these elderly homeowners. Some of it was operational. We heard from lenders that a program was cumbersome. Grantees were telling us that no funder wanted to be the first in. There heard that we will fund you if you get funding from someone else first. We made the decision that we will be the first in.
Another area of focus was employee development. Some of THDA’s efforts are being repeated by the state Department of Human Resources.
Big picturewise, we said we were going to focus on people leadership. For years, we promoted people because they were technically the best. We weren’t focused on the people leadership aspect, growing our people, developing the depth so we can have people who could be promoted into leadership roles. We invested in coaching. We invested in continuing education. We created a chief leadership officer position, the first in state government. That person’s sole mission is to develop and implement leadership. We want to develop world-class leaders at THDA. We developed what we call our Foundations for the Future, which is required continuing education for every staff person. Some of those are core classes that everybody has to take, and some of those are elective depending on your job and goals. It’s a cultural shift from I’m a manager and I manage process to I’m a leader and I lead people.
What’s next for Ted Fellman?
I have accepted a position at Raymond James/Morgan Keegan in its public finance department as a senior vice president. I’ll be working initially with local governments in Tennessee, helping on bond issues for roads, schools, infrastructure. I’m hoping they will be able to use me in housing from time to time, but my main focus will be public finance. ¦
For more with Ted Fellman, visit www.housingfinance.com.