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DALLAS-The regional manager of Chicago Title’s Southwest Commercial Operations has capped an aggressive five-year raid of competitors’ management teams by hooking a senior vice president who wouldn’t return his calls three years ago. With the final member of the team in place, the Chicago Title exec says he’s poised to capture top market share in Dallas/Fort Worth.

Joining Chicago Title as senior vice president is Leslie B. Wheeler, who exited the same role at Republic Title after a 10-year stint. Wheeler, who brought an assistant with her, pushes Chicago Title’s head count to 42. Execs for Plano-based Republic Title weren’t available for comment prior to publication.

“I’ve been slowly picking off what I consider to be the key people from my competitors,” Thomas Garner, vice president and regional manager for Chicago Title’s southwest region, tells GlobeSt.com. Five years ago, he took over the helm after 20 title specialists bailed and headed to a competitor’s camp. “I previously was looked at as kind of an upstart. With each year, I’ve added more people,” he says. “It’s pretty evident now in the market that we clearly are a competitor.” He says Wheeler’s hiring “sent a very strong message to the marketplace. She is my latest victory….and a shining star.”

Garner says he placed his first call to Wheeler about three years ago; she didn’t call back. His perseverance, though, eventually paid off. “The timing was right,” Wheeler explains, “to go to a company that’s growing.”

Wheeler is the third professional that Garner’s pulled from competitors’ ranks this year. Attorney Edward Stout came over from Stewart Title Co. in February and John Cominos, also a lawyer, left LandAmerica American Title Co. in August. “I’m always looking, but I really think for the time being that I’ve got a really strong core group,” Garner says.

Garner now has his eyes on becoming the DFW’s market leader. He says transaction volume hit $15.3 million last year and the team’s on target to generate $22 million in revenue. According to Garner, the latest data from the Rocky Mountain Statistical Information, the title industry’s acknowledged source, places Chicago Title’s Southwest Commercial Operation at 19% of the market share in comparison to kingpin Republic Title’s 20% to 22%. “We’ve made significant gains,” Garner says about a 30% jump in this year’s transaction volume while bracing for an uptick in Q4 and first quarter 2005. “And, that’s a direct result of the people we’ve hired.”

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