I had the pleasure of interviewing Mat Ishbia. Mat is a visionary who combines a keen business mind with a unique ability to create an award-winning corporate culture that has been lauded nationally. His high-energy, relentless pursuit for innovation and pragmatic perspective of the mortgage industry has accelerated United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM) as the number 1 wholesale lender and number 2 overall purchase lender in the nation, behind Wells Fargo. With more than 5,800 UWM team members UWM has propelled mortgage brokers at a clip that has outpaced most retail lenders and banks.
UWM has been recognized as a Tech-Savvy Lender by Mortgage Technology magazine and the gold standard for client service, both within the mortgage industry and across the general business landscape and on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company list for five years in a row. Ishbia is also one of the “Most Influential Mortgage Professionals Under 40” and a Vanguard Award winner by HousingWire.
Ishbia is widely recognized as a prominent advocate for mortgage brokers nationwide, promoting wholesale mortgage brokers on CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV.
Thank you for joining us Matt. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was on the Michigan State University Men’s Basketball Team for four years and joined as a walk-on, from 1998 to 2002, under Coach Tom Izzo. During that time, our team won the NCAA national championship in 2000. After playing basketball for four years, I worked as a student assistant coach on Coach Izzo’s staff. In 2003, I had the opportunity to go on to be an assistant coach at Cleveland State University or transition away from basketball to join a mortgage company started by my father. I decided to join his mortgage company, United Wholesale Mortgage, which at the time had only 12 team members. I started in a position grabbing faxes off the fax machine and walking them to underwriters and I began to learn the business from the ground up. I worked on one team after another and job shadowed more seasoned people to really learn the ropes of the business. I carried a lot of what I had learned while playing and coaching basketball into my various roles throughout the company, turning the business into a team atmosphere dedicated to winning and being the best at what we do. I was named President and CEO in 2013 and set the goal of becoming the number 1 wholesale lender in the nation. We accomplished this goal in 2015 and have been number one since.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the best things about our company is that whenever there is a mistake, we can change so quickly that any negative implications don’t turn into a major issue. When I was working on our sales team back in 2006, I was a top producer and had just taken on a leadership role. Back then, making changes took a bit more time to make and adapt to. At that time, our sales team was an outside model where we would often travel to our clients’ offices and meet with them face-to-face. But while I was doing this, I noticed that because I wasn’t in the office, I was missing calls from other clients who needed me. This caused us to lose sales because we weren’t available to help our clients in the same way we could be if we were in an office. So, I knew we needed to change. We flipped the traditional sales model upside-down and brought all of our account executives in house. In the beginning everyone told me that it was going to be a huge mistake, that it was a terrible idea and there’s no way it’s going to work, but it did. It was groundbreaking for us and was the best thing to happen to our business. It is something most mortgage companies didn’t do and still don’t do, and it took our clients some time to adjust, but it helped us to be more available to our clients and it helped our clients to be able to close loans faster. It also allowed us to bring the team atmosphere to the office where we could learn from each other, get live trainings, have access to jump into a leader’s office and ask a question. This allowed us to get smarter faster, be available to our clients when they called, and reach a quick resolution when challenges were presented because everyone was in one building.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I would say the number one thing that has helped me in my career can’t be learned from reading a book or listening to a podcast, it was being able to watch my father’s work ethic and positive attitude my whole life and playing on MSU’s basketball team under Coach Izzo. To this day, I still carry over much of what I learned from being on that team and use that throughout the company. Coach Izzo was very in the weeds with his team, he knew his players and what they were capable of. By doing that, he was able to know what each player needed to do, not to be the best basketball player, but to be the best point guard, or the best center. He held them accountable to what they were capable of. I use that same concept within my team. If everyone comes into work and is the best underwriter, the best account executive, the best leader, it will all work together to make us the best company. That is one of the biggest lessons I learned and it’s what makes our company so successful. It also drives the terminology we use, as in we refer to our departments as teams, employees as team members and our leadership as captains. We host daily morning huddles to get our teams ready for the day, similar to a pre-game huddle to ensure everyone is aligned and ready for the game. It also drives my competitive spirit and motivates myself and my team to continuously improve in order to stay ahead of our competition.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I have always loved competition and always strive to be the best, so I believe that to win, you need believe strongly about what you’re trying to accomplish. My vision and purpose was, still is, and will continue to be do the right thing by helping others. At our company, we are helping people every day. We help brokers grow their business; we help consumers achieve their dreams of owning a home. By helping others, it will help your business to be successful. And, do right by your people, whether it be team members or clients. By taking care of your team, they will take care of your clients and that takes care of business. Secondly, have a long-term business focus, not a short-term focus. Make the right decisions now that the company will benefit from in the future. This is a long game, not a short game.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
A principle that I have always carried with me is “Never Relax.” In business, there are always opportunities to get better. If you want to achieve long term success, you need to W.I.N., or what’s important now. Once you know what you want to accomplish short term, figure out the best strategies for achieving those goals. Whether it’s something small like how you answer the phone to process changes or internal team member changes. Everything we do is working towards making our business better so that we can be a better partner for mortgage brokers to help them grow their business and a better company for our team members because they are the greatest asset that we have. We are a company that defines our self by doing right by our people and never relaxing, and we are never going to sacrifice that. The minute you get comfortable with where you are or you aren’t doing right by your team, your competition will be there to try to pass you.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have three kids, so to me the biggest challenge has been watching them miss out on some of the things they love like playing sports and being at school with their friends. I coach all the teams that my kids play on and it’s been hard to not be involved in that aspect. That said, we have been able to spend more time together as a family and do things we normally wouldn’t have had the chance to do in our busy schedules.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
There have been a couple of unique challenges on the mortgage industry in particular. We have had to make a lot of changes in a short amount of time given the extreme job loss across America. There were several changes we came out with very quickly to ensure we were being responsible when it came to lending hundreds of thousands of dollars to individuals. We have always been a conservative lender, and we leaned into more conservative practices to make sure we were not putting any borrowers into a bad situation. As of recently, we have been able to loosen up on some of those guidelines and changes that were made as we see signs of stabilization. Another one of the bigger challenges was moving our 5,800 team members to work from home. We are a company that takes pride in having all of our team members on campus every day. This is part of our secret sauce. I love being able to come in and see my team and collaborate face-to-face. In order to protect the safety of our team members and their families, we made the decision to move everyone to work from home. Our amazing IT team was able to do this within days. They built out our systems to be able to support all of our team members working remotely. We were able to take it a step further and provide team members with equipment that they were able to check out and take home. Although I miss having everyone together, it was amazing to see how our IT collaborated and responded so quickly without any interruptions to our business.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We are a family owned company and we treat each other like family. In response to COVID-19 and the impact it has had on jobs in Michigan, I vowed to not layoff a single team member. I wanted our team to know that we are all in this together and that I have their back just like they have mine. In doing so, I was able to provide reassurance to my 5,800 team members proving that we are a family and will protect each other even during uncertain times. This reiterated that family is not just there for you during good times, but hard times as well. Beyond that, I have encouraged my team members, my family and friends, and clients to find the good and stay positive. It’s easy to feel negative when watching the news but we’ve started to turn the corner, states are starting to reopen and while this virus came at us like whiplash, we believe we will recover from this quickly as well.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I believe there is huge opportunity for growth post-COVID. Right now, the mortgage rates we are offering are historically low, as low as 2.5%. Although purchase season has been delayed, there is still an appetite for consumers wanting to purchase a home. There will be enormous growth in the housing industry at the end of 2020 and into 2021 and this is going to have a direct impact on helping the economy grow. As we get back to normal, people will return to work and the low rates will drive an influx of borrowers purchasing new homes and refinancing their current mortgages. Borrowers are going to be able to not only save money each month with rates being so low, but they also will have more purchasing power than ever. As we begin to experience this growth, we will see it helping to rebuild the economy.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Nothing is permanent. I don’t believe there will be anything permanently changed other than people’s awareness. Events that happen in people’s lives change the way they think about things but things will go back to normal. You will see people eating out at restaurants, going to sporting events, getting together with family and friends, it’s going to happen.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We took the challenges from Covid-19 and used them as opportunities to grow and build stronger team and company because of it. When other companies began working from home, they may have taken their foot off the gas. Not our team. We did more. We trained longer and harder. Every team member completed training courses every single day. We cross trained in other roles. In just 8 weeks our team members received over 100,000 combined hours of continuous improvement training. We took this opportunity to make half-time adjustments and become stronger for the second half of the year. While I had my team members focused on training and getting better, I made strategic moves in the mortgage industry to offer incredibly low rates, so when the market begins to open up again and people have jobs back, borrowers can have more purchasing power to buy more home or refinance into lower rates. This is an economic move that will not only help borrowers, but also the mortgage brokers (our clients) closing the loans, the real estate agents selling the homes and everyone involved in the home buying and mortgage process.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
The most important thing is to stay positive and focus on opportunities to get better. As we start to come out of this pandemic and we start to see places open up, it is a good time to get ready to reopen but it is an even better time to be positive. Be positive towards yourself, your family, your friends, your team, your customers and it will go a long way. Find the good and focus on it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Someone once called and asked James Lofton, one of the best wide receivers to ever play in the National Football League, “what are your tricks to success?”
Lofton replied, “I have five and they are these.
- My first trick is to work harder than the other guy.
- My second trick is to always hustle.
- My third trick is to study and know what I’m doing when it’s game time.
- My fourth trick is to always be prepared.
- My fifth trick is to never, never, never give up and never give in to mediocrity.”