He has brought his sport's philosophy to the mortgage world
Two decades ago, Mat Ishbia’s sole focus was on basketball. As a walk-on point guard for Michigan State, he became a member of the team that won the national championship in 2000, with dreams of post-college coaching.
“I had to be the hardest-working guy to be the worst player on that team,” he told Mortgage Professional America self-deprecatingly. “I worked hard to be on it, and it was great.”
But he needed to find work after graduating college, having left the roar of the crowd behind for more stable ground. He gravitated to one of his dad’s side businesses, he said. “My father, who is an attorney, had a small mortgage company that I came and joined.”
The company was United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM), one of his entrepreneurial-minded father’s side businesses that was launched in 1986. The firm was hardly the corporate behemoth the younger Ishbia (pictured) would come to create, instead serving asa training ground following glory on the basketball court.
“I was the 12th person at UWM at that time and had to learn the business from the ground up,” Ishbia said. “My dad never worked there. He actually runs a law firm and had a couple of different side hustles and mortgage was one of his side businesses.”
Learning the industry from the ground up
Being the owner’s son yielded no special privileges. Ishbia described having to learn the business from scratch: “I was always exposed to it as a kid and got in there right out of college. I really learned from the ground up learning every role in the company – operations, taking faxes off the fax machine and putting them in the file, learning the secondary market, closing, underwriting, sales – all ways through the organization.”
It was practically love at first underwrite. “I just kind of fell in love with it after my first six months, and now I’m 21 years into it,” Ishbia said. With the speed of a fast break, he quickly realized the need to nurture his new love. “I was there for four years playing and then coached for a year,” he said of his glamorous his first love. “I’ve always loved basketball and sports in general, but mortgage is my thing.”
Which is not to say he’s completely forsaken his first love. He and his brother, Justin, bought a majority stake in the NBA’s Phoenix Suns in a deal that valued the team at a record $4 billion, according to media reports.
But as for the mortgage industry, he was all in from the start: “I eventually bought the company from him and became CEO and helped grow the company with a lot of great people here.” There’s still a place for dad though. His father, Jeff Ishbia, now sits on the board of directors of the company he founded that his son would exponentially expand.
What makes Ishbia tick
It’s inevitable to draw parallels from the grit and drive Ishbia displayed on the basketball court to help explain his considerable corporate success. Without hesitation, he ticked off three personal traits he believes have helped fuel his mortgage industry career. Spoiler alert: That athletic drive figures prominently.
“First, I’m extremely competitive,” he said. “And being competitive, I want to win. My goal was to help the broker channel grow, so I want to win that. It drives my work ethic, because I hate to lose. My work ethic is the trait, but it’s because of my competitiveness. I come in early and stay late. I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but I’ll work harder than anybody. That’s kind of my mentality. It’s driven by not wanting to lose.”
It’s also important to accentuate the positive, he suggested. “The second one is that I’m extremely positive,” he said, a trait he said came in handy during the market challenges experienced industrywide last year. “I find the positive in everything; I focus on the positive. I deal with the negative but focus on the positive constantly. That keeps me in a good space along with my clients and team members here at UWM.”
Rounding out the attributes triumvirate: “I make quick decisions,” he said. “I decide fast and change often. I make the decision I think is the best thing and I’ll do it. If it’s not the best thing, I’ll change it. I’m not opposed to changing but I don’t sit there thinking over a decision for nine months to make it once. If it’s not right, I’ll go back and tweak it and modify it. The phrase I use is ‘don’t let perfect get in the way of good.’ I make it good and figure out how to make it perfect down the road.”
There’s a YouTube clip in the internet ether calling Ishbia the GWOAT – Greatest Walk-on Of All Time. It showcases his impressive play on the court, including crucial three-pointers fired off from the force of a modest 5’ 10” frame.
To be sure, Ishbia has been bestowed with a number of such accolades throughout his storied career – both in the corporate realm and in basketball. Still, he graciously categorized it as an honor to secure another bit of recognition after being included among the “Global 100” showcasing the top industry professionals as vetted by MPA and its sister publications.
Among the 100 named best globally, only 24 from the US emerged as tops in the field. It may lack the panache of a basketball court in the heat of athletic battle, but you might call that a slam dunk in its own right.
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