Mat Ishbia of UWM: “To create a fantastic work culture, every day call at least one or two team members to say thank you for doing a good job”
Thank people and express your appreciation. Every day, I call at least one or two team members to say thank you for doing a good job. It costs me nothing — a few minutes out of the day — but it means so much and sets a positive tone that lifts the entire company.
I had the pleasure to interview Mat Ishbia. Mat is the President and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage. Mat’s 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 3,500 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 so much for joining us Mat! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I started working here when there were 12 people. What struck me almost immediately is that you can take a lot of what you learned in sports and apply it to business to fuel growth. Sports, business, teams — they all work the same. They both require great leadership and great people. What I learned at Michigan State under Coach Tom Izzo, who led to us win the National Championship, I’m now applying to nearly 4,000 team members here at United Shore and UWM. Thanks in large part to those lessons, we have grown to become the №1 wholesale lender and the №2 overall mortgage lender.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are focused on growing the independent mortgage broker channel because it’s the best place for a consumer to get a loan. It’s the easiest, cheapest, fastest way to get a mortgage and there’s no question about it. Mortgage brokers used to be 50% of the market, but those numbers dropped post-mortgage crisis, and it’s my passion and goal to get it back up, not only because it will help our business, but because it’s also the right thing for consumers, and we’re sure of it.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It’s true because employers focus on the bottom line instead of the people. It’s a people world. Take care of people and people take care of your business. We are focused on our people and our people doing right by others. If you treat people the way you should, and you care about them, then they will care about you and your business.
Based on your experience, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Unhappy people are the death knell for a company. When people don’t want to be there and they’re just doing a job, you just become average like everyone else. You can’t thrive as a company. You need to make sure you take care of people and that they are happy. The №1 priority for our company, every day, is to make sure people love being here and love being part of the team.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Thank people and express your appreciation. Every day, I call at least one or two team members to say thank you for doing a good job. It costs me nothing — a few minutes out of the day — but it means so much and sets a positive tone that lifts the entire company.
- Encourage collaboration. I truly believe that we all get better when there are more ideas. To foster greater idea sharing, we have an open workspace, which we’ve arranged so that leaders sit in the middle of their teams. Also, team members in every department meet for a 10-minute daily huddle, which I consider the most important 10 minutes of the day.
- Limit the work week to 40 hours and encourage team members to maximize those 40 hours. We call it the Firm 40, where you work hard every minute you’re here and the nights and weekends are yours.
- Check in with team members to see how they feel and use that feedback to strengthen the company. Twice a year, we send out a survey to measure how much people like working at United Shore. We ask what we can do to get better. Then I work with my leadership team to implement those changes.
- Always be positive. Team members take cues from their leaders, so leaders need to be positive 100% of the time. I always try to be the ultimate teammate, the best CEO among CEOs. We can’t control where we come from or what innate abilities we’re born with, but there’s a lot we can control — our attitude, energy and work ethic.
What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
It’s about transparency, communication and a 40-hour work week. To improve workplace culture, you need to over-communicate with your people, collaborate with people, understand what’s important to them — things like work-life balance and a 40-hour work week.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I strongly believe that leaders need to be in the weeds of their business, learning and absorbing as many details as possible. I take part in working sessions when technology is being built or products are launching. I know about the campaigns coming out of marketing and how many files our underwriters review per day. Most importantly, I know who’s involved in these initiatives. I walk through the aisles and talk to the team members to better understand where they are and what I can do to help. We have six pillars, and the reason why our first pillar is “our people are our greatest asset” is because teamwork must come first.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have two. My father, most importantly, taught me how to treat people the right way. Do right by others. Always take care of other people first. It’s not about you; it’s about others. From a business perspective, he also taught me it’s not just about making money. If you’re successful and winning in business, the money will follow. The other person is Coach Tom Izzo, who has been such an inspirational leader. He taught me about accountability, about pushing people to get better, being the best version of yourself every day and outworking everyone.
How have you used your success to positively impact the world?
It might sound cliché, but we help make dreams come true. Every single day, we take positive steps to help homebuyers. We only do loans that are the right for borrowers. Even back in the day, when others were involved in subprime loans, we stayed away from it and only closed conventional types of loans.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
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.”
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Make eye contact, smile and say hello to everyone.