United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia shares what his life was like growing up, and how he became one of the wealthiest mortgage executives in the U.S.

He didn’t even know his father owned a mortgage company — but when he found out, it changed everything.

United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia made the Forbes billionaires list for the first time in 2020 after taking his company public late last year. He became one of the richest mortgage executives in the U.S., second only to Rocket Mortgage CEO Daniel Gilbert, and the 51st richest person in the country.

Mat Ishbia

United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia

Back in September, UWM, the nation’s largest wholesale mortgage lender, announced it was going public via a merger with Gores Holdings IV, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) established by global investment firm The Gores Group.

The merger, now called UWM Holdings Corp., held a valuation close to $16 billion when the company went public. It marks a record for SPAC deals, which have become all the rage on Wall Street, according to data provider SPACInsider.

The deal also made Ishbia a billionaire.

But growing up, Ishbia didn’t even know UWM existed.

A serial entrepreneur father, a one company focus son

Ishbia was the younger of two brothers by about two and a half years, and lived in the same house since he was one years old – the same house where his parents still reside today. His mother was a teacher for 25 years in the Pontiac, Michigan school district, and his father, Jeffery Ishbia, founded UWM in 1986, but Mat Ishbia didn’t know it at the time – he was six years old. 

And that’s because his father was a serial entrepreneur. He was constantly starting new businesses and getting them up and running. Ishbia’s father was an attorney that started a restaurant, an alarm company and much more. Starting another business was part of the routine for him, and so it didn’t strike Ishbia as significant that his father would start a mortgage company. 

“He’s amazing,” Ishbia recalled. “He’s constantly involved with a lot of different businesses. Obviously, UWM is a different level from all others; he kind of just starts a lot of different businesses and he’s very successful. He was always hustling to try to make make a living for me, my brother and my mom.”

He found out about the mortgage company once he was in college at Michigan State University. Ishbia decided to join the company in 2003, and began to put all of his focus into growing the mortgage company. 

“He’s like, good at a lot of things, but he’s not focused on one, except for his law firm,” Ishbia said of his dad. “I only have one business. I have a complete focus on one business and that’s where I see the mortgage company and that’s why when we started growing I eventually bought the mortgage company from him and really built it with my great team of people and leaders here.”

Ishbia bought the first part of the company from his father in 2008, and finished buying the entire company in 2015. 

From basketball to mortgages

It doesn’t take long talking to Ishbia before he will bring basketball to the conversation. He was a walk on guard for the basketball team at Michigan state from 1998 through 2002. Ishbia was a member of the 2000 National Champion team featuring Mateen Cleaves, who now works at UWM. During his time, Ishbia earned three letters and was a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.

Ishbia credits a lot of his success to his time at Michigan State and on the university’s basketball team, and constantly shows his loyalty to the school. This year, he pledged $32 million to the school’s athletic department. 

“This donation is not about me, this is to give credit to and thank coach Tom Izzo, the business school and Michigan State University for the incredible impact they have had on my life,” Ishbia said at the time. 

After graduation, Ishbia had a choice to make – he could stay at Michigan State as coach, or he could join his father’s 12-team mortgage company. He chose the latter. 

“Can I take some of the things I’ve learned from basketball and apply it to business, and maybe do something bigger than just being a head coach?” Ishbia said when recalling his options. “And so that was kind of what I set out to do.”

But when he started, there was a learning curve to overcome. 

“I didn’t know anything about a mortgage, I don’t know anything about the business,” Ishbia said. “I didn’t know anyone that worked there. He [Jeffrey Ishbia] had his own president and CEO that were running it, like I said my dad never worked here. He just had people running it just like he has all his other little businesses. And so I kind of learned from those people and obviously my dad guided me because he knew the business because he owned it for maybe 17 years by the time I got there.”

But he learned quickly, and soon grew the company from 12 people to the mortgage giant it is today.

All work, no play

At the beginning of last year, even before the record-setting origination year in 2020, UWM set a company record of $107.7 billion in mortgage loan volume in 2019, more than doubling its 2018 production of $41.5 billion. In doing so, it broke the wholesale industry record of $103.3 billion of mortgage loan volume previously set in 2005 by Countrywide Financial. Now, UWM also secured the title of No. 1 wholesale lender for the sixth year in a row which has never been done before in the industry.

In 2020, UWM’s volume surged to $182.82 billion, up nearly 70 percent from the year before, according to the latest Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data. UWM recently purchased an additional 900,000 square-foot building to add to its 600,000 square-foot location in Pontiac, Michigan. The result was an incredible 150 acre, 1.5 million square-foot campus. The company grew from 12 people when Ishbia first joined to more than 9,000 people today. 

But this level of growth comes at a cost. 

Ishbia begins his days getting to the office at 4 a.m., using the hours before others start showing up at 8 a.m. to concentrate and get more done. 

“Sometimes lately I’ve tried to get it a little later, but we’ll call between, 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. in the office every day, suit and tie, show up, work hard,” Ishbia said. “By 4:00 to 8:00 in the morning I’m grinding, getting a lot of things done, preparing for the day, preparing for the week, getting everything going in a real positive way. I’m in meetings from 8:30 to 5:00 or 6:00 every day.”

At home, Ishbia is a single dad to three children ages six, seven and 10. He reserves his time in the evenings and on the weekends to spend time with them, eat dinner with them and even coach their basketball games and other sports. Many evenings and weekends are spent going to their games and practices. 

Ishbia said he doesn’t have time for TV or any other crazy lifestyles, and that the most he normally does is go out to dinner at times with some friends. 

“If I want to be the best I have to outwork everybody,” Ishbia said. “I might not be as smart as everyone else, definitely didn’t have as much money as anyone else, so I’ll outwork everyone. That’s the one thing I can control is my work ethic. That’s kind of how I got here, that’s my thing is I work every morning and I’m out figuring out things and getting in early in the morning. And at the same time, you can say the job doesn’t demand it, but if you want to be the best, the job demands it.”

“My team expects me to be able to be on top of details, I have to be able to be in the weeds of the business,” he said. “I have to respond to every email; I send a birthday email to every team member of the company; I respond to every email that comes to me from a client; I call people back; I have to be great at my job and create a culture and environment. And so in order to do that- you can’t do that at eight hours in a day, that’s how it works.”

Ishbia also credited his team with why the company has achieved the growth it has today. He is known for saying he couldn’t do things without his team, that they’re more like family. Though a lot of business leaders might say this about their employees, last year, Ishbia proved it. 

Early last year many mortgage companies started laying off countless employees as COVID-19 shut down economies and it was feared that the housing market would be put on hold. But Ishbia took a stand, famously saying he would “sleep on your couch before I lay someone off.”

To date, there have been no reports to Inman News of Ishbia couch surfing. There have also been no reports of layoffs at UWM. 

“My greatest accomplishment without question is building the team and getting great people around me and I like to think that I helped make them better just like they make me better,” Ishbia said. 

Bigger playing field, bigger enemies

As UWM grows, it still has bigger goals ahead: increasing broker market share, and becoming the No. 1 lender in the U.S. 

But that will mean surpassing Rocket Mortgage, the largest lender in the U.S. that originated a startling $313.41 billion in mortgages in 2020, according to HMDA data. And the mortgage giant isn’t slowing down, that origination level is a full 121.3 percent higher than what it originated in 2019. 

Rocket Mortgage is also looking to get in on the growing broker market, targeting more of its ads and even its products toward brokers. It recently launched its National Mortgage Broker Directory, which enables consumers to easily find a broker in their hometown.

But UWM believes lenders like Rocket and Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. treat brokers bad, and alleges that the lenders maliciously refinance borrowers away from brokers once the broker gives them the borrower’s information. 

Because of this ongoing fight, Ishbia announced on Facebook Live earlier this year that brokers who did business with Rocket and Fairway would no longer be allowed to conduct business with UWM. In a follow-up interview with Inman, he said out of about 12,000 brokers, about 600 decided to continue doing business with the other lenders, and he is happy with those numbers. 

“I was perfectly fine with those 600 clients [leaving]; those 600 clients were of nominal or inconsequential business for us,” Ishbia said. “But the more important part is a focus on what we’re all in together, and that is the mortgage broker channel.

“We’re going to continue to do it our way at UWM, which is best for brokers, best for consumers, best for my team members, best for everyone around here, and if people think it’s a rivalry then they can think it’s a rivalry,” he said. “I’m just always focused on doing what’s best. And I think a lot of times people don’t stand up for what they believe in, and I’m not shy about doing that.”

The next step? Becoming No. 1, a step that Ishbia said is not if it happens, but when. 

“Our plan is to do it in the next couple years, not when I’m 80 years old,” he said. “I’m thinking about that, I’m thinking, ‘How do we do this in the next five to 10 years?’ And it’s going to be a lot closer to five or less years, so that’s the plan. It could be as soon as next year or the year after, and we’re working diligently. But it’s all focused on the broker, because if the brokers win and grow, we win too.”

Email Kelsey Ramírez

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