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Better CEO Vishal Garg acknowledged past blunders with his online mortgage company but said he had no plans to step away from the company he founded nearly a decade ago.
In an interview with Insider, the embattled CEO reentered the public spotlight for the first time since the start of a series of missteps that began when he laid 900 employees off on a Zoom call last December.
His company ballooned in size to over 10,000 employees and sold $58 billion in loans in 2021, but the December layoffs were only the beginning of troubles for Better. It has since shed around 60 percent of its workforce. Its long-standing attempt to become a publicly traded company has been delayed multiple times including as recently as August.
Garg told the outlet it would have been easier for him to sell his company or walk away. But he still has no plans to do that. In fact, whether it goes public or not, Better plans to expand its business offerings soon.
“I would regularly tell my team that I think I’m the right founder for this company,” Garg told Insider. “I think I’m the right leader for this company. But do I know how to be the CEO of a 10,000-person company?”
After briefly taking a leave from the company following the backlash from the Zoom layoffs, Garg returned a few weeks later. It has undergone several more rounds of layoffs since then.
The company specializes in low-contact, online-first mortgage processing. That set it on a path to rapidly grow through the COVID-19 housing boom. It began offering more services including launching its own real estate brokerage in 2021 with hopes of expanding to all 50 states by the end of this year.
Garg said the ensuing revenue and public attention, along with his leadership style, became an issue for the company.
“We lost our way,” Garg told Insider. “It became more me than we.”
In the interview, Garg suggested his company foresaw the ongoing market downturn before others and acted sooner than most mortgage companies to rightsize staff.
That contrasts allegations made in a court filing by a former executive at the company who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Sarah Pierce alleged Garg believed President Joe Biden would contract COVID and die, which would send interest rates lower. Pierce alleged the company continued hiring staff based on that prediction.
“CEO Garg’s decision to ramp up hiring based on his belief that President Biden would die of COVID was repeated on several occasions over a period of several weeks to at least 50 other executives and senior employees of the Company and to the Board of Directors,” the lawsuit says.
Garg and the company have denied the allegations made in the suit.
Better said in a July financial filing that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the company based on other allegations in Pierce’s lawsuit.
“I can’t comment other than what’s been said, which is I think that it is baseless,” Garg told Insider. “At a human level, I’m sad that people who started with a company right out of school in their early 20s and were able to make millions or tens of millions of dollars in cash and stock over time would go out of their way to hurt something that helped them so much.”
Garg told the outlet Better was working to create a new website that would help mortgage applicants find homes they could afford. The company, Garg told Insider, is also building a home-auction tool that lets preapproved mortgage applicants buy homes without using a broker.