Meet the MENtors – Mat Ishbia & Melinda Wilner

A column by Christine Beckwith

Originally published in Morgtage Women Magazine, July, 2019

So, I am standing in the back of this sun filled room with an ocean view to die for on the 32nd floor of the Diplomat Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.  It’s a cocktail reception for the AIME Association and Mat Ishbia & United Wholesale Mortgage are hosting.  I am making my way around a room filled with both familiar and new faces.

Someone whistles and silence ensues and here I bear witness to the words of an executive leader, Mat, speaking to the group, “Thank you for coming this evening, first and foremost…”

Polite words of encouragement and then the hook only a leader of his caliber can say with such confidence, “This is YOUR time, the time of the broker!” I look around the room and everyone is hanging on his every word, clearly an admired man. People nod their heads in agreement, smiling and it ends with a raising of the glasses, mine included!

A few weeks earlier from the home offices of 20/20 Vision for Success Coaching, I sat down with Mat via Zoom and his immediate staff and marketing.  I told Mat he was being featured in an upcoming edition of Mortgage Women Magazine’s new column, Meet the MENtors where we feature nominated men who have had an impact on the placement and support of women in the mortgage industry. Melinda Wilner, the COO of United Wholesale Mortgage, and someone I was fortunate to meet and feature on the ‘Power Women with Class’ show over at Mortgage News Network nominated Mat for this issue.

During my interview with Mat, (transcribed below) I felt like I was talking to an old friend. It was comfortable, casual, and meaningful. I realized when doing this interview, I was speaking to an industry icon who will forever be imprinted into the mortgage industries history books and it sort of felt surreal. Mat was very humble and unassuming during the interview, which resonated with me personally as an industry professional.

I asked Melinda Wilner to put Mat Ishbia’s nomination into words and here’s what she had to say about him:

Christine: Why is Mat your mentor?

Melinda: I’ve been fortunate to have several great mentors in my life, including my husband and my father, as well as Mat Ishbia. It’s been an honor to work closely with Mat over the last 7 years. I have learned so much from him leading the charge at UWM. He has played a huge role in my growth, personally and professionally. It’s not often that one gets to work with such a passionate and driven leader and be a part of a company’s rapid growth.

A lot of people say they want to be amazing and be the best at something but fail to execute on what they need to do to get there. That is not the case with Mat. I’ve learned a lot about leadership from him as Mat is a fantastic leader – appreciative, supportive, encouraging, challenging (in a good way), courageous, and humble. Not to mention the fact that he understands and emphasizes the importance of creating a team environment and working toward a common vision.

What UWM has accomplished over the last several years is breathtaking, and with any great company or team, it all starts at the top. Mat has built a company and a culture of accountability, positivity and enthusiasm, and he makes it a safe place for ideas and trying new things. It’s a culture with a ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality and where doing right by others, (team members, clients, and borrowers), is always the utmost priority.

I am truly a better person, inside and outside of work, for having the opportunity to work with Mat during my time at UWM. Some of my takeaways — if you want to accomplish something, figure out what you need to do and get it done; be accountable and reflect on what you could have done to have a better outcome (being a thumb-pointer, not a finger-pointer); never miss an opportunity to improve something that is broken, wrong, or could just be better; and to do your best to be a better spouse, parent, worker, and person every day.

Christine: What are his attributes as a leader?

Melinda: Mat is decisive and has fantastic instincts, but he also loves to be challenged by others who present a different perspective or a potentially better way of doing something. He fosters an atmosphere with a high amount of independence but is always there if needed and is a good collaborator and communicator. He is also passionate about giving the “why” behind decisions. Mat is honest and direct – he gives great feedback, and always has the best of intentions.

Not a day goes by where Mat isn’t loaded with positivity, passion, and enthusiasm, all of which make UWM a great place to work each day. He shows appreciation, empathy, and builds relationships. He has a boundless supply of energy, which rubs off on team members and motivates them to work hard. Mat cares deeply about people, both the team members at UWM and our broker-partners, while setting everyone up for success. He is truly inspirational as a person, but also as a leader in all that he and UWM have accomplished.

Lastly, Mat works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. He is incredibly proactive in making sure UWM is a great place to work and that we deliver the absolute best product and service to our clients.

It’s easy to see why Mat is an inspiration to Melinda and I come to find out she is one amongst many women Mat Ishbia has managed, mentored, and elevated at UWM.  I am certain that Melinda’s words of admiration are shared by all who work for Mat.

Sitting down with Mat I gathered some intel about the man behind UWM. Mat has been responsible for the growth of UWM to unfathomable heights. Over the course of his appointed tenure from his father’s initial foundation, Mat has led the company through its greatest growth period. Since Mat’s leadership (beginning in 2003), he took the company from 2.5-billion-dollars all the way to its current annualized volume of well over 40M, and is still rapidly growing.  Mat has lead through difficult years, of course, like so many, and in 2009-2011 stepped back to reorganize, closing down the retail division in 2014, to which he proudly stated that, “We worked hard to not displace professionals,” and 100% of those retail team members moved into new positions. It is clear the culture he cherishes is evident in all his decisions.  Easy to recap in short words, much harder to imagine all that it took to grow at that speed and stay upright.

I asked Mat what his father, Jeff Ishbia, thought of his leadership and the company’s growth under Mat’s direction and he admitted his dad has been “blown away”. Jeff Ishbia handed over the company to Mat with the advice, “Do what’s right and work with integrity,” and that is something Mat has taken quite seriously. The community culture for UWM employees is unrivaled in our industry. They have built an existence in a world wrought with instability and a stable and nurturing environment. Working for UWM is an experience, not just a job, led by a person they believe in and, moreover, trust.

Interview with Mat

Christine: What did Melinda do to earn your support?

Mat: Melinda started with the company in 2011 and we wouldn’t be where we are without her. She earns my support every single day. Her work ethic, her attitude, and her level of involvement with every detail are unmatched. Everything Melinda says she’s going to do, she does, and she always executes at a high level. One of Melinda’s greatest strengths is that she’s always in the weeds of our business. She doesn’t ever just take somebody’s word for something – she digs in and finds out answers. Melinda knows underwriting inside and out, but she also digs into other areas that are outside her comfort zone. Her mentality is, “I can learn that, I can figure it out, give me a chance.” She never says no to a challenge – she always figures out a way to do it.

Christine: What are Melinda’s biggest attributes?

Mat: There is not a better, more loyal, or intelligent person I could be surrounded by helping to lead this company. Melinda has great work ethic – she outworks everyone. She comes in early, she stays late, and while she’s here, she’s grinding. There’s not a detail missed or a stone unturned with her. Melinda has a “yes mentality” and a great sense of urgency, both of which are very important to me. She also moves fast. If an idea comes up and she thinks it’s something that could help us get better, she gets to work on it right away.

Christine: What made you decide in life that you wanted to become a leader and at what age did you know you would become one?

Mat: I think being a leader is something that’s earned over time. You earn it by doing the right things, executing the right way, working hard, and by treating people well. When I was younger, I figured out that I was really good at basketball. I took the mentality that I can choose to just be really good on my own, or I can help others as well. I can help them get better. It’s the same thing in business. Do you want to be a great individual contributor, or do you have the desire to pull other people along with you and help them be great? Once I saw an opportunity to impact others in a positive way, leadership seemed like the obvious choice. A lot of what I learned about leadership was from my college basketball coach, Tom Izzo. Seeing the way he did things made me realize I have that same skill set – that I can lead too. I looked at the things Coach Izzo did to make him a great leader and applied them to business.

Christine: As a leader, what are you looking for in professionals that tells you they have “it” or that they possess the talent necessary to succeed?

Mat:

It’s all about heart, work ethic, and attitude. To me, those things are more important than talent or what they’ve done in the past. For me, the biggest question is, “Do they have the heart to succeed?” And by that, what I mean is, do they care? Do they want to get better? Do they work hard to get better? It’s all about attitude and work ethic. And the reason you have a great work ethic and a great attitude is because you care about something. If our people care about this company, they’re going to work really hard to be successful.

Christine: As a father, like all fathers, you have a desire no doubt to leave a legacy but moreover to lead the way in a world that is very dynamic, somewhat volatile and obviously ever evolving.   What advice would you give your grown children as they enter the world if they were to do so today?

Mat: The biggest piece of advice I would give my kids or anyone younger is to believe in yourself, set goals, and then work hard to accomplish them. It’s easy to set a goal and say that you’re working hard towards it, but how hard are you really working? What’s your mentality? What’s your attitude? Set a goal and work tirelessly towards that goal. At the same time, be patient. Don’t say you want to be the CEO of a company when you just started. Set a goal of being the best person on your team or becoming a leader. Set small, attainable goals and keep working your way up. Another thing I would tell young people is to be coachable. Find a good mentor – someone that will teach you and listen to them. They’ve been through it before – hear their perspective. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything the same way they do it. I don’t do everything the same way Tom Izzo does or everything the same way my Dad does. I just use them as data points and ways to get better. I then take the best of each of them and try to make it my own and add my own ideas to it.

Many years ago this man who is now a mentor to women and men alike, who leads the largest wholesale mortgage company in the country, was an athlete.  A college basketball player, from 98’-02’ for Michigan State and later as the Assistant Coach to Tom Izzo, whom Mat calls one of his own greatest mentors. Mat credits his sportsmanship and athleticism as part of his core foundation and so many times I hear this as a correlating factor that is woven into the fabric of elite and successful people. It is also true for Mat Ishbia.

It was my honor to highlight Melinda and Mat’s story, to once again shine a light on a man who, long before there was any pressure to elevate women because “you should”, was doing it, of his own accord, gender blind and professionally and acutely focused on all the right things.  A man making substantial contributions to the industries development through leadership and his example. We applaud you Mat Ishbia. Shine on!

Christine Beckwith is a 30-year mortgage industry veteran who has broken many glass ceilings and blazed a trail for many female professional generations to come. She is a Mortgage News Network Anchor and the President & COO of 20/20 Vision for Success Coaching. This year she was featured in the 2018 Mortgage Professional America magazine as one of the top 75 women in the mortgage industry and named one of the “2018 Most connected Mortgage professionals in America” named by NMP magazine.

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