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As a standout Michigan State basketball player and coach, Mat Ishbia could have chosen a coaching career over his business management degree. But instead he took the leap, signing on as account executive at United Wholesale Mortgage and applying the principles he learned on and off the court from legendary Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

“I got a chance to coach with Tom Izzo and see the reason why he does things,” he said. “I’ve applied so much of that to the business. We have a 1,300-person basketball team and we make it fun.”

That was 12 years ago, and Ishbia has tenaciously worked his way through the ranks, first walking faxes off the machines to the underwriters, then working in secondary marketing, underwriting, closing, sales and “every other part of the business.”

He changed the game from a commodity to a service, and from an outside to inside sales team.

In the beginning, his entrepreneurial father, Jeff Ishbia, who owns the company, convinced him to look beyond basketball and learn the mortgage business. He assured his son he’d always have a job and not be homeless, but the rest was up to him to work hard.

“I fell in love with it,” he said. “Those were some of the most valuable years for me in our company.

“I was basically an account executive meeting with clients and learning ‘what does a broker really want.’ What they really needed was better service and AEs who answer the phones.”

He remains focused on that question, guiding UWM to its highest loan production quarter in company history in the first quarter of this year, and the best two-quarter period of loan production, from Q1 to Q2, in company history.

In 2013, the company closed $10 billion in loans, and expects to close $13 billion this year, averaging 5,000 loans a month, Ishbia said.

The Troy, Michigan-based company is one of the fastest-growing independent mortgage lenders in the country. Ishbia remains true to his roots, applying sports concepts to the business at every turn. Employees are called teammates, leaders are captains, and internal teams are dubbed the Lions, Pistons and Tigers.

“It’s all about competing and getting better every day and holding ourselves accountable,” he said. “Our business is helping mortgage brokers or small entrepreneurs grow their business. If we can help them do more loans to grow their business, they’ll send us more business.”V14 quote

UWM is impacting borrowers by saving them money, making the mortgage process easy and helping mortgage brokers provide the right product to meet their needs. Ishbia strives to maintain a small family company feel and “stay in the weeds” of the business.”

“I’ve got to know what clients really need and want and I’ve got to be able to deliver,” he said.

UWM is innovating with new products such as UClose, a tool that allows mortgage brokers to close their loans within an hour of receiving their clear to close. UClose complies with the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure Rule, allowing brokers and correspondents to take better control of the closing process, he said.

“We have over 200 technology team members that are focused on how we differentiate ourselves,” he said.

Much like his mentor who guided Michigan State through three Big Ten championships, three NCAA Final Four appearances, and an NCAA national championship, Ishbia is a game changer. He comes to work every day at 6:30 a.m. and stays late.

“I love everything about it: the change, the challenges, compliance, interest rates changing,” he said. “Every day I focus on how we get better, how do you get people to use us instead, and how to help brokers grow their business. I have a passion for it.”