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Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023


By MORRIS NEWMAN Contributing Reporter Angelo R. Mozilo thrives on competition, and that helps Calabasas-based Countrywide Credit Industries Inc. to remain atop the much-contested field of residential mortgage lending. As Countrywide’s chief executive, Mozilo oversees a sales organization of 400 offices in about 40 states. Last year, it generated $37.8 billion in home loans, $1.1 billion in revenues and $257 million in net earnings. Currently about 1.7 million American households are making payments on loans originated by Countrywide. Mozilo cultivates the image of a patrician financial professional. A dark, compact man with white hair, Mozilo is elegantly dressed in a conservative charcoal grey suit. In his spacious office, surrounded by a museum-quality collection of American art of the 19th and early 20th centuries that he has chosen himself, he glances occasionally at a television screen flashing late-breaking stock prices. In a recent interview at his Calabasas office, Mozilo discussed his management style, work ethic, and various other aspects of his life. Question: How would you describe your management style? Answer: I am a hands-on manager. I work directly with about 20 managing directors. The president and CFO report directly to me. I would characterize myself as deeply involved. I spend a lot of time trying to motivate people to do the right thing. Q: How do you do that, exactly? A: By leading by example. If I commit all, they commit all. If I work late, they work late. Q: What part of your work do you enjoy the most, day-to-day operational activities or big-picture strategic planning? A: I am in between the micro and macro areas. I get the most satisfaction from the business-development area, such as increasing the overall level of (loan) production, and creating new products. I like being No. 1. I like the competitive edge and being the leader of the industry. It’s called fire in the belly. If you have fire in the belly, you’ll do well at Countrywide. Q: How do you encourage your employees to develop some fire in the belly? A: You have it or you don’t. I don’t think you can acquire that quality. I am talking about a gnawing desire every waking hour to win and to beat out the competition. People have it for whatever reason it is instilled in them by their upbringing, it’s part of their inner workings or chemistry of the body. I know people who have it both in sports and in business. Even in academics and in your profession there are people who have it. Those people are different; that fire in the belly sets them apart. There are a hell of lot of people who had higher SAT scores than I had. I would like to think that the desire to win is more important. Q: If you lead by example, what is your typical work day? A: It has changed somewhat. When the company was in its struggling days, and we really had to beat a loud drum to let people know who the hell we were, I actually worked 24 hours. I stayed up all Saturday night and Sunday morning, with a couple of guys processing loans. In the beginning, I got into the office at 4 in the morning and worked to 9 o’clock at night five days a week. I came into the office most Saturdays. Nowadays, I am on the road about 60 percent of the time, and work about 13 or 14 hours a day. Q: How can you sustain that? A: Beats the hell out of me. I am driven. I still see Countrywide as having a phenomenal future. I want to see it achieve the true recognition that it should have and clearly deserves, and that the people in it deserve. Q: How do you motivate people? A: Obviously, money motivates people to a degree. People have to get rewarded so they can achieve the better things of life, and money is very important for that. Stock options are clearly a driving force. Our employees have ownership in the company. That’s a rare opportunity, because there are very few publicly held mortgage companies. We give options to every single employee in the company. Today the stock had a big run up on Wall Street, and people were excited; they felt they were a part of that. Q: Is giving your underlings autonomy also part of your motivational strategy? A: We try to provide every opportunity for people to hire the best talent. We let them (managers) run their businesses. We don’t hand them a plan. They are activated; they had a major part in devising the plan that they are going to be working on. We just develop a plan (together) and try to set up the rewards so that they relate to their performance. We try to have little or no punishment. Our branch managers run their branches in their entirety. It’s good for them. It’s great for customers, who need not look to anybody else. Q: How do you maintain quality? A: It’s all part of what I just talked about; If you make people responsible, they will act responsibly. If you take all their responsibility away, they will act in a robotic way which is generally not responsible. The ultimate test for a mortgage lender is the number of delinquencies and foreclosures. We are either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country, not because we don’t do lower-income loans we are the largest lenders to blacks and Hispanics but because people in our branches know they are responsible to make good loans. The loan is not being made by somebody thousands and thousands of miles removed from the moment of truth who does not know the buyer or the neighborhood. The idea is ridiculous that the only way to have quality control is to centralize everything and put all the responsibility to some people in the central office who are deemed to be godlike and supposedly have higher powers, which they don’t. The best decisions are made where the consumer is; that’s good for the company and that’s good for the consumer. Q: When did you first get involved in the home-loan business? A: When I was 14 years old, I started out as a messenger boy for United Mortgage Servicing Corp. I continued to work for them in high school and college. I went to Fordham University as an undergraduate and to NYU for grad school. In the middle of grad school, they transferred me to Virginia. I worked in Virginia for about a year and then transferred to Florida. It was 1961, and President Kennedy had announced that we were going to send a rocket to the moon. Cape Canaveral was the center of the space effort, and Orlando was the infrastructure, so we expected a lot of opportunity in home finance. I did that for three years, and was transferred to California. I returned to Virginia once again to become the executive vice president of the company there. In 1968, David Loeb (the current chairman of Countrywide Credit Industries) and I left to form Countrywide. Q: I notice your office and much of the public area in your headquarters building is covered in art. How did you get interested in collecting? A: I was always interested in art, even though I couldn’t afford it for a long time. My dad was a butcher in the Bronx; I was poor. I didn’t have a lot of money to buy art. The only art I knew was painting-by-the-numbers. But I always appreciated good artwork, even when I couldn’t afford it. It was sort of a natural thing. When the company reached the point of maturity where it could afford to play an important role in the arts, we began to buy examples of the Hudson River School. Q: The collection here is your personal collection? A: This is the company’s collection. I have my own personal collection at home of the Hudson River School. Q: What do you do with those precious few leisure hours you have? A: I have five children and five grandchildren. I belong to a couple of golf clubs. I enjoy golf and enjoy the people I meet playing golf. I also enjoy skiing, although less so as I get older. My greatest joy is watching Countrywide and the people at Countrywide succeed. That’s where I get my biggest thrill.

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