2015 Tech All-Stars.

Author:Hewitt, Janet Reilley
Position:COVER REPORT: TECHNOLOGY - Cover story
 
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This year's class of Tech All-Stars will be honored at the Mortgage Bankers Association's National Technology in Mortgage Banking Conference for their significant contributions.

Technology is riding to the rescue like never before in the mortgage business. None of today's knottiest business challenges throughout the vast and cumbersome mortgage industry would be remotely solvable without technology. [paragraph] That is something every top executive of every lending and servicing organization in the country will admit to in a heartbeat. (Actually the processors and closing-doc drawers might even be quicker to admit it.) [paragraph]So where is all this life-saving technology coming from? [paragraph] Mortgage Banking once again set out to find out. [paragraph] We have been doing this annual talent search for 14 years--ever since 2002, when we honored our very first class of Tech All-Stars. (We actually called it something else back then: Mortgage IT All-Stars. But looking back, we decided that sounded too clunky for our taste. Since then it's morphed into the Tech All-Star moniker. Hey, it's our award--we can call it anything we want.)

No matter what you call it, there has been a wealth of technology smarts that we have been able to recognize and honor over the years between 2002 and 2015. A total of 153 technology movers and shakers have been designated Tech All-Stars, including the seven new honorees we pay tribute to this month.

But before we get to the new class of Tech All-Stars, we wanted to honor a leading light in mortgage technology who passed away last year. Warren Hitesh Myer founded Myers Internet Inc., San Jose, California, in 1995 and served as its chairman and chief executive officer. He was named a Tech All-Star in 2004.

When Mortgage Banking wrote about him in the March 2004 issue, we said he closed his first loan online in 1992. Imagine way back then what it must have been like trying to originate a loan online with none of the industry's infrastructure prepared for it. As a mortgage broker in 1991, he was taking loan applications on his laptop.

Myer was a true industry innovator (and a truly deserving Tech All-Star). This particular quote from the story about the 2004 class of all-stars is priceless in explaining what drove Myer to pursue his technology dreams: "I'm trying to reach the Holy Grail of removing the complexity from the mortgage business."

"Well, good luck with that," I'm sure many readers are thinking right now. I think more modern-day technologists might say the goal is more to hide the complexity under a technology-enabled veneer of simplicity.

And while technologists today are still working to simplify things, there are other forces at work introducing far more complexity into the business.

Unfortunately regulators, in particular, are not making things any easier for technologists in this post-mortgage-meltdown world. But that hasn't stopped the 153 people we have honored from continuing to give it a go.

So now it's time to get down to the business at hand and applaud the latest class of Tech All-Stars. I'm sure many of these names will be familiar.

The 2015 Tech All-Stars are:

(1) Vladimir Bien-Aime, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Global DMS;

(2) Jeff Bradford, founder and chief executive officer of Bradford Technologies Inc.;

(3) Michael J. Coar Jr., founder, president and chief executive officer of VirPack;

(4) Elizabeth Green, principal consultant, rel-e-vant Solutions;

(5) Jason Roth, CMT, co-founder and senior vice president, product management, ComplianceEase;

(6) Stanley Street, founder and president, Street Resource Group; and

(7) Len Tichy, managing director, information technology (IT) and operations reviews, STRATMOR Group.

The thing these winners have in common is a dogged dedication to improving this industry through technology. They have spent many years trying to bring better technology to the many varied sides of the mortgage industry. And it hasn't been for the glory of it. Because, quite frankly, the mortgage business will never really be known for its technology.

But they have put in countless hours and taken personal business risks so that in the end borrowers can more easily and confidently obtain the best financing available to help buy a home. And so that more lenders can efficiently, safely and profitably offer compliant mortgage services to the broadest market possible of prepared consumers. And so that secondary market investors know that the mortgages they are buying are safe and solid. That's no small undertaking, so kudos to them all.

Leadership

When we looked at the careers of these seven, we noticed a trait many of them share. Most have founded or co-founded companies, or still run the companies they founded decades ago. They are leaders--and the kind of leaders who put their hopes and dreams (and personal finances) on the line.

Whether it is in the field of valuation technology (Bradford, Green and BienAime), pioneering the adoption of electronic documents for investor delivery (Coar), automating solutions for the growing compliance burden (Roth), helping expand the availability of warehouse lines (Street) or helping lenders employ the best possible origination technology (Tichy), these seven people have made a difference. The industry is better off for their efforts.

But this is not just a technology story--it's a business story, too. These seven and their companies have endured even as the mortgage industry survived a business downturn of epic proportions.

They managed to steer their companies through the perils of a profound mortgage crisis when many of their customers were crashing and burning. And now they have come out the other side, with their companies intact. Focusing your technology exclusively on the mortgage business takes both guts and smarts, it seems.

We asked two long-time experts in mortgage technology to put this kind of leadership in perspective. We asked them about the role that single entrepreneurs can still play in today's mortgage technology business. Has that role changed since the early days when single entrepreneur/owners played such a dominant role? Both past Tech All-Stars--Roger Gudobba (class of 2005 all-star) and Tim Anderson (2007)--shared their observations.

In the past, much of the origination, secondary marketing and servicing technology was designed and built by small companies led by noteworthy entreprenuers whose products enjoyed success in the market. We wondered, is that era behind us? Here's what Gudobba and Anderson told us.

Godobba says, "Certainly, we have seen some small startups develop very innovative solutions. The key is to identify a problem and analyze it from both the company and consumer's point of view--especially the consumer's! The challenge is to block out current solutions and think outside the box. One only has to look at Quicken Loans and some of the unique solutions they have developed to appreciate there is always a better way. Be proactive, not reactive."

(By the way, we should mention the fact that Quicken Loans Founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert was also a Tech AllStar from the class of 2004.)

Anderson's reply seems to leave room for a variety of companies designing new solutions, whether they be small startups...

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