Blocking and tackling.

Author:Hewitt, Janet Reilley

Quicken Loans Chief Executive Officer Bill Emerson takes on a whole new role when he becomes chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association this month. But he's no stranger to the limelight.

BILL EMERSON WAS HAVING FUN. The chief executive officer of Detroit-based Quicken Loans looked pumped as he sat in front of the CBS Sports cameras in the corporate sponsor's seat. He was being interviewed during the broadcast of the Quicken Loans National PGA TOUR golf tournament in August. If a can of Red Bull could wear a suit, this is what it might look like. [paragraph] Pure energy--but contained. [paragraph] Emerson was on the football team at Penn State during the team's championship season in 1982, so he is used to high-stakes sporting events where you show what you are made of under pressure. [paragraph] And that perfectly describes professional golf--just ask Tiger Woods. Emerson has twice played rounds with Woods in the pro-am part of the Quicken Loans tournament. (Talk about testing your nerves.) [paragraph] Emerson, it turns out, is a natural in front of the cameras. No sign of nerves there. And for this Sunday broadcast of Tiger Woods' tournament, he was clearly enjoying himself. He was given the allotted three minutes or so of dedicated airtime to discuss all the good things supported by Quicken Loans' sponsorship of the event.

Typically these interviews are done with older, buttoned-up, Fortune 500 corporate graybeards who have been media-trained into submission. But with Emerson, it was like watching someone so jazzed he could barely sit still. His electric-blue tie kind of said it all.

Quicken Loans is all over the Golf Channel these days with its ubiquitous ads featuring young fan favorite Rickie Fowler. The trendy Fowler features Quicken's brand on his golf bag. And Quicken Loans' Hole-in-One Sweepstakes on the PGA TOUR allows a lucky homeowner to get his or her mortgage paid for a year if a tour player makes a hole-in-one during tournament play. As of early September, a lucky 31 families had their mortgages paid for a year because they won the sweepstakes.

As the face of consumer favorite Quicken Loans, Emerson is every inch the face of a reinvented, technology-driven, high-performance marketing machine of a mortgage company. The kind of high-profile brand that would sponsor Tiger Woods' very own PGA TOUR event--played every year in and around the nation's capital.

And let's just say, Emerson made CBS Sports' Bill Macatee, who interviewed him, look like a boring blue blazer. It was like watching the embodiment of the old mortgage business versus the new.

Doing battle

While Emerson seems completely comfortable in his role as Quicken Loans CEO, the next 12 months will test his ability to speak for an industry still emerging from a financial crisis that crushed the economy eight years ago. This month he takes on the chairman's job with the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), where he will be the face of not only his progressive company but of the entire mortgage industry.

And even though it's been eight long years since the mortgage market melted down--and even though today lenders couldn't make a bad loan if they wanted to--the nation's attorneys general, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other regulators are still not done tarring and feathering mortgage companies over the past. It's a battle, a fight, a high-stakes contest that the industry has recently shown signs it's finally ready to fight.

And Emerson is the absolute right guy for this moment.

This is one of those moments of truth for the mortgage industry. Emerson's own company is engaged in a battle with the DOJ and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over its Federal Housing Administration (FHA) lending. And the company has taken the government to court to battle charges it believes are unfounded.

A week before the Justice Department filed its suit against Quicken over alleged defects in loans the company originated that were insured by the FHA, the company filed suit on April 17 in federal district court against the Justice Department and HUD.

A Quicken press release from April 17 states, "The company was left with no alternative but to take this action after the DOJ demanded Quicken Loans make public admissions that were blatantly false, as well as pay an inexplicable penalty or face legal action."

Quicken is the largest FHA lender in the country. The company has originated the FHA's best-performing loan portfolio and has the lowest compare ratio, which is the default rate of a single FHA lender compared with FHA's total mortgage portfolio, according to Quicken Loans.

Emerson said in the release: "After three years of struggling to understand the DOJ's position and methodology that would warrant the country's largest and highest-quality FHA lender to make untrue admissions and pay an inexplicable penalty or face public legal action, it is time to ask the court to intervene."

He added, "No threat, including high-profile, senseless lawsuits from powerful federal officials, will deter our company and its leadership from doing the right thing. We will stand in defense of our impeccable reputation established by thousands of hardworking ethical team members over our 30-year history."

The company had provided the DOJ with more than 85,000 documents, including 55,000 emails leading up to its lawsuit filing. And the Justice Department has taken "hundreds of hours of depositions from numerous Quicken Loans team members," the company said.

Emerson said, "[T]he DOJ inquiry has resulted in the threat of a federal lawsuit based on the faulty analysis of a miniscule number of cherry-picked mortgages from the nearly 350,000 FHA loans the company has closed since 2007."

Many in the mortgage industry will sympathize with those words. And that is what makes Emerson so perfectly prepared to voice the industry's frustration with the current heavy-handed enforcement climate.

But how did a former college football player end up in the mortgage business anyway?

First real job

Bill Emerson was born and raised in Whitney Point, New York. It's roughly 55 miles from Syracuse--so, I guess Michigan snow probably doesn't faze him.

Robert, his dad, started the football program at Maine-Endwell Senior High School in 1960 and ended up in the school's hall of fame. Then he moved on to coach at Sherburne-Earlville High School, New York, and finished his career at Whitney Point Senior High School coaching three sports: football...

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