THREE THINGS SET THIS YEAR'S MORTGAGE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (IT) ALL-STARS APART FROM THEIR PEERS IN THE INDUSTRY. First, they each saw a problem in mortgage banking and set out to fix it in a way that benefited the entire industry, not just their own company. [??] Second, they're all clever people who see technology as a means to an end and a method of solving customer problems. Garth Graham attacked the problem of customers who don't like waiting on hold by using speech-recognition technology to create a program that, in only 30 seconds, lets callers find out how much they'd save by refinancing their house. [??] Maybe it goes along with being smart, but this group is funny, too. Dan McLaughlin will tell you that cheap ice time lures him to midnight ice hockey games, which leads to Monday-morning "hockey hangovers." When Mike Bixby e-mailed us his photo, he included a note: "If you need something different, let me know and I'll send you a picture of Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp." [??] There are enough differences among our 13 candidates to make them interesting. Some, like Roger Gudobba, 66, have been working to convert paper-intensive processes into instant electronic processes since the days of computer punchcards. Others, like Christopher Meyers, 33, are relative newcomers to the industry. Regardless of how long they've been around, we think you'll find this year's Mortgage IT All-Stars an interesting bunch.
Theodore "Ted" Adams
Director of technology standards, Freddie Mac, McLean, Virginia, 53
Ted Adams has seen a lot of water pass under the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization Inc. (MISMO) bridge (MISMO is the industry standards organization led by the Mortgage Bankers Association [MBA]). He remembers the very first MISMO meeting. "Some of the people at the meeting had been heading down the XML [extensible markup language] path, and other people were not convinced that XML was going to fly. They thought the old X12 standards were going to be it. We worked our differences out, and now we have maybe 3,000 datapoints in the logical data dictionary," he says.
His and others' work over the past six years on the development of that dictionary has paid big dividends not only for the industry, but for Adams as well. "When people talk about MISMO and XML, everyone recognizes that it's been a big boost to the industry. Not just the technology--the XML--but the fact that we now have a community industry dictionary that levels the field. Going back to X12, we had a common syntax, but one of the shortcomings of X12 was the semantics. It would give you code values with no definitions. With MISMO, there is a common term and enumerated values lists. I feel proud and happy to have participated in that," Adams says.
Adams' work life intersects with his home life every year at the Freddie Mac craft show, where he sells fused glass artwork he creates in a home kiln. "You cut glass into pieces and reform them into a single sheet that can be shaped into a bowl, a dish or even a flat piece of glass that is mounted on the wall. Surprisingly, people have bought things," he jokes.
B2B architect, Gallagher Financial Systems Inc., Coral Gables, Florida, 59
The next time you need a rocket scientist to solve a technology challenge, call Greg Alvord, business-to-business (B2B) architect for Gallagher Financial Systems Inc. A former NASA principal investigator with degrees in physics and mathematics, Alvord is not your typical mortgage technologist.
He got into the field when someone wanted to use a fairly standard physics equation called the Black-Scholes formula in a trading and hedging formula. From that first love of trading and hedging, Alvord has developed into a go-between who translates technology for bankers and banking for techies.
"To many programmers, the magic of how a mortgage happens is a mystery, and to many mortgage bankers, the mystery of how technology works is magic," he says. "I try to stay with one foot in mortgage banking and one foot in computer technology so I can carry on a reasonable conversation with anyone in mortgage banking who has a business problem and then step across the hall and create technology to solve that problem."
As the current chair of the MISMO Core Structures Committee, Alvord's focus today is on how data is organized and defined. Just what does the "borrower's first name" data field mean, and how does it relate to the other 3,000 MISMO-approved fields?
Alvord is modest about his work on Gallagher's NetOxygen system. "Software is a collective effort. What I contribute is historical knowledge about how computing is done, and about the use of XML technology to connect products," he says.
As you'd expect from a rocket scientist, Alvord's idea of light reading is a book on the history of the Riemann Zeta function used to find prime numbers. And while he looks like the Albus Dumbledore character from the Harry Potter books, he says he doesn't dress like Dumbledore very often. "I don't frequently wear my wizard hat, because it scares people," he confides.
President, Bixby Consulting Inc., Miami, 54
Michael Bixby is living proof that some computer guys live incredibly exciting lives. Particularly if they're working as computer consultants in South Florida, as he did in the 1980s' Miami Vice era.
"I was developing software for a company that ran about 70 percent of the escort services between West Palm Beach and Key West. They maintained computerized records of their clients, and everything was done by credit card," Bixby explains.
Bixby was astonished when he found out who was behind the service. And while he's leery all these years later to name names, he says it was not just a coincidence that the escort services were quietly closed the same day that the Iran-Contra funding affair was exposed.
Then, there was Bixby's work for the owner of a chain of auto-repair shops who also sold insurance, and whose shops mysteriously burned down within a few-month period.
After those wacky clients, Bixby's stints developing software for a credit-counseling company and then a small credit-reporting company may sound...