When Doug Schukar founded DAS Acquisition, the parent company of USA Mortgage, in 2001, the firm opened its doors with 55 employees. Today, the company boasts a 475-member workforce, with a thriving concept revolving around its loan officers. “We find the ‘A players’ in the industry and build around them,” explains Schukar, the company’s president and CEO. “They have to have a keen knowledge of the business, which is forever changing; they have to be excellent communicators; and they have to be phenomenal problem-solvers.”
The growth and success of USA Mortgage stands out in an economy still struggling and an industry still coping with new federal government regulations. Its workforce has grown 40 percent since the beginning of 2012, with Inc. magazine ranking it among the country’s top 100 private job creators in its inaugural ‘Hire Power Awards.’ The firm also has made the list of Inc.’s 5,000 fastest-growing private companies for three consecutive years.
That success has allowed USA Mortgage to surpass the $1 billion loan threshold for the fourth straight year, with business in 2012 up 60 percent over 2011. With a 9.97 percent market share (just two loans short of 10 percent), the firm now holds the No. 1 home-lending position in the St. Louis area, a spot that Schukar believes never has been achieved before by an independent mortgage company. “It legitimizes our business plan. When people typically think of mortgages, they think of money; and when they think of money, they think of their bank,” he says. “For an independent mortgage company to be anywhere in the same breath as banks would be enough. But the fact that we are trending about 30 to 40 percent bigger than No. 2, is pretty significant.”
USA Mortgage’s strategy has been key to its growth. While the company initially began with the goal of becoming the premiere bank fulfillment center in the Midwest, it refocused on its position as a mortgage bank due to the economic and secondary market upheaval. In 2008, when the federal government enacted mortgage regulation reforms, many mortgage brokers were forced out of business. Seizing the opportunity, USA Mortgage met with those firms around the metropolitan area, bringing brokers on board and effectively doubling its size in 12 months. “We believe that true entrepreneurs don’t get caught up in all of the negativity, but look for the right opportunity,” Linda Pring, executive VP and COO. “And that’s what we were able to do.”
With most mortgage brokers extinct, the industry was left with retail banks and mortgage banks like USA Mortgage, who control all aspects of the loan. Because the residential mortgage still is taboo to most retail banks, says Schukar, “while the pie has not necessarily grown in the last couple years, our slice of it has.”
In addition, instead of relying on unrelated appraisal and title companies to assist in the processing of a home loan, USA Mortgage uses two sister companies, Red Eagle Appraisals and American Land Title Closing Company, to quickly execute the transaction. And with a vast product line, the firm can explore a variety of ways to get more people in homes or refinance for better rates, Pring adds.
Today, USA Mortgage operates 15 offices in Missouri, Illinois and Georgia. The company finished the year at $1.75 billion in lending transactions, with a future goal of $2 billion, and is renewing fulfillment center partnerships with banks and credit unions. With more growth on the horizon, the company continues to look for new employees who fit the carefully cultivated work environment. “There are two things that dictate every decision that comes out of this firm: reputation and culture,” Schukar says. “Reputation is based on external decisions, while culture is based on internal decisions. We’ll do whatever it takes to protect our reputation and culture.”
Those employees, particularly the loan officers, are especially important as Schukar still sees a home loan as a face-to-face job, handling a person’s biggest liability. “At the end of the day, you need to create the relationship and trust. Times are tough right now; and to know there’s something we can do to help someone accomplish their part of the American dream, that’s about as rewarding as it gets.”