NEW YORK (
Wilbur Ross, one of the world's top investors, discusses Bill Erbey, a little-known but wildly successful mortgage industry pioneer. Excerpts from this interview appear in TheStreet's exclusive profile of Erbey. Ross sits on the Board of Directors of Ocwen Financial (OCN - Get Report) one of five companies at which Erbey serves as chairman.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How long have you known Bill Erbey?
Well for quite a while. I live in Palm Beach, and until he recently moved to the Virgin Islands, he had lived in that area as well. So I've known him for quite a few years socially, and we also, for quite a while, were competitors when we had the old American Home Mortgage, subsequently known as Homeward Residential.
What is it that you think people ought to know about him? I mean sort of his contribution to business, or society, or both?
Well I think it's a number of things. He has a very unusual combination of capabilities. You find some executives who are good strategists but not so good at the details of operation. He's good at both. And then in addition he has been totally brilliant at capital markets activities. As you probably know he's traded a number of subsidiaries, spun them out, they kind of all interact with each other, and he's created a huge amount of market value through the combination of great strategic calls, very, very good day-to-day operating management, and then some brilliant capital markets initiatives. So I think he has now created himself in a position where he's not only the largest player in his space, he's also the lowest cost, both in terms of capital cost and in terms of operating expense. So I think he's created quite an extraordinary business.
Is there a good anecdote that you can think of? He seems to have a fairly acerbic sense of humor. He refers to himself as a nerd.
Well in some ways he is a nerd, a good nerd. When I went on the board they put me on the compensation committee, which is unusual for a company to have a sort of true outsider do that. So the first meeting I went to, it was one to set the criteria for people's bonuses for the next year, always sort of the most sensitive thing that you can imagine to be done. I was quite amazed to see the level of detail at which they were making people have targets. For example a big important part of Ocwen's business is servicing delinquent mortgages, and part of that is a call center that makes and receives calls to delinquent borrowers. So the guy who's in charge of that thing overall, they looked at what you call the KPIs, mainly the key performance indicators, for that fellow for his bonus, and they were remarkably specific. Like
reduce waiting time of the average caller from 12 seconds to 10 seconds
, that kind of thing. I've never seen a company that had as precise criteria for bonuses as this company does. I mean these are really button down people.