#MBAAnnual22: From Matt Rocco, a Pledge of Servant Leadership

(MBA Chairman Matt Rocco addresses MBA Annual Convention & Expo on Monday.)

NASHVILLE—Servant leadership is a non-traditional leadership philosophy, embedded in a set of behaviors and practices that place the primary emphasis on the well-being of those being served. It’s a concept that 2023 MBA Chairman Matt Rocco promises to fulfill.

“My commitment to this cause stems from my promise to be a servant leader,” Rocco said here Monday at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Annual Convention & Expo. “And it provides all of us with a chance to be servant leaders for our society. As we get ready for the year ahead, I promise to support you and strengthen you, in all I do. In my experience, good leadership starts with good listening, so I’d love to hear from as many of you as possible.”

Rocco is Chairman of the Board and CEO of Grandbridge Real Estate Capital, Charlotte, N.C. He has been with the company since 1998.

“I’m a commercial and multifamily guy, for the most part. But as chair of the MBA, I will represent and serve every member and every aspect of our dynamic industry,” Rocco said. “Commercial, multi-family, residential – we’re all members of the same family. And now more than ever, given these challenging market conditions, all of us in MBA leadership will continue to work hard for you.”

In embracing servant leadership, Rocco said his goal is to listen to every MBA member. “I want to know the challenges you face, so the MBA team can help you overcome them,” he said. “I want to know the opportunities you see, so we can help you make the most of them. We want to be your industry leading resource that helps you achieve success.” 

Rocco acknowledged the mortgage industry faces difficult times. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. The future seems even more unknown than usual, which I didn’t think was possible,” he said. “Yet if the past few years have proven anything, it’s that the Mortgage Bankers Association delivers for you. I intend to strengthen that reputation even further, by doubling down on lifting up you, your companies and your customers. At the end of the day, servant leadership isn’t just my motto. It’s the essence of the entire MBA. We consistently come through for you. And in the next year, I promise: We will reach new heights of service and advocacy. We won’t just represent you. We’ll continue to deliver on your most important priorities.”

Rocco said his philosophy of servant leadership is grounded in his experience. “Like you, I’ve devoted my life to real estate finance,” he said. “I’m driven by the desire to do well by doing good. This isn’t just a job. It’s a calling. And I’ve always aimed to answer that call.”

Unlike many, who enter the real estate finance industry later in their careers, Rocco said he wanted a job in the industry as a teenager.

“I grew up in a great home, with a great family, and the best possible advantages in life,” Rocco said. “We were in the right zip code and I had everything going for me. It ingrained in me a deep sense of responsibility, and a profound desire to empower others. Even at age 18, I wanted to help people achieve their American Dream – to find the happiness that is their birthright. That naturally led me to real estate finance.

Rocco said the real estate finance industry is foundational for opportunity. “We help families buy that first home,” he said. “We help new workers get that first apartment. We help job creators get their first shot at a storefront. And we help communities of all sizes meet their first and biggest priorities, especially greater homeownership and booming economies. I constantly think about the difference we make. And when people ask me why I chose this career, my answer is simple: Where else could I do so much for so many people in so many places? Having talked with so many MBA members, I know you feel the exact same way.”

Rocco’s first professional job started in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the saving and loan crisis. “Honestly, it wasn’t the best time to get my start,” he said. “But I’ll always be grateful for what I learned. You see, amid the crisis, I had a crash course in residential and commercial real estate. I saw firsthand why banking, real estate, and business struggle so much in difficult times.”

Rocco also saw how to help when the chips are down. “As a real estate investment banker, I played a part in cleaning up some of the biggest messes from the S&L Crisis and Resolution Trust Corp. I helped protect homeowners and LI renters by working to positively restructure loans for owners and tenants. And while working in the real estate and capital markets, I developed a special passion for helping those who are overlooked and undervalued… especially the people who need homes, but can’t afford them. If I learned anything back then, it’s this: When the times are toughest, your teams work the hardest. And when good times return, it’s only because of your past great work – Leading by Example. We proved it then – and we’ll prove it now.”

Rocco said his first professional experiences inspired him to make affordable housing a cornerstone of his career. “Nothing seems more natural to me,” he said. “I’ve had the good fortune to work at companies that allowed me to pursue my passion for affordable housing. That includes working as an asset manager, as an owner, and as a capital markets manager on numerous residential, commercial and multi-family assets and a keen focus on all types of affordable housing.”

When Rocco joined Grandbridge Real Estate Capital, he kept the momentum going. “For nearly 25 years, affordable housing has always been a strategic focus our portfolio,” he said. “Today, I estimate that 50% of my job involves affordable and workforce housing, which are really the same thing. I’d like to thank all my colleagues at Grandbridge for their hard work on these tough issues. It’s a privilege to work with such a talented, mission-driven team.”

As MBA Chairman, Rocco said affordable housing will be his top priority. “In the next 12 months, my goal is to help all of us expand affordable housing like never before,” he said. “We all know why this issue matters. Affordable housing is essential to the future of our industry, our communities, and ultimately, our country. The simple fact is that people are hurting right now. As we gather here, a staggering 49% of Americans say the lack of affordable housing is a huge problem in their area. That is unacceptable – half of our nation struggles. What’s more, at least 30% of families spend about a third of their income or more on housing. And one in seven households spends at least half of every dollar they earn on the roof over their head.”

No one’s winning in the current situation, Rocco said. “Millions of families now find it impossible to live close to work, because housing costs too much,” he said. “By the same token, tens of thousands of businesses are finding it harder to recruit people, because many can’t afford the cities they’re based in. And by spending more on housing, hardworking people have less to devote to other necessities. Savings. Their children’s education. Retirement. You name it. The lack of affordable housing is quite literally holding America back. The only good news is that the situation would be even worse if it weren’t for you.”

But Roco emphasized more can be done. “The good news is that we’re building on a remarkably strong foundation,” he said. “Both of my predecessors [Susan Stewart and Kristy Fercho] have prioritized this issue, in different ways. And both made phenomenal progress.”

Rocco said during his tenure as Chairman, MBA will pursue a bigger and bolder Affordable Rental Housing Strategy. “It reflects the essential role of renting in our society and builds upon the affordable housing efforts set forth by the Building Generational Wealth Through Homeownership Campaign and the Home for All Pledge,” he said. “I firmly believe it will benefit every member of our industry, including residential.”

The Affordable Rental Housing Strategy is built on several key pillars: 1) Expansion of MBA’s efforts to increase supply of housing; 2) creating a stronger link between affordable rental housing and rental counseling/education; 3) growing the ranks of minority professionals in multifamily lending and development; and 4) better define and standardize various and often inconsistent definitions of affordable multifamily and workforce housing which will allow us increase targeted investment in affordable housing and support a wider community of renters and potential homeowners.

“I couldn’t be more excited to see MBA implement this strategy,” Rocco said. “I envision a new era of public-private partnerships that bring affordable rental units to the masses. I foresee renewed coalition building with other stakeholders, giving our advocacy efforts an extra punch. And I anticipate a new standard of innovation, as we offer exciting policy proposals and expand our local efforts, like CONVERGENCE. Most of all, I’m confident this strategy will serve the interests of every MBA member.”

What starts with renting doesn’t stop there,” Rocco said. “If we can help more families into affordable rental properties, they can establish a stronger credit profile for a future mortgage,” he said. “And if we can help more families save money as renters, they’ll have more resources to buy their first home. By pursuing this strategy, we can promote a culture of homeownership for generations to come…we have a chance to empower today’s renters, tomorrow’s homeowners and the everyday communities in which we live.

In the year ahead, Rocco pledged to support MBA members. “In my experience, good leadership starts with good listening, so I’d love to hear from as many of you as possible,” he said. “I’ll be traveling the country to meet with our members. If you have questions, please ask. If you have concerns, please share. And if there’s any way the MBA can help you, please tell me, and we’ll do everything in our power to meet your needs and help you succeed.

“One thing’s for sure: We have a lot to do. There are barriers to break and challenges to beat. It won’t be easy, but as I’ve seen time and again, our hard work always pays off. I have faith we’ll prove it once again, as together, we make progress on every front.”