Mark Jones: Ready to Dive In

Mortgage Bankers Association 2024 Chairman Mark Jones co-founded and led Amerifirst Home Mortgage, served on MBA’s Board of Directors, chaired its Audit and Finance Committee, co-chaired its Independent Mortgage Bankers Executive Council, and testified before Congress. But before this, he was a Division I competitive diver in college.

“I got a scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond,” Jones said. “I needed one because it paid for half of my college education. My sophomore year I won the Virginia intercollegiate state championship on the one-meter board; that qualified me to go to a national meet. I thought I might make it to the Olympics. But at the national meet I ran into a buzzsaw named Greg Louganis, who would go on to win four Olympic gold medals.”

Jones noted the national meet included roughly 100 divers, including Louganis and a UK-based Olympian. “The two of them were like the Clash of the Titans,” he said. “Then there was a gap between them and the next group, who were really, really good college divers, then another gap between them and where I was. So that was the day the diving dream died. After that I started studying a lot more and diving became just a way to pay for college.”

Jones studied real estate and urban land development at VCU. “I thought that I wanted to be a real estate developer,” he said. “But interest rates were 21% when I graduated, so there was not a lot of real estate development going on. I joined a bank in the Lansing, Michigan, area for a few years until I had the opportunity to become a mortgage banker trainee with a company from the Detroit area. That’s how it all started.”

Dave Gahm (l) and Mark Jones in 1983

In 1983 Jones and business partner Dave Gahm co-founded Amerifirst Home Mortgage, a full-service independent residential mortgage originator and servicer based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “Dave and I were mortgage brokers then,” he noted. “We got tired of being brokers because of the lack of control of the customer experience. So, Dave and I attended an MBA conference in Tampa, Fla., about how to do business with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. We came away from that conference inspired that it’s what we needed to do, but we didn’t have the net worth needed to do it unless we combined forces. So, we did.”

Amerifirst, a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seller/servicer and a Ginnie Mae issuer, grew to hold a $6 billion servicing portfolio and originated more than $3 billion in 2020. The company became the No. 1 USDA lender and the No. 3 FHA lender in Michigan. And Amerifirst never lost sight of its highest value, Jones said: “To make a meaningful difference in the lives of our team, our communities, and our borrowers. That’s the No. 1 thing we live by. To me that means you need to treat your employees the right way, treat your borrowers the right way, and be a responsible steward in the communities that you work in.”

Under Jones’ leadership, Amerifirst was named one of the Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America by Inc. magazine for six consecutive years, ranked as a Best & Brightest Company to Work For and was named one of the top 50 Best Mortgage Companies to Work For in 2021.

In 2016 Jones received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for Michigan and Northwest Ohio. Outside of the office, he serves on the Board of Directors for Southwest Michigan First, an economic development organization in Southwest Michigan, and supports his local Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs.

Amber Lawrence, Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Mortgage Bankers Association, called Jones a powerful believer in financial literacy. She noted that last year Amerifirst purchased thousands of copies of an illustrated children’s book that explains the path to homeownership to children and their families. Written by Kalamazoo-area real estate agent Twala Lockett, the book Princess Mackie Buys a House was distributed to fourth and fifth graders at more than 75 Detroit-area schools.

“Owning the roof over your head remains the foremost pathway to financial security and wealth building in America today,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, communities of color do not start the homeownership journey until ten years after white families, on average, which puts them at an enormous disadvantage. Closing the knowledge gap is an important step to closing the homeownership gap, and Princess Mackie does just that, reaching grade-school children with crucial information that isn’t taught enough in schools. Amerifirst Home Mortgage is super proud to sponsor Twala’s vision.”

Amerifirst also partners with the MBA Opens Doors Foundation to help keep families with a critically ill or injured child in their home during their child’s illness.

Mortgage Bankers Association President and CEO Robert Broeksmit, CMB, called Jones a “dogged advocate for the industry,” particularly for independent mortgage bankers. “Mark understands the importance of legislative and regulatory actions to our business and the customers we serve and how vital it is for us to engage vigorously in Washington and in state capitals,” he said. 

Jones testifying in 2022

One example: Last year Jones testified before Congress about H.R. 7735, which became the `Improving Access to the Veteran’s Administration Home Loan Benefit Act of 2022′. The law directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to update the appraisal requirements for certain loans guaranteed by the VA. “The VA’s home loan program plays a critical role increasing the availability–and affordability–of mortgage credit for service members, veterans and their surviving spouses,” Jones testified.

Broeksmit noted he looks forward to working closely with Jones “in what I know will be an active year for MBA and our members.” 

Matt Rocco, MBA 2023 Chair and President of Colliers Mortgage, Charlotte, N.C., said MBA and its members are fortunate Jones is stepping up to become MBA Chairman. “For me personally, I have had the great fortune to have worked very closely with Mark, Laura Escobar, and the entire MBA team on some of the most important issues facing our members,” he said. “We have done this in the face of very challenging economic times, and Mark has been instrumental in every step on the process. His unwavering support and commitment to the members is astounding.”

For her part, Laura Escobar, MBA 2023 Vice Chair and President of Lennar Mortgage, Miami, said she is proud to serve alongside Jones. “Mark is a leader that listens and acts upon our member needs,” she said. “At a time when our industry is seriously struggling, it is good to know we have a dedicated leader committed to representing us without fear or hesitation.”

Christine Chandler, Executive Vice President, Chief Credit Officer and Chief Operating Officer with M&T Realty Capital Corp., Baltimore, chairs MBA’s Commercial Real Estate/Multifamily Finance Board of Governors and has been nominated to be 2024 MBA Vice Chair. She has worked with Jones on MBA’s Audit and DEI committees and called him passionate about doing the right things at the right time. “Mark wants to understand what the issues are and look for solutions, not just talk about them,” she said. “I am looking forward to his leadership and continued partnership as he moves into the role of MBA Chairman.”

In January, Amerifirst merged with Union Home Mortgage of Strongsville, Ohio. Led by 2015 MBA Chairman Bill Cosgrove, CMB, Union Home Mortgage is also an independent mortgage banking company. Jones assumed the role of President of the merged companies, under the Union Home Mortgage brand.

“Union Home Mortgage has a more national scope than Amerifirst did, and also superior technology. As I looked at where the industry is likely heading over the next decade, I realized that we needed to get either bigger or get smaller,” Jones said.

Jones said it’s preferable for IMBs to be either small or large, not medium-sized. “Because of the nature of the regulatory environment we are in, mid-size independent mortgage banks need to have the same infrastructure as far as IT and legal that a big IMB does, but mid-size IMBs spread those expenses out over fewer loans. I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in Amerifirst getting smaller, and joining with Union made a lot of sense. It was a good move for us, and I think for them, too,” he said.

Union Home Mortgage’s goal is to be a top-20 lender, Jones said. “With the addition of Amerifirst, plus all the recruiting Union is doing now, we are certainly on track to do that.”

Jones noted he has visited Philadelphia several times and is excited about visiting the cradle of our nation again for MBA Annual. “There’s a lot of history in Philadelphia. I’m looking forward to seeing several thousand MBA members there,” he said. “I’d also like to express my admiration for the MBA Chairs that came before me. Having watched them from the time I joined MBA’s board, I have learned so much from Bill Cosgrove, Dave Motley, Bill Emerson, Chris George, Brian Stoffers, Rodrigo Lopez, Susan Stewart, Kristi Fercho, and Matt Rocco. When you’re a leader, watching how others lead is a privilege. Everybody’s different, so I’ve learned something from each of them. Now, let’s dive in and get to work.”