BY RICK WEINBERG, CALIFORNIA BUSINESS JOURNAL
When Mike Hardwick launched Churchill Mortgage in 1992, his intention was to keep it small. He envisioned it would be a two-person operation where “I would be the one turning the lights on at 9 a.m. and turning them off at 5 p.m.,” he says.
Well, in less than five years, Churchill grew to an eight-person staff with $2 million in gross revenue. Today, it has more than 400 employees in 40 states – the latest being California — with nearly $2 billion in loan volume.
It shows you what can happen when you do things the right way for the right reasons.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think things would turn out as they have,” Hardwick says.
Hardwick formed Churchill Mortgage with only the best intentions – for employees and clients. It continually ranks among the best workplace environments, and it comes as no surprise that the company’s motto is “People over Profit,” a saying from Hardwick’s 85-year-old father, a former pastor.
Hardwick also recently established an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) that gives his employees 49 percent ownership in the company itself. He actually relinquished close to half of his stock when the plan was formulated. Additionally, the company continually and traditionally gives back to its communities with a number of intriguing financial and educational programs, including teaching middle grade and high school students the dynamics of debt-free homeownership.
That’s right — Hardwick’s mortgage company cares more about its clients living a debt-free homeownership existence rather than paying them huge fees for 30 years — or longer.
“Our approach to lending is a little counter-intuitive to what the industry encourages,” says Nick Williams, California area manager for Churchill Mortgage. “A lot of our clients and borrowers come to us because they respect our approach to lending and our focus on them achieving debt-free homeownership. We never overlook the long-term financial implications of getting into a mortgage.”
As the owner of a small condo conversion business in Tennessee, Hardwick achieved success early in his career. However, a downturn in the economy forced the business to close, sending Hardwick down a different path. The poor economy had a similar impact on his childhood neighbor in Nashville, Dave Ramsey. Yes – the same Dave Ramsey who now hosts the most popular financial radio program in the country.
They would meet at cheap hamburger spots – “because that was all we could afford,” Hardwick says — to discuss what they could do to get out of debt.
“We’d mostly sit there crying in our cup of water,” Hardwick says.
It was over hamburgers that Ramsey shared his idea to start a radio show that focused on helping people to avoid debt and getting out of debt altogether. Hardwick became Ramsey’s first sponsor.
Today, they both focus on helping others better their own financial situations.
“At Churchill Mortgage, we’re passionate about helping people achieve financial health,” Hardwick says of his company’s philosophy. “We educate and guide them toward a smarter mortgage plan. We want them to achieve debt-free homeownership.”
He is quick to point out that Americans have over $2 trillion in consumer debt and more than 30 percent have no extra cash, forcing them to live paycheck-to-paycheck.
“Financial education is the first step towards healthier financial decisions and overall financial freedom,” he says. “We educate our clients on the biggest financial decision of their lives. We want them to be educated on what a mortgage will mean to their overall financial strategy. Our motto is to make your home a blessing, not a burden.”
As Hardwick also likes to say, “We possess the heart of a teacher.”
Hardwick doesn’t just talk the talk. He has aligned the company with the communities it operates in, supporting the needs of families and individuals and sponsoring events such as Financial Literacy Month, which is dedicated to teaching Americans how to establish and maintain healthy habits. As a part of the program, Churchill provides Ramsey’s Foundations of Personal Finance curriculum to local high schools across the country.
More than three million students have been touched by the program – and everyone raves about it from teachers and students to parents.
Hardwick didn’t stop there with his community involvement. His company also instituted a Young Entrepreneur contest in which it awards $35,000 in cash and prizes to aspiring companies in its communities that share Churchill’s values.
The winner of the contest was Nisolo, a global shoe and jewelry producer, headquartered in Nashville. Dedicated to ensuring their products are ethically sold and produced, Nisolo’s employees craft hand-made shoes and jewelry in countries such as Peru, Mexico and Kenya and receive, at a minimum, fair trade wages, healthcare and a sustainable working environment. Similar to Churchill’s initiatives, Nisolo offers an in-house financial education program, helping families send their children to college, save for their retirement and build their dream homes.
“Service in the care of others is one of our top priorities here at Churchill, regardless of position or financial standing,” says Joe Detmer, San Diego branch manager for Churchill Mortgage. “This philosophy closely aligns with our mission to put borrowers on a smarter mortgage plan to achieving debt-free homeownership, and we consider it a privilege to go beyond achieving our business goals and serve our communities directly.”
Hardwick comes from a close-knit Southern family. His father was a pastor for 60 years, and Hardwick speaks about his father in glowing terms, calling him his hero. “He always stressed ‘people over profit,’” Hardwick says.
Hardwick learned his values through his father, mother and siblings and has carried that torch through Churchill’s offices all over the U.S., hiring model employees who treat clients with upmost respect.
“Our mission is to help you find the best path to owning your home free and clear, regardless of your starting point,” Hardwick says. “If you’re buying a new home, we’ll help you find the right strategy to pay off that house quickly so you can have more financial freedom. We are different from other mortgage companies. We believe in a better kind of American dream: debt-free homeownership. The culture in the U.S. tells everyone you will always have a mortgage, but we know that’s just not true.”
333 S. Anita Dr. Suite 825
Orange, CA 92868
Attention: Nick Williams