By KIMBERLEY HAAS
After a 27-year career, Rocket Companies CEO Jay Farner is retiring this week and he will be remembered as a keen businessman who helped make mortgages more accessible to average Americans as technology pushed transactions out of traditional offices and onto mobile devices.
Leaders at the company announced Farner’s retirement on February 13, saying that he had stepped down from his position on the Rocket Board of Directors and would begin transitioning his roles and responsibilities as CEO to longtime Rocket executive Bill Emerson. Emerson will assume the role of chief executive officer on an interim basis on June 1, according to the press release.
Farner, who is 50 years old, said in a statement that he will be focusing on his family.
“Rocket Companies is full of incredible people – passionate about serving our clients, the community, and each other. While the time is right for me to focus on my family, I will certainly miss working with some of the brightest minds in the fintech industry,” Farner said.
Farner started his career in mortgage banking in 1996 at Quicken Loans – then called Rock Financial – founded by Dan Gilbert.
In a 2021 press release announcing that Quicken Loans would be changing its name to Rocket Mortgage, Farner said that Gilbert had a long-held vision of simplifying the lending experience.
Leaders at the company tried mailing mortgage documents directly to clients through a “Mortgage in a Box” in 1996 so people could complete applications from the comfort of their homes.
In 1998, Gilbert sent an all-company email challenging team members to put the entire home loan experience online. Rockloans.com, a website to connect with customers directly, was launched the next year.
All of the company’s brick-and-mortar branches were closed, clients began e-signing mortgage documents in 2002, and the first mobile app from a home lender was launched by the company in 2011, according to the press release.
“Rocket Mortgage has grown to be the industry leader and the measuring stick for all other lenders,” Farner said in a statement.
In the announcement of Farner’s retirement, Gilbert said since being appointed CEO of Rocket Mortgage in 2017, and subsequently CEO of Rocket Companies in connection with the August 2020 IPO, Farner has overseen the most rapid period of growth and profitability in the company’s 37-year history.
“For nearly three decades Jay has poured everything he has into making our organization successful,” Gilbert said. “His passion for people and vision for the future has benefitted Rocket tremendously and on behalf of the entire Board, I’d like to thank him for all of his work over the years.”
Journalists covering the mortgage industry credit Farner with helping to make Rocket a household name.
“I define a good leader as this. As being somebody who is able to identify opportunities for growth for a company and then take advantage of those opportunities, and I think Farner has done that. I mean, when you think of online mortgage lending what’s the first company that comes to mind? It’s probably Rocket,” Cook said.
Cook said Farner identified an opportunity to make mortgage lending more accessible to a wider number of people in the sense that they didn’t have to walk into a bank branch to conduct business. Successful advertising campaigns helped the company gain recognition, she said.
“It’s just a matter of him knowing what people were looking for,” Cook said. “It simplified a process that is really kind of complicated. I mean, getting a mortgage is not an easy thing to do.”
Cook said she was not surprised to hear of Farner’s retirement, pointing out that he had a 27-year career.
Farner earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from Michigan State University.
In a 2019 article published by the college, Farner is quoted as saying that “Leadership is the ability to align a group of people to see the larger vision, to work harder than others would, and to have the drive to solve a challenge.”
Farner was speaking at the annual Sylvan T. Warrington Visiting Lectureship in Ethics and Leadership. He offered some advice to those in attendance.
“If you want to be the CEO of a large company, don’t think about being the CEO of a large company. Instead, think about how you can create value … and make your work impactful,” Farner is quoted as saying in the article by Chelsea Stein.
Farner has served on the Eli Broad College of Business Advisory Board at Michigan State. He is a board member of Detroit Labs, LLC, StockX, Bedrock Manufacturing, the Metropolitan Detroit YMCA, Bizdom Fund, and the Rocket Giving Fund, according to leaders at Rocket companies.
Rocket’s Interim Chief Executive Officer Bill Emerson has 30 years of experience at the company.
Emerson served as chief executive officer of Rocket Mortgage from 2002 through 2017 and has served as vice chairman of Rock Holdings, the majority shareholder of Rocket Companies and former parent of Rocket Mortgage, since 2017.
Emerson has served as the chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association. He has testified before Congress several times on policies to help expand access to home financing, according to the company’s transition plan announcement,
The board of directors has started its search for a permanent CEO.
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