The Detroit Free Press wrote a glowing article last week about United Wholesale Mortgage CEO Mat Ishbia and his hiring of former Michigan State basketball teammates:
Twenty years ago, Ishbia was a walk-on third-string point guard for the Spartans, the human victory cigar on a team that won the 2000 NCAA tournament. Now, he’s the CEO and president of United Shore, a company that has grown from 12 employees to 5,800 in just 17 years.
Ishbia has hired five former MSU teammates to work with him, in part because they are his friends — he gets them in the door; it’s up to them to do something with it. But also because they speak the same language and share the same experiences.
Those teammates are Adam Wolfe, the chief legal officer at UWM; Antonio Smith, a security officer; Chris Hill, who works in marketing; Charlie Bell, who has just started what amounts to a paid internship; and Mateen Cleaves, the company’s leadership coach.
“If you lead people at this company, you are coached by Mateen,” Ishbia told the Free Press.
Cleaves’ LinkedIn profile says he started at UWM in January. Before that, his last job was as a CBS Sports anchor, from January 2013 to March 2016.
What was Cleaves doing being 2016 and January 2020? The Free Press is oddly silent on that four-year gap in his resume.
Especially since the Free Press is well aware that Cleaves was investigated and ultimately tried for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in a Michigan motel on September 15, 2015. The case was initially dismissed but later reinstated by another judge. After unsuccessful appeals by Cleaves to the state Appeals and Supreme courts, the case went to trial in August 2019 – where he was acquitted on all charges.
A surveillance video released to the public showed the married Cleaves – wearing only a pair of socks – twice pulling the nearly naked woman back into his room, where she alleges he sexually assaulted her, before she ultimately ran into a nearby room where she contacted police. Cleaves’ attorney said his nude client was merely trying to get the woman back inside “as a gentleman going out to make sure that a lady wasn’t walking around a motel naked.”
If nothing else, the Free Press should have asked Ishbia – who has said he is all about winning – about giving his friend a second chance, whether they had discussed the case, and whether he explained the decision to make Cleaves the “leadership coach” to UWM employees.
The hiring may not have been all that surprising inside UWM walls. Before hiring Cleaves, Ishbia invited his former teammate to speak to his employees at UWM on August 15, 2018 – almost a year to the day before Cleaves’ trial opened.
The Free Press paints a picture of Ishbia creating a locker-room type environment for UWM employees:
They huddle up every day, just like the players used to do at practice at MSU.
“Sales huddles get kind of rowdy,” Cleaves said. “They close the huddle with a chant or two-clap. Mat lets everybody get a little wild and creative.”
The headquarters are decorated like a series of man-caves.
One of the main conference rooms is called “The Joe,” and it features the actual doors from the Red Wings’ dressing room from Joe Louis Arena. The metal is dented, presumably from players kicking the door with skates or banging it with sticks.
As Ishbia put it, “For 20 years now, I’ve been chasing that same feeling, that camaraderie in the locker room, that championship feeling, that team.”
And that includes Mateen Cleaves, no questions asked by the Detroit Free Press.