Urban Lending Solutions CEO Charles Sanders finds employees where other companies don't think to look.
Charles Sanders is a big believer in second chances--for his customers, his employees, and himself. A star running back in college, he wound up playing two seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1980s. When that didn't work out (in 19 games, he rushed for 77 yards and one touchdown), he did marketing for a semipro basketball team, the Pittsburgh Piranhas. One day, he asked the team's owner, "How did you make so much money?" His answer: Real estate.
Today, Sanders is CEO of Urban Lending Solutions, a 1,564-person company that provides back-office support for large banks from offices in Pittsburgh and Broomfield, Colorado. More than 1,000 of those positions have been created since 2012. How does Sanders fill so many spots so quickly? By hiring bright and ambitious people, regardless of their background. So while his rivals are busy competing for experienced real estate professionals, Sanders might tap the manager of a McDonald's or an ambitious community college grad.
Creating jobs, says Sanders, "is about knowing the barriers to someone getting a job." The strategy appears to be working. ULS, which was founded in 2002, brought in $183.1 million in revenue in 2012 and has grown 257 percent since 2009.
Sanders credits that success to the company's unusual training program, Urban University. Focused mainly on educating the company's mortgage services department, the internal training arm offers 15 courses in subjects such as underwriting and loan processing. Not only does the program get new hires up to speed; it also allows the company to shift gears quickly when market conditions change.
When Sanders began to sense a downturn in the mortgage market in 2007, Urban University quickly launched a program to give staff members skills in modifying troubled mortgages for homeowners. Such activity now accounts for a large chunk of the company's business, and Sanders insists that his agents bring tremendous sensitivity to it. "We are talking about someone's home," Sanders says. "Think about the home you grew up in, the home you hope to have, the home you don't want to lose."
Given the amount Urban Lending invests in its people, ULS plans to keep them for a long time. It offers a generous profit-sharing program and promotes from within as often as possible. "The company recognizes that tomorrow's leaders are already in the company," says Michael Alden, a senior vice president. "It's just a matter of developing them."
A member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Sanders also works to create jobs outside his company by offering technical assistance to minority-owned businesses. "I know the challenges facing the African-American community as far as jobs and wealth," says Sanders. "As you grow those firms, they'll employ more people who are minorities."
All this activity has engendered a deep sense of loyalty and purpose among Urban Lending's employees. Alden, who joined the company in 2011 after a long career in corporate America, says the satisfaction of helping people through a successful loan modification is unbeatable. "You've got people in their homes because of what we do," he says. "We make a difference in people's lives."