Michael Perry Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2006
When Michael Perry joined IndyMac Bancorp Inc. in 1993, it had just four employees.

Today, Perry, chairman and CEO of the company, oversees 6,500 employees and $1.1 billion in revenue, making IndyMac one of the Top 10 mortgage lenders in the country and a Top 10 thrift.

Perry shares his thoughts on how the company’s growth has changed the way he manages the company, how he’s built his staff and why management training is pointless.

The great thing about leading this company today is that I have a team that is so strong and talented that when we have an idea, we’re able to execute on it. Back in the early days, when we had an idea, it was difficult to execute because our management team was too small. We had too many good ideas for the size of our team.

My job isn’t so much to roll up my shirt sleeves any more and actually do the work myself. That’s not really productive. My job is to make sure the top senior managers are organized properly, they have the right goals, their pay plans are aligned to those goals and that I’m working with them so that they can succeed, hit those goals and blow through their pay plans and are extremely motivated.

When you’re looking to hire somebody, at any level, what I’m looking for is a level of success commensurate with their age and education. If they’re 22 years old, they’re not going to have a lot of career success. You’re looking at their academic success and their extracurricular success. If I’m looking at a 40-year-old, I’m very focused on their career success. And I want to see them have some wins, not someone who has bounced around from place to place. I’m looking for, what achievement have they made with the opportunities they’ve been afforded in life? We’ve all not had equal opportunities in life. I’m looking for people that have made the most out of the opportunities they’ve had.

The great thing about difficult times is you find out who are the rats that are worried about going down with a sinking ship. And you find out the people in your organization who were really only there for the good times. It’s like when you have friends and you go through a difficult period in your life — no longer are they calling you, inviting you to dinner. You find who your real friends are. In tough times, you find out who the people are who are really committed as managers and leaders at your company. It also melded our team together in a much greater way. We know we can fight through anything.

I’m not a big fan of just cutting and laying off people like some in our industry do when volume goes down. That is not very loyal to your employees. It’s not a smart way to run your business, not only from the culture and employee morale standpoint but also a quarter or two later, your business may be back up and you’re rehiring. If you see it as a permanent decline in your business — which is pretty hard to see for IndyMac given our growth rates — then you lay off. If you see it recovering in a year or so, you don’t lose those layoffs.

The biggest thing I see in growth is you fear hiring and fear making the capital investment. You’re worried you might have to retrench. That fear sometimes makes certain leaders grow at a slower pace than they otherwise could. If you’re in a business that has good long-term growth potential, you don’t want to be afraid of making the proper investments in your business. The old adage — you’ve got to spend money to make money — it’s true. A lot of financial leaders may get obsessed with the cost and not the revenue opportunity. I’ve always looked at it as any great person I hire is going to generate way more revenue or save me more in costs than their cost.

I’m not a big fan of management training. You can give me golf lessons all day long, but I’m not going to be a pro golfer no matter how many lessons I take. We’re a professional organization here, managing people. If you don’t have the innate leadership ability — and it truly is some innate skills — it’s part of that thing called the emotional quotient. If you don’t have the ability to articulate your vision, get your people to understand it, get them behind it and get a sense of when they think you’re full of it, they’re probably right. You need to listen to them.

I’m a big believer in getting 75 percent of the facts in, and then making your decision, moving forward. Monitor those decisions. Be humble. Admit the ones you screwed up on. You can fix them quickly, and they won’t cost the company much. Waiting until you have 100 percent of the facts in or never making the decision, that is just paralysis. I want people to make some mistakes.

For a lot of my career, I worried about the pace of change — change was going to overtake us. I was always fearful that change was going to wipe out our business. I’ve learned, over time, very few things change that quickly. If you prudently move your business toward change, you won’t get left behind, and your business will succeed.

HOW TO REACH: IndyMac Bank, www.indymacbank.com or (800) 669-2300