Making New Rules to Scale with Bob Walters, CEO of Rocket Mortgage

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Relatively successful businesses know the regulations in their industries and develop processes to work within them. So, they play a status quo-style of the game to some success. But game-changing businesses know the rules so well they actually play the game differently. They play boldly to win big and to scale. 

Rocket Companies is now a number of business entities, including Rocket Mortgage. At the beginning, however, two brothers, Dan and Gary Gilbert, co-founded Rock Financial to be a mortgage brokerage business. Early on there was only a small number of employees and now there are 26,000 across a variety of companies. Bob Walters, CEO of Rocket Mortgage and President and Chief Operating Officer of Rocket Companies, rose through the ranks, and on this episode of Business X factors, he shares the mentality he learned along the way that allowed Rocket Companies to make new rules for the game.

Main takeaways: 

  • Remote Possibilities: According to Walters, two big bets on remote opportunities have led to Rocket Companies’ success. The first was when Rock Financial created a mortgage product that could be mailed called “Mortgage In A Box.” Later on, the second was a push, led by Dan Gilbert, to move on from a brick-and-mortar model to lean into the internet to connect to customers. This effort ultimately led to the fully online mortgage experience offered by Rocket Mortgage. Walters describes that some saw the chance of having success by implementing an online strategy as remote. The lesson here is to trust one’s instinct. Especially today, there are many opportunities to innovate with both distance and digital in mind.  
  • Smart Simplicity: Walters discusses how some people seem to enjoy talking in complex terms, but that mentality can be self-serving. He makes the case that a higher-level is to take something that is complicated and then work diligently to make it simple for other people to understand. 
  • Making New Rules: To work within a regulated industry, it’s necessary to fully appreciate the rules. But it’s also possible to know the rules so well that a company can decide to play the game differently. Walters shares how Rocket Companies has continuously adjusted the game to cater to customers while scaling. Moreover, he suggests that they have redefined the very notion of profitability to include making a substantial, constructive impact on communities and people that can use a boost.

Key quotes: 

“If you say the world is a static pie, if things are as they are and you operate within those constructs, you have one lens on the world. If your world is, ‘I can actually open that box wider, I can create rules. I can alter the course of things,’ that’s a very different lens.” 

“So I often tell people as they take big jobs, ‘If you’re a little afraid, that’s good.’ I like to say to people, ‘If you’re not afraid at all, when you get a big job, you waited too long.’” 

“A lot of founders, they bring a vision that is a unique way of thinking. It all seems very obvious today. But [I promise you in 1997, it didn’t seem obvious…I distinctly recall going to various conferences and listening to people in very articulate terms explain why it would be impossible for people to transact via the internet. ‘This is a complex transaction. It requires a person to sit face to face with someone and bring in all their documents and set them on the desk. And it’s just, you might get a few crazy folks, but you’re not, it’s not going to work.’ And then all of a sudden we continue to grow and grow and grow.”

Dan had this unbelievable ability to take the most complex things and deconstruct them into their simplest components and make it approachable and understandable. For example, if you look at our isms book, which largely he authored, it doesn’t look like heavy paragraphs and detailed charts. It almost looks like a children’s book. There’s illustrations that are fun and they look like it might have been to an audience of 10 year olds.”

“That’s the innovator’s dilemma, right? You built a thing and you’re prospering on the thing, but if you want to stay relevant in the future, you’re gonna have to break or discard your thing. Because if you don’t do it, someone else [is] gonna do it. It sounds great to say it, but to actually do it. [By] the time you go along and say, ‘Hey, this thing that’s bringing in a bunch of revenue right now, let’s go break it,’ and [then] people [think], ‘Are you outta your mind?’”

“One of my sayings is let’s let computers do what computers do well so humans can do what humans do well. Computers suck at building relationships and rapport and picking up on emotional cues. They’re not good at that. And humans are incredibly good at that. Humans suck at remembering thousands and thousands of things, rules, perfectly over time. Computers are good at that.”

“It’s more than profit. And so the giving back in our communities, Detroit and Cleveland and Phoenix has been a huge deal. The amount of work Dan’s done here in Detroit — we moved the entire company down to Detroit 12 years ago, just about two years before Detroit declared bankruptcy. It was completely counterintuitive. If you’d have gone to business school, they’d have said, ‘that’s the last thing you should do. Run away from this city that’s in trouble.’ But he ran toward it. It was counterintuitive, but it was genius because it resonated with people. There was meaning in that. Having a great idea and building a great product is certainly important, but there has to be some larger meaning, I think, for people to truly rally around something. And that’s also been a key part of, I think, our success.”

 “Dan would always say, ‘You’re here anyway, you might as well think big.’”


Bob Walters is Chief Executive Officer of Rocket Mortgage, the nation’s largest mortgage lender. In this position, he is responsible for the vision, strategy and the day-to-day operation of Rocket Mortgage. Bob is also President and Chief Operating Officer of Rocket Companies (NYSE: RKT).

Previously, Bob served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Rocket Mortgage, overseeing the Mortgage Servicing, Client Experience Operations, Capital Markets and Technology Teams. Prior to holding his position as President, he was Chief Economist and Executive Vice President supervising the Capital Markets and Servicing operations at Rocket Mortgage – growing the Servicing business from startup to its current position as the fourth largest servicer in the country. He has also been instrumental in directing the teams that manage interest rate risk management, trading and product development.

He joined Rock Financial in 1997 after holding positions at both the National Bank of Detroit and DMR Financial Services.

Bob earned a bachelor’s degree in Finance from Oakland University and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.

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Episode 41