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Barry Habib - Creative Entrepreneur
06/27/2010 - By Tobi Drucker Tesoriero
Photo: Linda Rowe (lindarowephotography.com)
The Creative Entrepreneur
Barry Habib Rocking the World on Broadway
How does one sum up Barry Habib? He certainly is not easily definable. He has lived an unpredictable and uncommon life. While most people can only hope to distinguish themselves in their one area or profession, Barry has achieved extraordinary success in multiple, unrelated fields. Even more impressive is that Barry has reached these heights without losing his humility or his appreciation for the opportunities presented to him. Rising from humble beginnings he has lived the American dream.
He has reached the top of the mortgage industry by distinguishing himself as the top loan originator in the country! He also owned his own company, Certified Mortgage Associates. And, while that would have been enough for most people, Barry went on from there to become a top adviser and professional speaker in his field.
Then, Barry created a very successful information services business, the Mortgage Market Guide. Concurrently, because his knowledge was so impressive, he became and continues to be a sought after, featured expert on both CNBC and FOX News, as well as other major media outlets.
He then crossed the divide from commerce to show business both in film and in the theater. His projects have been honored with awards and recognition at the Sundance Film Festival and on Broadway with Tony award nominations. Presently, his show Rock of Ages continues to be wonderfully successful. In between all these ventures, Barry has even done some acting himself!
Hard to believe this distinguished career started with a young man selling stereo equipment out of the trunk of his car...
LICN: We know where you are today, that you are a successful entrepreneur and businessman, and are involved in show business both on Broadway and with film. I would like to begin where it all began for you. Where did you grow-up? Go to school? What was your first job?
BH: Sure. I will give you the kind of elevator speech. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, very poor. My parents were immigrants. I am first generation here. I was a surprise baby. My dad was 57 and my mom was 40. Unfortunately, I lost my dad when I was 11. My mom and my family were a wonderful family. But we grew up very modest. I think my mom earned only $3,000 a year. We had appreciation of how tough it is for folks. I went to Bernard M. Baruch College. I have so many interesting stories to tell you of those years.
LICN: Baruch is known primarily as a business school. Are we to assume you always knew you wanted to go into business?
BH: Yes, I like business. I was kind of a business-minded young man. When I got out of school, I had too much energy to work in an office. So I started selling stereo equipment out of the trunk of my car. It taught me quite a bit of life lessons. I learned how important it was to build a good reputation and take care of people. I learned that a lot of times things will go wrong and that is really not a problem, it is a great opportunity. If you can shine when things go wrong people learn to count on you and trust you. Learning how to earn trust was an important lesson for a young 21 year old. I turned that into a nice business. I had my friends working for me. I bought my first home in New Jersey in 1983. I was 23 years old and by the time I was 24, I started with other family members buying real estate as an investment. We had a lot of fun with that. We took some properties and we flipped them. We fixed some up, we rented some. What an adventure, when you rent a lot of properties out. It was a good thing that I was too young to know any better!
That actually gave us the opportunity to earn some profits, earn some dollars and I sat down one night with the guy doing my mortgage. I said, “So, tell me how do you guys do in the mortgage business. Can you guys make some decent money? You know, I went to college, sold stereos out of the trunk of my car, maybe I could do something to stress my mom out less” [Laughs].
LICN: And he said?
BH: Said they did all right. So I got into the mortgage business on a whim. My twins had just been born. They were three months old and I was going to go through this career change. It was a gutsy move. I kind of used that as a good driving force. My third week in the business I did 16 loans, which was unheard of.
LICN: And what year was this?
BH: It was 1986. I would literally knock on people’s doors and ask them if they wanted to refinance. I had a lot of energy and a lot of drive and these two young mouths I had to feed. In fact, I would tell real estate agents, “Hey I will do a great job, I have to, I have these two kids” and show them pictures of my kids. [Laughs] I worked really hard and the mortgage business was good to me. I did well. By 1991, I was the top originator (in the country).
LICN: So that was in just five years?
BH: Yes. In 1989 I opened up Certified Mortgage Associates, my own company, and sold that business in 1999. I stayed on. I was looking for something else. Another challenge. I was always a student of the market. Always loved the market. I became a student of technical analysis. I wanted to start a mortgage market guide, which I eventually started in 2001. I wanted to start it in the mid 90s but there was no medium for it. You go back to the mid 90s, just 15 years ago, you would think it was the dark ages. All the tools we use today, they weren’t around. Nobody had a mobile cell phone, nobody had a Blackberry, you didn’t have people with the Internet. Everything we use, none of that existed back then. So I had this idea, but it was ahead of its time. Things progressed pretty quickly. By early 2001 the time was right to break out this idea. It took off; it was a good idea.
LICN: What was the market for this product? Professionals?
BH: People in the mortgage industry that were originating loans needed to understand that they were not just salesmen but financial advisers. They needed to understand the market, needed to know when to lock loans, when to float, know what the economic data meant and how to teach it to their customers and referral sources. How to be a professional - a knowledgeable financial professional in the industry. The business took off. We grew to 12,000 paying subscribers very quickly.
LICN: How many are there now? Is it still holding up despite the change in the real estate market?
BH: About 16,000 currently.
LICN: So you grew even more in this market?
BH: We came down from our high as the mortgage industry shrank. But we did very well and had a lot of fun building the company with a lot of the same principles that I learned as a kid selling stereos. High energy, a lot of drive.
LICN: Is there a hard copy of the Mortgage Market Guide?
BH: It’s all online. There are many different tools that we have. We will text you, we will call you, we give voice alerts when the market is going to change. Everyday I write an update to our subscribers. There is a lot of myself that gets poured into it. Thank goodness that business did very well. I had the opportunity to sell that business in 2007. I sold it thirty days before the mortgage market collapsed. It was fortuitous. It also gave me the opportunity (while I still remain here) to do some other things and explore some other interests. I got involved as a founding partner in Corner Store entertainment.
LICN: How did a “numbers” guy make the transition into entertainment?
BH: I started in 1994 - a side career as a professional speaker. I would speak to people in the mortgage industry and I loved it. I love speaking and helping people. I enjoy creating presentations.
LICN: I know you have appeared on television, such as FOX or CNBC. Is that how you entered that arena?
BH: At around the same time I was asked to become a regular commentator on CNBC. I had a thirteen-year run with my own monthly mortgage report. The past few years I have been doing regular spots on FOX. That’s been great.
LICN: So yet another career for you?
BH: I have been very fortunate; that gave me the opportunity to express some creativity and in a desire to express more creativity and see where that went I founded, with partners, Corner Store Entertainment. We produced five movies. I actually had acting roles in a few of them.
LICN: Very cool - might as well have fun with it.
BH: Exactly right. One of the movies is on Showtime right now. It is called Lonely Street. I have a small speaking part. Another one comes out on June 8, which will be released on DVD. That is Nic and Tristan Go Mega Dega; it is a kid’s movie. My kids are in it. I play this cartoon character, Colonel KaBoom. It is really hysterical. I did a lot of voice over. There are actually some parts that are animated and some parts when it is just you. So I am in there all dressed up with this crazy outfit, make- up... it’s crazy.
LICN: Fun though?
BH: Yes, I had a great time with it.
LICN: Did you ever dream that would happen?
BH: No, no. I thought it was great. Another movie I am in is called Barry Monday. That is a really funny comedy with great actors and actresses. We produced a couple of other movies that actually went to Sundance. We received awards at Sundance recently.
LICN: Congratulations. The names of those?
BH: Hesher, Sympathy for Delicious. It is a Mark Ruffalo movie with Orlando Bloom and Laura Linney. My wife Toni is in that movie.
LICN: What possessed you to go the entertainment route? Traditionally, in the business sense, that is a very high-risk industry.
BH: Yes, very high risk.
LICN: What drew you to it?
BH: We went with some very conservative diversification. This was fun.
LICN: So it was the fun and newness of the venture that attracted you? You were not a frustrated actor?
BH: No, I think it was just a challenge; it was a new business, it was a new industry, it was a great opportunity to learn a business and take on some of these challenges. (I) surrounded myself with some good people and we have had some successful projects and that is really what led to Rock of Ages.
LICN: The films came prior to Rock of Ages?
BH: Yes. Then when the Rock of Ages property was introduced as an opportunity it was my wife Toni who said this is something we have to do. She thought the music was fantastic and that it would be just the right timing to put out something like this.
LICN: Does she have a theatrical background?
BH: She doesn’t, but she has really good gut instincts. She will know if something is going to be popular before it is popular, so I pay attention to that. We decided to get involved with Rock of Ages. Off Broadway it became this big crowd-pleaser; everybody loved it. So we said, “Lets take it to Broadway.” We took a risk. When we brought this out, it was tough economic times. I think people needed something to feel good about. The story line is an hysterical comedy and it’s a great time; singing, acting, dancing are all great. Crowds leave there every night thrilled, happy, feeling good.
"We got five Tony award nominations. That was a big thrill – walking the red carpet. We got an offer to do a movie of it. Adam Shankman is going to be the director."
LICN: That is so wonderful!
BH: Yes! It's on their docket for spring/summer 2011.
LICN: That is soon
BH: It is awesome. We just opened (the touring company of Rock of Ages) on May 11, 2010 in Toronto. We are taking it to Australia and Las Vegas in 2011 and London in 2012.
LICN: How does that work? The process of the different venues?
BH: You take a big risk. You have to capitalize the show. Then it becomes mathematical - your tickets sales exceed your running costs. When we opened in Toronto I didn’t know that it was the fourth largest city in North America. The people there are going crazy for the show. Even more successful than it has been on Broadway. The economics of a tour are favorable. You just don’t go on tour, you have to be asked to go on tour; you have tickets sales in advance. You need to be successful on Broadway first. As far as Las Vegas, it is built for Las Vegas. It is a feel good show. It looks like MGM has been the most aggressive in chasing us down. We are excited about it.
LICN: What do you do as a producer and partner in the show?
BH: For Rock of Ages my wife, Toni and I are lead producers of the show. I also am one of the five general partners in the show. There are people who handle the day to day; I am not one of those people. I weigh in on the important decisions. Especially because my other partners know the show business side, I am counted on more for business input. I like to think I have some creative input but there are people that are really experts in that area. I am involved in negotiating contracts, making business decisions.
LICN: Did you hire the creative talent?
BH: Two of them are general partners.
LICN: Now, on to other business....
BH: I do have one more business. My wife and I are partners in Health Care Imaging Solutions. I have always been interested in health care. We opened up imaging centers in the Baltimore area.
LICN: Near John Hopkins?
BH: We are close to John Hopkins. They are for PET scans. It is an incredible tool for oncology. We have 64 slice MRI. We have top of the line equipment. It is a wonderful business to be involved in because we think we are making a difference, helping people. It is a rewarding business. It is fascinating world. We have a network of doctors. One of our partners is a physician - we come in on the business side. A lot of times doctors are super bright in their field but they could use some help on the business side. My wife and I actually went for a PET scan. It is amazing. And it’s good to know we got a clean bill of health! [Laughs] It is fascinating how it works. Early stages of cancer that are difficult to detect are found. They inject you with a solution that attaches to the glucose - cancer with its cell reproduction requires a lot of energy and uses a lot of glucose. The scanner actually sees where there is a lot of glucose energy being used. So it picks up these hot spots. These hot spots make it possible to catch cancer early that can be the difference between cure or not.
LICN: Any other businesses before I go back to the others?
BH: That’s it for now! [Laughs]
LICN: So back to mortgages. Please share your thoughts on where the real estate market is headed.
BH: First off, can you get a mortgage? Yes. But you have to verify. It is more of a common sense approach. Rates are unbelievably low right now. Rates are at a level where they are pretty much a gift. It is unfortunate that people take it for granted. They should be taking advantage as they won’t last. [Editors note: This conversation took place the end of May, 2010.] They should already be higher. But the series of events we have had in Europe has affected confidence. Spain, Portugal, the ability of these nations to pay their debt, mean their credit ratings are coming into question. The U.S., even with its problems, is like the smart kid in the dumb class; we are the best of the alternatives. A lot of money has recently flooded in here. That helps keep our interests rates low. These things tend to cycle around. We are now Greece ten years ago. The path we are on, in my opinion, is sad.
LICN: How so? Government, banking, irresponsible people? Everyone tries to assign blame. What are your thoughts?
BH: A lot of the blame for the meltdown went unassigned. Credit rating agencies deserve a lot of blame. A lot of companies put out option ARM or negative amortization loans that put us into a lot of trouble. A lot of companies that were too aggressive fueled the problems.
LICN: Any feeling on the government’s role?
BH: Saying that we needed to have 70% home ownership...maybe everyone should not have a home, maybe some should have rented. I have learned in business that the more government gets involved the worse it gets. It constantly has a series of unintended consequences. Government is growing too large. I am fearful that this printing of money and constant spending is going to create problems in the future. This is what you get when the political system runs amok. Politicians don’t care for us. They care, “Can I get re-elected?”
LICN: Short term vs. long term?
BH: Bingo! Exactly right. If you have a parent that just wants to shut the kid up they will give them candy. The parent that really is the good parent tells the kid they have to eat their vegetables. They may hate you now but it is good for their long-term health. We see the opposite now. It is a constant sugar rush. That does not lead to prolonged good health. That is what happened in Greece. When Reagan was president and Paul Volker was the fed chief the rates were 20% but it was vegetables and look how healthy our economy was for the next twenty years (and Greenspan was a good steward of that). I don’t see that now.
LICN: Your thoughts...short term, long term?
BH: I am an optimist by nature. I think we will try to right things. Right now I think we are on the wrong path; it will feel better in the short term but we are making the problem worse. I think the unemployment rate will stay stubbornly high, in this 9 – 10% range. We may have fears of a double dip recession. I think eventually inflation fears will come to roost. People are going to demand higher rates on treasuries if we keep borrowing at this high pace. That says to me rates are going to go higher. If you have the opportunity to get a mortgage now, I would say so. Which brings us to real estate. I think buying is an opportunity now. The census bureau says the average person lives in a house 10 to 14 years
LICN: Didn’t it used be seven years?
BH: Yes, the census bureau now says 10 -14 years. If you are going to buy a house for a year or two, who knows? But if you think you will be in it awhile, it is a great opportunity. Prices have come down significantly; rates better than they have ever been. You always want to buy on the way down. More homes on the market, sellers more willing to negotiate, you can get better terms. I use an analogy. Remember Rip Van Winkle? Imagine twenty years ago he went to sleep now wakes up. If I woke up four years ago houses were 40% more, rates are lower than when I went to sleep. Better choices on the market. And by the way, rates are now better than George Washington could have gotten!
LICN: Going forward, any new industries or fields that you would like to explore?
BH: I think right now Rock of Ages has me occupied creatively. I am enjoying my family, planning vacations, spending more time together. I coach my two little guys, Jake and Jared, love that my two older children work with me, Dan and Nicole. We have our hands full. The mortgage industry is still challenging.
LICN: Finally, why did you choose to live in Colts Neck?
BH: Moved here in 1987. I always admired it; I loved the quiet family-oriented feel, and it is pretty. The people are great...the sense of community is great. I moved in when I was 27 and have been here since.
LICN: Anything I have not asked that you feel defines you?
BH: Being optimistic. I think we have to be thankful. My parents heard about the United States. All you had to do is bend over and pick up money. I think we all have a great opportunity here. I try and express to my kids that we cannot be too complacent and we have to push ourselves. We all have our special qualities and traits. And we should use them.
Whispers, Spring Lake
Love all music but I will say rock
Midnight Run with Robert DeNiro
Hate when people drive in the left lane of the highway and drive slow and do not let you pass.
Three People you would like to dine with
Glenn Beck, Ronald Reagan, Ben Bernanke
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