From the Streets of Calcutta to the Mortgage Street
The CEO of Blueberry Systems learned many useful things for operating a technology vendor while running community banks and mortgage lenders. But he also points to an earlier formative experience—lessons learned for future business use during the months he worked at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute Dying in Calcutta.
It was mainly a religious (Christian) impulse that brought the 21-year-old Wil Armstrong to India, he tells me at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual conference in Washington, but also an impulse to vary his experience growing up (he is the the son of former United States senator and successful radio and TV businessman Bill Armstrong).
“Hot,” is his first reply when asked how he remembered the teeming streets of Calcutta, home to 20 million people, four or five million of them living in the streets. “I felt like I was on the other side of the world” in those pre-Internet days, when it could take weeks for an airmail letter to reach him, he says.
He worked with “the poorest of the poor,” helping to bathe and shave men suffering from leprosy and other debilitating diseases. The experience stayed with him so vividly that he has brought his own daughters to India on service visits in more recent years, to the Dayadam orphanage.
He was impressed by the zeal of Mother Teresa’s workers to combat the effects of dire poverty. “They expended their very beings to take care of the poorest folks,” he says. “That always moved me.”
He notes “my world widened” from his time in India. Some of the conclusions he brought with him when he returned to the United States? “I do not want to sell my soul to be successful,” he says. “I do not want to use people just to make money. I want to do business nobly and honorably.”
He also found a useful business model in Mother Teresa’s example of using small groups of people to change the world. “That’s always the case,” he says. “I want to have great people around me.”
A self-described “accidental technologist,” he has spent a lot of time and energy assembling a “dream team” at Blueberry, which is based in Greenwood Village, Colo. He likes to have people with lending experience as that will have a big impact on how they go about serving their lender clients. The firm’s general counsel is a longtime mortgage banker. Armstrong himself has a background in community banking and mortgage banking before he, his father (who is chairman) and a third partner started Blueberry, a loan origination software vendor that got its name in part from Fats Domino’s tune “Blueberry Hill.”
In fact Blueberry, which won a “Top Service Provider” designation from Mortgage Technology in both 2012 and 2013, has started a “model office” called Blueberry Mortgage, to think about their lenders’ problems and how to help solve them. “We’re on the ground with them,” he says.
Blueberry’s next challenge will be to help lenders adapt to the harsh new regulatory climate brought on by the Dodd-Frank Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that will kick into high gear following a Jan. 10 deadline.
“Speed is really important,” he says, to forestall the “mass disruptions” he sees possible in the first quarter of 2014.
His life-changing experiences in India happened a long time ago, but they are still close to Wil Armstrong. Literally. He reaches inside his shirt to show me something that hangs around his neck. It is a scapular medal, given to people who spent time helping Mother Teresa speed the arrival of a better world. It is obviously one of his most cherished possessions.