The rather bland-looking logo above stands for Better Mortgage, also known as Better.com, a “New York-headquartered digital-first homeownership company and the leading non-commissioned mortgage provider in the U.S.”
The company’s founder and CEO – and my nominee for Employer Of The Year – is Vishal Garg, 43 (pictured), an Indian-American entrepreneur who started Better.com in 2014. Or maybe 2016, depending on which stories you read.
Garg’s net worth is estimated between $1-4 billion, and in October 2021 Forbes called the company a “$7.7 Billion Unicorn”:
My nomination of Garg for Employer Of The Years based on a series of events that started on December 1, 2021.
Garg had invited nine hundred employees to a Zoom meeting, about nine per cent of its workforce, but this was not a random group of employees – each was specifically invited.
And these nine hundred employees were in for some very special attention from Garg:
Garg fired them.
In a three-minute Zoom meeting.
According to this article:
“If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”
Just think of being one of those nine hundred employees. It’s December 1, 2021. You’re invited to a Zoom meeting with your CEO, maybe not a normal occurrence but you’ll attend and then get back to work. And you’ve got a lot of other things on your mind: the pandemic, the approaching holidays, your ever-increasing utility bill…
Here’s Garg in the meeting video, at the moment he says “Your employment here is terminated effective immediately”:
Slouching, sloppily dressed, and monotoned-voiced. Bored, probably. Disengaged, definitely.
The CNN story goes on to share how Garg empathized, how he felt the pain of what he was about to tell his employees:
“‘This is the second time in my career I’m doing this and I do not, do not want to do this. The last time I did it, I cried,’ Garg said on the call, which remained short and emotionless.”
That was all about his feelings.
“Garg cited market efficiency, performance and productivity as the reason behind the firings. Fortune later reported Garg accused the employees of ‘stealing’ from their colleagues and customers by being unproductive and only working two hours a day.”
Employer Of The Year, yes?
The Zoom firing made headlines around the world – including Great Britain:
Strangely, instead of feeling compassion for Garg and his near-tears experience, the public expressed outrage at his callousness after footage from the mass Zoom layoff went viral on social media platforms.
So much so, that a week later, Garg apologized:
I think we know that Garg wasn’t sorry he fired nine hundred employees on Zoom.
But he is deeply sorry that the story got so much attention and now the world knows what an asshole he is.
So Garg did what any self-respecting autocrat would do:
He took some time off:
And then he came back:
During his PTO, Garg “reflected on his leadership.”
And – perhaps because Garg wanted to show that though he was a shit leader, he was proficient at something – in March he laid off more employees:
“This time, some employees said they saw severance in their payroll accounts before they were officially told, according to messages posted on Blind, an anonymous workplace forum.”
“‘This was certainly not the form of notification that we intended and stemmed from an effort to ensure that impacted employees received severance payments as quickly as possible,’ the company said in a statement.”
You’ll note that this time, Garg let “the company” do the talking.
Perhaps so he wouldn’t say something like, “The last time I did this, it was on Zoom, and for reasons still unclear to me, those people didn’t cheer for me at the end of the Zoom meeting.”
Then came Round #3 in April:
“The company has not said how many employees were included in the cuts, or disclosed the total number of people it will employ after this downsizing.”
The company hadn’t said, but this April 19 article did:
“It is unclear at the time of writing how many people were affected by the layoffs, but sources familiar with internal happenings at the company estimate that it ranges from 1,200 to 1,500, meaning that the company has effectively reduced its headcount from about 10,000 in December to less than 5,000 now.”
And in the midst of all this, Garg found time to whine about not firing more people, and sooner:
“We made $250 million last year, and you know what, we probably pissed away $200 million. We probably could have made more money last year and been leaner, meaner and hungrier.”
After all this, the word that keeps coming to mind for Garg – besides “brutal,” “cruel” and “asshole” – is “shortsighted.”
That is, “lacking imagination or foresight.”
It seems to me that a supposedly hotshot entrepreneur – Garg – who starts a mortgage business would have some realization that like so many things, mortgage rates rise and fall and rise and fall.
Here’s an example from the Rocket Mortgage website, a mortgage company that – unlike Garg’s Better.com – has been paying attention:
- Rates in 1971 were in the mid-7% range, and they moved up steadily until they were at 9.19% in 1974. They briefly dipped down into the mid- to high-8% range before climbing to 11.20% in 1979.
- Interest rates reached their highest point in modern history in 1981 when the annual average was 16.63%. Fixed rates declined from there, but they finished the decade around 10%.
- In the 1990s, inflation started to calm down a little bit. The average mortgage rate in 1990 was 10.13%, but it slowly fell, finally dipping below 7% to come in at 6.94% in 1998.
I know next to nothing about mortgages, but even I can see the ups and downs.
Now let’s fast forward to more recent history, this time from TheMortgageReports.com:
- The average mortgage rate went from 4.54% in 2018 to 3.94% in 2019.
- Rates plummeted in 2020 and 2021 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. By July 2020, the 30-year fixed rate fell below 3% for the first time. And it kept falling to a new record low of just 2.65% in January 2021.
- Mortgage rates spiked in the first quarter of 2022. The average 30-year rate jumped from 3.76% to 5.11% between March 3 and April 21 – and increase of 1.35% in just eight weeks.
When those mortgage rates were dropping, Garg was hiring people like crazy – to the point of Better.com “quadrupling in size,” as I mentioned earlier. He saw a chance to make tons of money, apparently with no thought that rates would rise, the demand for mortgages would decrease, and many of those employees would become superfluous.
It appears it never crossed his mind to expand more slowly, and prepare for mortgage rates to once again increase.
Mortgage rates increased, and Garg started firing people like crazy.
And acting like a crazy person:
Invite 900 people to a Zoom meeting to fire them?
Maybe he is a crazy person:
The article cites a number of Garg’s questionable behaviors, including the example in the headline:
“In one deposition in 2019, he told a former business partner – once the best man at his wedding – that he was ‘going to staple him against a fucking wall and burn him alive.’”
And this in an email to staff:
“A sample email from Garg, which Forbes obtained: ‘You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS… SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.’”
I haven’t seen Garg and Better.com in the headlines lately, and I was hoping – foolishly, it turns out – that I’d see a story about how he’d gotten some form of comeuppance for how he’s treated his employees.
Those 5,000 employees who got this:
Well, according to The Daily Beast article – as a comeuppance for his brutality, cruelty, and just plain asshole-ity – here’s what Garg got:
“Last year, as questions about oversight simmered, Better handed Garg a token of holiday cheer: a $25 million bonus, paid entirely in cash.”