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September 22, 2007  BY Sarah Kohnle

Take one look around the offices at Mortgage Research Center, and you realize this is not a traditional place of work.

The dress is casual — not just an absence of ties and dress pants; we’re talking shorts and sandals. There’s a barbecue grill sitting out front, a miniature basketball hoop hung over the CEO’s door and a tournament for washers (a game similar to horseshoes) occurring in the parking lot.

Plus, employees can get a free massage from a masseuse in the conference room every Friday and a free lunch every Monday.

These perks are intended to make for happy and productive employees and they’ve helped propel Mortgage Research Center (MRC) into the No. 96 spot on Inc. magazine’s list of top-500 fastest-growing private companies in the nation. MRC’s ranking was based on its three-year sales growth of 1,555.3 percent and annual revenue of $10.2 million.

MRC specializes in government home loans (Federal Housing Authority and Veterans Administration). Based in Columbia, MRC reaches across the nation and has clients in 48 states. In August alone, the company closed loans in more than 40 states.

Brock and Brant Bukowsky founded the company in 2002. This isn’t the first time the Bukowsky brothers have made Inc.’s list. Not content with the typical jobs for college students, the two launched a ticketing agency in 1997 while studying at the University of Missouri. Show-Me-Tickets grew to a volume of $22 million in 2004 and won the Inc. 500 award that year, ranking No. 308 out of 500. Then the brothers sold Show-Me-Tickets in 2005 to TicketsNow.

After researching businesses, the brothers decided to open a mortgage business with their initial niche focused on first-time homebuyers. Nathan Long, CEO, said the company discovered that military veterans were having difficulty securing loans, and that soon became its area of expertise.

Long said the company has trained its employees to be Veterans Administration home loan specialists and that there are a lot of extra steps required to obtain those loans.

“Because we handle VA loans day-in, day-out, we’ve learned,” Brock Bukowsky said.

MRC officially opened in January 2003 with just three employees, Brock Bukowsky, Kris Maple and Neal Roeder. Today, the company employs 86 people at its Chapel Plaza location. They moved into the 15,000-square-feet building off Chapel Hill in October 2005. Originally, MRC occupied 7,000 square feet, but now the business is up to 11,000 with little room to expand.

In 2003, MRC averaged 15 loans a month, and the average monthly revenue was $50,000. Currently, Brock Bukowsky said, the company averages more than 200 loans a month and this year has averaged more than $1 million a month in revenue, none of which came from subprime loans.

“The subprime mortgage crunch actually helped our business,” Bukowsky said.

He explained that with fewer subprime lenders, more borrowers are finding their way to MRC. Bukowsky said the VA loan is a fixed rate, and an applicant only needs a clean one-year history.

MRC adds about 20 employees a year, Bukowsky said, and the company is always looking for “quality people, people with integrity and passion for what they do.”

Bukowsky said MRC offers training, but it is selective and there’s very little turnover.

All employees work long weeks, Long said, and loan officers are expected to put in 45 to 50 hours a week.

“Finding hard-working people is not the easiest thing to do, but once we do find them, we hang on to them,” Long said. “Brock and I spend a lot of time trying to make this a great place to work because we understand the importance of having happy, passionate employees,” Long said.

And MRC hangs on to employees by creating a congenial work atmosphere and a variety of benefits.

“We keep employees happy with the crazy stuff we do,” Bukowsky said. For example, the top four producers each month get the use of a personal assistant the following month—someone to take their car in for an oil change, run for lunch, and even wait at home for service calls.

One day last week, the office closed early and employees went bowling, with an open bar and lots of pizza. The company also gave away iPhones to its three highest producers for August. In the summer, the company had a golf tournament, just for its employees. As the company grows, Long said, such events help everyone to get to know one another.

Long said the distinction in Inc. magazine recognizes how hard MRC employees have been working and is a real morale booster.

“This ranking reflects the dedication of our team members to the clients we serve,” Long said. “By helping them find the right loans, we’re hoping to enhance our clients’ lives.”

Arranging loans for the people who served in the military stirs emotions among the MRC crew.

“You can get real passionate for helping out the military for what they did,” Long said.

Employees also donate their own money to military charities, providing scholarships to veterans and children of veterans, with a matching donation from the company. v