When Tim Mayopoulos became CEO of Fannie Mae (FNMA), he got a crash course in crisis management and leadership. It was the height of the financial crisis and the government housing entity was near collapse until the U.S. Treasury came to the rescue with a huge bailout package.
Mayopoulos tells Fortune that the most critical leadership lesson he learned from those difficult years was the importance of being calm and optimistic. “People are looking for the CEO to set a tone,” he says. “We all talk about our business strategies and we all talk about tactics we employ and all that. But at the end of the day, people are looking for calm, confident leadership.”
His style of leadership was also inspirational. He was able to retain many Fannie Mae employees because of the aspirational goals he set for the company. “We have an opportunity to create the next phase of housing finance for this country to be the system that people use for the next ten or 20 years,” he told them. “I think people responded to that. They said ‘that’s fantastic. We can actually be part of something that’s bigger than just working for a company and trying to deliver a bottom line.’ ”
Thanks to Mayopoulos, Fannie Mae is profitable and has paid back more than the original $116 billion it received from the U.S. Treasury. Now that the company is in better shape, Mayopoulos has set new goals for Fannie Mae and its 7,000 employees. He is partnering with entrepreneurs to develop a digital platform for mortgage lending. Mayopoulos is optimistic about the innovations they have come up with and the progress so far. As he puts it, “I wouldn’t say we’re sprinting yet, but we’ve picked up speed.”
Watch the video above for more of our conversation with Mayopoulos.