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Remembering Michael Ellenzweig and his contributions to Canada’s mortgage industry

Michael Ellenzweig aspired to be a mortgage broker ever since the age of 13.

It was a dream sparked by the lifestyle of his best friend Howard’s family while growing up in Hamilton, ON. During Ellenzweig’s Mortgage Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he fondly remembered how Howard’s family had a Pontiac convertible and would drive down to Florida every Christmas. In contrast, his own family, being a one-car household, stayed home.

“I wanted to be a mortgage broker when I grew up. And that’s what happened,” he said.

After university, he moved to Toronto to start his career. “I didn’t know that many people here and I knew even less about the mortgage business,” he recalled. “So, I joined OMBA, the Ontario Mortgage Brokers Association, and I got involved.”

The rest, as they say, was history.

When Ellenzweig started his career in 1975, a broker was a homeowner’s last resort. The vast majority of first-time homebuyers negotiated directly with lenders without consulting a professional, or worked through real estate agents or lawyers to close a deal.

By the time of his passing earlier this week at the age of 76, Ellenzweig had witnessed and contributed to a profound transformation within the mortgage industry. Today, over a third of all homebuyers—and half of all first-time homebuyers—obtain their mortgage through a broker.

A legacy of leadership: shaping the mortgage industry

And Mortgage Professionals Canada, the association born from the Canadian Institute of Mortgage Brokers and Lenders (CIMBL), which Ellenzweig co-founded, has become the voice for the mortgage industry across Canada. Thousands of brokers, from early entrants to veterans, have learned from the industry education courses provided by the association.

“Michael was really good at progressing the professionalism of the industry—whether it was through education, events, or consumer research,” says Samir Asusa, chief financial officer at Mortgage Professionals Canada. “Michael is a big part of bringing us out of nothing to well over 15,000 members.”

Ellenzweig entered the industry with an arts degree from McMaster University, but quickly rose the ranks to become one of Canada’s leading mortgage brokers. But that wasn’t enough for Ellenzweig, who also dedicated many evenings and weekends to teaching licensing courses for newcomers to the mortgage business.

When the brokers and lenders decided it needed to start a new organization to help brokers, the leadership at the time reached out to Ellenzweig asking for help. They didn’t have any money, and realized no one wanted the top job. They got Ellenzweig to agree to do it for a year. “That year ended up being the start of a long career in the association space,” Asusa says.

Ellenzweig’s career trajectory continued to soar as he played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of Canada’s mortgage industry. He was a founding member of CIMBL, which later became the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals (CAAMP), which was then rebranded in 2015 to the current Mortgage Professionals Canada (MPC).

Throughout his time in the industry, Ellenzweig was renowned for having an extremely frank, straight-shooter style. He didn’t accept excuses or vague answers.

“His legacy is one of remarkable leadership, characterized by a rare blend of toughness and fairness that commanded respect from all who had the privilege of working alongside him,” said Peter Rocca, president of RDA Insurance.

His role in fostering growth and education

“Michael is probably one of the most efficient communicators I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Michael Beckette, President of M3 Ventures. “He could say a few things and it would be either extremely on point, or extremely sarcastic – and he could get away with things that I couldn’t possibly get away with.”

Those qualities could be used to remarkable effect.

Asusa says Ellenzweig consistently challenged those around him to excel, often questioning them with phrases like, “Do you think, or do you know?”

He also encouraged vendors with the mantra, “be better…not just for clients, but for yourself,” highlighting his belief in the value of personal and professional improvement.

An eye for industry talent

Aside from his frankness, Ellenzweig had another key leadership quality. He could not only spot talented people, but bring them into his orbit and encourage them to seek out their own leadership positions, all the while making them feel as though it was their idea all along.

Beckette said Ellenzweig was instrumental in helping him get his foot in the mortgage industry by introducing him to insurers, lenders and brokers.

“He pulled me into becoming a director of the association,” Beckette says, “which was probably one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my life – making a contribution to the growth and development of the industry. I’ve got to thank him for convincing me to do something I had no interest in doing until he convinced me.”

Ellenzweig chalked up his own success in the association to the people he met and taught and learned from for so many years.

“When I became executive director of CIMBL, I remember buying several books on association management,” he said in his 2007 acceptance speech. “And if I have achieved a small measure of success over the last 10 years, it’s not because of anything I read in those books, it’s because I had the good fortune to learn from and to work with, 10 outstanding board chairs.”

And when Ellenzweig realized he wasn’t the right man for the job, he had no problem backing away from a prestigious position. After co-founding the association, and serving as its executive director for years, he accepted a demotion to vice president of member services.

Beckette says the association’s leadership believed that, in the face of more government regulation, they needed someone who was more experienced in government and public relations. “The association,” Beckette says, “was more important to him than his ego.”

Ellenzweig held onto his role as vice president for over 15 years. In 2007, he was inducted into the Canadian Mortgage Hall of Fame. He retired in 2014, but continued to act as an advisor and consultant within the industry.

“The national mortgage conference was his baby, and it was great to see him there once again last fall on the trade show, not as strong physically but still ever so sharp mentally suggesting ideas,” Asusa says.

After surviving a serious car crash in 2015, and facing numerous health challenges in his final years, Ellenzweig passed away peacefully at his home on February 25th. He is survived by his wife, Shelley, as well as three children and five grandchildren.

While not every mortgage broker may know his name, his indelible impact on the national mortgage industry cements his legacy. As the architect behind the precursor to Mortgage Professionals Canada and the creator of pivotal licensing courses for aspiring brokers, Ellenzweig’s work has not only guided the current generation of brokers, but will continue to influence and inspire future ones.

“Though his physical presence may be gone, his indomitable spirit and enduring impact will continue to shape our industry for years to come,” Rocca said. “Rest in peace, dear Michael. Your legacy will forever be etched in the fabric of our industry, and your influence will be felt in the hearts and minds of all who had the privilege of knowing you.”