Moose Scheib is the American Dream. And the American Dream lives, works and plays in Dearborn.
The 30-year-old is an attorney/entrepreneur/new father who played college football, went to Columbia Law School and started a foreclosure-prevention firm, LoanMod.com. But before all that happened, a pre-teen Scheib had to become the man of his family's home, just five years after arriving in a new country.
Scheib, born in Beirut, moved to the U.S. with his family at age seven. By age 12 his father, a truck driver, suffered the first in a series of disabling strokes. His mother spoke little English and had even fewer skills when she went to work in a kitchen at a local restaurant for minimum wage. Despite these hardships, Scheib turned a successful academic and football career at Dearborn High School into another one at Albion College and earned his Juris Doctorate from Columbia Law School.
"She went to work and told us to focus on school," Scheib says. "So when I came back in 2005 after I graduated from law school, I went to the restaurant she was working at and told her she would never have to work another day in her life. Since then I have taken care of her and my dad, paying all their bills. I am very blessed."
Scheib did that by bridging the old world of his parents with the new world where he thrives. Even his first name is a bridge between the two cultures. Moose is the Americanization of his grandfather's name, Mustafa. Scheib picked it out himself. At college his younger brother shared a house with Gov. Rick Snyder's son, a house Scheib bought and rented out to other college students to make ends meet when he attended Albion. After Columbia Law School, Scheib, a proud Arab-American, went to work for Proskauer Rose, a large Jewish law firm in New York City to help build bridges between Arab and Jewish communities.
Scheib left the firm in 2007 to focus on LoanMod.com, an online service that helps people deal with mortgage foreclosures. Today he oversees a staff of 20 employees, helping people across the U.S. get out from underwater mortgages. He's also involved with a number of other local businesses, including a media company called Mizna Entertainment, which makes satirical videos including one about local reaction to the recent visit of Terry Jones. He considers the time he enjoys with his family, a wife he's known since they were teens, and his 3-year-old daughter as the reward for hard work and perseverance.
"That's what separates champions," Scheib says. "Once you go through something, how do you respond? Some people will go through their whole lives feeling sorry for themselves. Some people will think of it as a blessing. Hard times have always made me better, not bitter."
The foreclosure crisis has continued for several years now. Is there any end in sight?
In 5-10 years, yes, we might have stabilized prices. This is a huge problem. There are 47 million mortgages in America, and almost 14 million are underwater or nearly underwater. That's 28 percent of homeowners. People have to think of their houses as an investment. When your house is underwater, you need to do something about it.
Isn't that the ethos that got us into this problem in the first place, looking at houses as investments instead of homes?
If you have to pay into a mortgage for 15 years before you're in positive equity, then you're not doing what's best for your family to make it a home. You need to take out the emotion so you can make rational decisions based on your family's financial security.
You are talking about a 5-10 year timeline from today. We're already four years into the foreclosure crisis. That's a long time.
We'll hit the rock bottom housing prices in 2012. After that it won't go back to the pre-2005 levels. You won't see those levels for 10, maybe 20 years.
If a young couple bought their place during the housing bubble, what advice would you give them?
If they're underwater, they need to do something, potentially renegotiate.
How will your firm's focus change when the foreclosure crisis finally ends?
There will always be problems in the lending industry. We want to be that trusted firm that will help people. It could be credit cards or auto loans. There will always be a need to service defaulted loans.
You are also a co-founder of Aleph Advisors, a boutique advisory firm focused on helping companies expand into the Middle East and North Africa. Is Metro Detroit ahead or behind the curve when it comes to taking advantage of business opportunities in the Arab/Islamic world?
That's a tough question. We're not ahead. We're not truly tapped into the resources we have here. As more people become entrepreneurs and free agents and use their connections from around the world, we'll take advantage of it more.
How could our local business community better position itself to be a leader in this area?
We need more action and less talk. Once real projects start coming here or we go after them, that's the only way we're going to do it. Qatar just won the bid for the World Cup in 2002. Over the next 12 years, it is envisioning more than $100 billion in projects. This is a tiny country, smaller than Michigan. And they love American know-how. They love everything about America in the Middle East, except our foreign policy.
You're a young person who left a corporate job to start a business. Are young people more inclined to start a business than people later in life?
Younger folks have always been more entrepreneurial. It's probably because they're less stable and they don't have as much to lose. They don't have to take care of kids. They can take those risks.
In a recent three-year study by the Knight Foundation it was reported that young professionals --the demographic our state is so desperately trying to attract and retain-- feel the least welcome in Metro Detroit out of all age groups. Any theories on why?
No. Maybe if we had a stronger, more vibrant Detroit that wouldn't be the case. I don't feel unwelcome, and I am a young professional.
Metro Detroit's leadership --whether it's business or in the community-- often struggles to integrate its ranks with young people or even take the ideas that resonate with young professionals seriously.
Why should Metro Detroit's traditional power structure care and what can they do to create a more inclusive approach?
They need to get more young folks on the boards of these big organizations. They bring different perspectives and ideas and it's always going to help spur innovation. Innovation is key right now. They need young talent that will help them adjust to the 21st Century.
Is it as simple as adding young professionals to major boards?
It's a lot deeper than that. That's just one practical solution, and it's the lowest hanging fruit. I would rather talk practical solutions. We can talk about theory, but I would rather see action.
Michigan has a strong segment of small, private liberal arts colleges like Albion that are often overlooked when it comes to talent retention efforts. You graduated from Albion in 2002, what talents are we missing from these schools and what can we do to encourage their graduates to stay in Michigan?
You have to promote entrepreneurship. If we catered and nurtured more entrepreneurs, that would spur innovation and help us keep more young folks here. That's the key. Everybody wants to do their own thing. Let's give them a platform to do their own thing and see what happens. A lot more people would stick around.
So it's about providing opportunity?
Yes. It's not complicated or expensive. Part of it could be having mentoring programs for entrepreneurs with local executives. We should provide more comfort and support for people who want to do their own thing.
You also went to graduate school in the Ivy League at Columbia's School of Law. What should Michigan do to attract top talent from those schools, especially if they are unfamiliar with the Midwest?
That's tough. If you had a vibrant city it would help, but that's 20-30 years down the road. It's going to be the jobs that bring them here.
I know a number of well-established, progressive companies here that find it exceptionally hard to recruit talent that don't have roots here. A lot of those people can't overcome the stereotype of the Midwest, Michigan or Detroit. Is there a low-hanging fruit that could help us overcome that?
Part of it is a PR thing. Having commercials like the one with Eminem during the Super Bowl was huge for Detroit's image. This is Detroit. We build things. It's gritty. Made in Detroit. That resonates with some people. Also, we can attract talented professionals by highlighting Michigan's quality of life. Some folks, myself included, are more family oriented and enjoy Michigan's seasons and great outdoors.
Metro Detroit gets a lot of bad press when it comes to race relations and self-segregation. However, Metro Detroiters of all stripes rallied together in support of the region's Arab-American community when Terry Jones came to Dearborn. What do you think that incident says about the region that isn't recognized by the conventional wisdom about Detroit?
People here work together. Most people think of that pastor as a lunatic and don't take him seriously. When his name is brought up, people laugh.
Jon Zemke is the Innovation and Jobs News Editor for Metromode and Concentrate, and is the Managing Editor of SEMichiganStartup.com. He conducted and condensed this interview. His last feature was Ferndale - Metro Detroit's Urban Incubator