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Weekend edition March 24, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Keystone Mortgage focused on providing a world class mortgage experience

Mike Padgett learned about the bad side of securing a mortgage years ago. Today, all of his efforts are underpinned by the realization that success is not about what can I get from someone, but what can I give to that person.

One look at Matt Padgett, and you would correctly guess that he played basketball in high school and college. That competitive spirit, coupled with a belief that success comes from focusing on giving, not getting, has served the Knoxville businessman well.

Today, he’s President of Keystone Mortgage, a company Padgett founded in February 2006 with a mission of providing the people of Tennessee with a world-class mortgage experience, something he learned was not always available from firsthand encounters.

“After having a less than exceptional experience when buying my personal home, I knew the people of Tennessee expected and deserved more,” he explains. “Since its inception, Keystone has helped thousands of families by providing the best mortgage experience.”

The success speaks for itself. The company is a two-time member of the “Inc. 5000” listing of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S., placing #3,154 on the 2022 list and #3,491 on the 2021 rankings. While it primarily serves clients in East Tennessee, Padgett says the company does work in Middle and West Tennessee. More recently, it opened a second office in Sarasota, FL to serve the central region of that state.

Padgett is a Knoxville native who was born and lived in the inner city until his parents moved to Halls where he played basketball. From there, he earned a scholarship to play basketball at Walters State Community College in Morristown.

“I always wanted to play Division 1 basketball and did so at Troy University in Alabama,” Padgett told us. He earned two bachelor’s degrees at Troy – one in accounting and the other in business administration, then an MBA.

After graduation, he spent five years working on the middle market advisory services team at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). “I worked extremely hard, learned a lot but wanted to get back to Knoxville,” Padgett said.

That resulted in spending the next nearly two and one-half years in the investor relations group at Ruby Tuesday Inc. “I learned a great deal from Sandy (Beall),” he says of the legendary business executive who founded the chain in 1972 and served as its Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President for 40 years.

During his second year with Ruby Tuesday, Padgett started buying residential real estate and, through those transactions, decided that there could be a way to make the experience more comfortable. The answer was a focus on customer service which underpins Keystone Mortgage’s philosophy today. The firm’s core values are: (1) love people and treat them well; (2) bring super energy and happiness to the work; and (3) provide constant growth and ownership opportunities.

Everything has not been smooth for the business and its founder. About a year after Padgett started Keystone Mortgage, the greatest financial downturn since the Great Depression ravaged the world.

“We started out pretty good, but that changed,” he explained. For a couple of years, Padgett held other jobs during the day, focusing on Keystone’s work on nights and weekends before things started to get better by 2009 and 2010. That experience clearly shaped his philosophy going forward.

“Business is like a game . . . figuring out how to help people,” Padgett explains. “Helping people is the key to business growth.”

Today, he is reluctant to talk about businesses in which he is providing financial or advisory help, explaining that they cover the continuum from agriculture to technology. That said, Padgett talked about a life-changing experience when he realized that success was not about what can I get from someone, but what can I give to that person.

“Relationships are an exchange of value,” he says, using the analogy of a grandparent and a grandchild.

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