Editor's Note: The Women in Housing Power Players are women in the housing industry that have played a pivotal role in the mortgage industry, and MReport is honored to highlight their accomplishments in this special feature. You can read the full issue here.
Ali Haralson, Evp of Client Management // Auction.com
Ali Haralson, EVP of Client Management at Auction.com, has overcome numerous challenging situations in her life, but none was as challenging as when the company she co-founded lost a large majority stakeholder during the 2008 housing crisis. Through the loss of a product and business they heavily relied on, Haralson, along with her colleagues, developed a new strategy to steer the organization in a new direction.
Haralson can remember days where the future of the company looked dim, but together, she and her team worked to develop a plan, which helped the business stay afloat. As Haralson and her team sought to employ creative solutions during the economic downturn, their commitment to the needs of their clients and employees never wavered. At the same time, Haralson and her colleagues cultivated long-lasting relationships with partner organizations, which ultimately helped facilitate the sale of the company to one of the partners.
Now with Auction.com, Haralson brings this strategic level of thinking as she oversees the acquisition and management of clients, and increases revenue through client retention and growth. Her role leverages her proven experience to enable Auction.com’s clients to better mitigate risk associated with distressed assets, resulting in improved financial outcomes and reduced levels of neighborhood blight nationwide.
Haralson attributes her strength to lessons she learned from her grandmother, who gave her the tenacity that helps her get up every day and do what she does. Haralson said she takes a little bit of inspiration and wisdom from each of the inspiring women in her life and weaves them together into what she feels is a wealth of personal and professional insight, which she uses in her own role as a mentor to others. Though Haralson acknowledges the challenge leadership roles have traditionally posed for women, she believes that with a strong support system, like the one she has built over the years, women can achieve great success in these positions.
It is this forward-thinking approach that enables Haralson to embrace the industry’s shift to a more open communication environment where a woman’s critical thinking skills are found useful. She remains very optimistic about the future of the industry and encourages industry leaders to take a step back and think about how they can shape and mold the next generation of leaders through the hard-won lessons—both good and bad—that they have learned in the post-crisis era.
Kimberly Neff, Principal–Financial Services Advisory // Ernst and Young, LLP
As Principal at Ernst and Young (EY), Kimberly Neff helps her clients with many different initiatives—strategic, operational, technological, and everything in between—yet, she says being a leader is the role she takes most to heart.
“I spend a significant portion of my time mentoring and coaching EY's future leaders, particularly women,” Neff said. “EY is a professional services organization, which means our people are our greatest asset. Without our people, we would not be able to help our clients achieve their goals.”
With three little ones at home, Neff knows firsthand the struggle it is to balance motherhood and a burgeoning career, and she uses that experience to help guide others in the organization.
“It’s not a one-time event; it’s a reoccurring challenge nearly every day,” Neff said. “I am passionate about overcoming it for myself and helping others determine how best they will overcome it as well.”
So how does Neff recommend women get ahead in business? For one, she says, they should establish a “Board of Directors” of sorts. “These are the senior leaders, colleagues, and/or friends who will help guide and mentor you,” she said. “It is important that your Board does not look, think, and act like you to ensure you get the diversified advice you need.”
Neff also says women must be “purposeful” in their work—and in their lives in general. “Allocate your time and efforts to the things that matter most to you, and perhaps most importantly, say no to the things that don’t matter to you,” she said. “By knowing what you want, you are better able to focus on progressing toward that and avoiding the things that aren’t on that path.”
According to Neff, the mortgage industry boasts numerous strong women in leadership roles.
“One of the things I love the most about this industry is how many strong women leaders there are among these organizations, many of them as very senior roles who run enterprise-wide operations and/or transformation programs,” she said. “Especially given the regulatory environment in mortgage over the past several years, these women are the leaders who have helped steer the ship in some of the most unchartered waters. As this industry continues to grow and evolve, the professional opportunities for women will hopefully continue to do the same.”
Caroline Patane, VP of Compliance and Customer Evaluation // Fannie Mae
Caroline Patane’s role as a leader is to provide strategic direction in the development of the risk-based evaluation programs of Fannie Mae's top sellers and servicers. These programs are designed to provide insights to improve seller and servicer performance against key metrics and compliance with Fannie Mae's requirements through the assessment of operational effectiveness against critical success factors.
“When we go through our evaluation programs, it’s for both compliance purposes with the Fannie Mae selling and servicing guides, but then also to make recommendations and offer best practices based on observations that we've made over the course of time on what our customers have demonstrated will work best,” Patane said.
Throughout the entirety of her time within the industry, most of Patane’s experiences have been working for women more so than men.
“I can tell you that those experiences have shaped my career in many ways because of the fact that they have given me the opportunity to learn a little bit more about what it means to be a female leader within a male-dominated industry,” she said.
When working through scenarios, Patane believes it is the diversity in thought that women bring to conversations that often leads to better solutions.
“Once you begin to demonstrate the skills you have and that you have something to say that will add value and contribute to their success, that is what gets you recognized,” Patane said. “Showing that you understand the business and then communicate your contributions in a way that puts you onto that even playing field, that's when the opportunities start to come your way.”
One experience in particular is when she felt the courage to leverage her technical experience and move away from what she had always been part of, which was the origination side of the business so she could venture into the servicing world. Patane believes women must learn to step outside of their comfort zones to experience the challenges that accompany new learning opportunities that will further personal and professional growth.
“It's a matter of falling back on what you think you know, and whom you think you should be versus dreaming a little bit bigger and continuing to think about what you could be,” she said.
What is one aspect that should get women reaching for the stars? Understanding that the industry has progressed and to be part of contributing to the innovation that is creating better homeowner experiences in the market.
Janis Smith, VP of Corporate Communications // MERSCORP Holdings
As VP of Corporate Communications at MERSCORP Holdings, Janis Smith is responsible for communications strategy and planning. Her leadership in communications for a smaller company is what makes Smith a true Power Player, as she also works on branding and marketing initiatives; manages staff; handles public relations and social media, media risk management, or crisis communication; and manages both of the corporate websites.
In addition, Smith’s team also works on event planning for the company’s annual conference, overseeing graphics, printing, A/V and registration. She personally manages the corporation's housing and community group outreach efforts, maintaining liaisons with the D.C. offices of the major national housing and community advocacy associations.
Taking on that much responsibility is a quality Smith learned from her mother, who worked tirelessly and also taught her the value of becoming someone that her family called a “servant leader.”
“We are really defined, not just by what we say, but by what we do. And so it's always been important for me to be involved,” Smith said. “To work for organizations that do something that provides a benefit to society, and to also be involved in volunteer initiatives that provide a benefit to other people. I really learned a lot from the women in my family about being a servant leader in all facets of life, including my work life.”
Smith said she looks to Eleanor Roosevelt for inspiration. Despite coming from a fortunate background, Roosevelt chose to serve. Not only was she sensitive to the needs of others, she was also very outspoken and an advocate for women’s rights, civil rights, and addressing the concerns of the underprivileged.
And one of the most significant aspects of Eleanor Roosevelt’s activism is her early use of media to reach the masses, something that Smith embraces within her own work life. Smith believes her role model taught women that they do have a voice, and that their voices have power. But, that's only if women use them.
“That's what I have done throughout my 30-plus years in the mortgage and housing finance industry,” Smith said. “Whether it was in the private sector or with a regulatory agency, I've used the power of the media to educate and to influence, and that's really how I got to where I am today.”
Ann Thorn, Executive of Mortgage and Vehicle Servicing Operations // Bank of America
Ann Thorn has spent more than 25 years as a trailblazer in the mortgage industry, earning an extensive amount of experience leading large mortgage operations in the areas of originations, servicing, and default. Over the past decade, Thorn has led numerous high-risk projects related to regulatory compliance during a time when the housing environment was most volatile.
Thorn currently leads Mortgage and Vehicle Servicing Operations at Bank of America, which is comprised of more than 4,500 mortgage and vehicle-lending professionals in Post Closing, Document Oversight, Servicing Administration, Cash Operations, Investor Asset Management, External Servicing Oversight, Consumer Vehicle Services, Retention Operations, and Liquidation Services.
As an industry leader, confidence and courage are two attributes that Thorn not only possesses, but also teaches to all women. She said that when it comes to moving into management and leadership roles, and even in general, it is important for women to remember that greatness is already within them.
“They can’t hold back. They have to be brave enough and have the courage to take that next step. For some reason, something's holding them back due to a lack of confidence,” Thorn said. “There's an enormous amount of unbelievable women, whether they're sitting in an executive or they have a line-level job, it doesn't matter. They still have the power at whatever position they're in in the workforce to make a difference.”
Thanks to great sponsorship throughout her career, Thorn has had mentors to turn to during challenging times, and that privilege had taught her to always embrace having the confidence to speak up and take the initiative. Thorn believes this type of support is a responsibility for leaders to do for young professionals today.
“That's where education of our young women and men coming up is very, very important throughout. They have to have somebody that they can turn to and ask questions,” she said. “I spend a lot of time talking to women and young leaders about taking those steps and getting out of their comfort zone to network and have those conversations.”
Thorn actively encourages communication on this topic, believing open and honest conversation is what the industry needs to keep up diversity and inclusion efforts.
“If every day I'm having this sort of 15-minute dialogue with somebody and mentoring and sponsoring somebody, think of after a week, after a month, after a year, how many lives that we're impacting and that we have that effect on. Whether you're sitting at a soccer game, sitting at a church, or wherever, it is just constantly having those conversations,” she said.
In addition to advocating female inclusion efforts, Thorn also serves as a leader on the Military Warriors Support Foundation Advisory Council, the Plano, Texas Executive Council, the Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development (LEAD) for Women Employee Network (North Texas chapter), the Diverse Employee Sponsorship Program, the Women in Technology and Operations Steering Committee, and the Executive Mentoring Program.
Thorn currently resides in Flower Mound, Texas, with her husband and two daughters. As a role model in the industry, Thorn doesn’t just teach women how to uphold their confidence, she leads by example both as an executive and as a mother.