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Profiles in Leadership: 2021 Women in Housing Award Recipients

Continuing an annual tradition, MReport once again brings you the Women in Housing Leadership Awards, as presented at last month’s Five Star Conference and Expo. In the September edition of MReport, we profiled all 25 finalists across five categories. It is now our pleasure to bring you a look at this year’s final award recipients.

Laurie Maggiano Executive of the Year
Ali Haralson
President, Auction.com

What are your proudest career achievements thus far?
Haralson: Fortunately, I’ve had many outstanding moments during my career, but I can whittle it down to two. Starting and growing my company, SLS, to over $50 billion in servicing and 1,400 employees was a significant accomplishment. But working at Auction.com has transformed me into the leader I am today. It also gives me the unique opportunity to influence the industry and do what I love, which is optimizing programs that benefit our buyers and sellers, ensuring the preservation of homeownership, enhancing neighborhood stabilization, and guiding our people and amazing organization.

Are there any women who have served as career mentors for you, and what did you learn from them?
Haralson: I always say that a successful leader must have strength and grit, and I got much of mine from my grandmother, who was measured and disciplined. She came to the U.S. without being able to speak English. She worked hard, raised her family, and helped me build the work ethic I have today. Then, during my career, I’ve had many mentors who have helped shape who I am today. This includes my current team, which has the most impressive group of dedicated women I’ve ever worked with. They make me better every day.

What is the most critical piece of advice you would give to women beginning their career in this industry?
Haralson: A critical piece of advice to women beginning their career is to build a support system. This includes finding the right mentor and surrounding yourself with people who are determined, thoughtful, and willing to help you succeed. Life is a journey, so expect to have many mentors throughout your career.

Rising Star Executive
Theresa Dumais
VP of Government & Industry Relations, Freddie Mac

What are your proudest career achievements thus far?
Dumais: Certainly, being one of the youngest officers at Freddie Mac is a proud career achievement. I am also proud of my 15+ year career focused on providing housing opportunities for individuals and families. I didn’t grow up with stable housing myself, so it’s personal for me. I was very intentional early on in my career about the impact I wanted to make to help as many people as possible obtain safe, healthy, and stable housing. I am a houser for life!

Are there any women who have served as career mentors for you, and what did you learn from them?
Dumais: My former boss at Freddie Mac, Barbara Fox (former VP, Government Affairs), has been a tremendous mentor and coach. She took the time to really pave the way for my success here at Freddie Mac, and I cannot thank her enough. She is the kind of thoughtful, caring, and action-oriented female leader that you hope you get to work with during your career. She has since happily (and deservedly!) retired, and I work to emulate those traits she taught me not only in my professional life but also in my personal life as well.

What is the most critical piece of advice you would give to women beginning their career in this industry?
Dumais: Two things: find yourself a solid mentor (see above), and if you don’t see the path you want in front of you, then work to pave that path for yourself. That may mean taking calculated risks to help create that path, but with a vision in hand and a north star you can get there.

Excellence in Leadership
Sandra Jarish
President, Servicing, Planet Home Lending, LLC

What are your proudest career achievements thus far?
Jarish: Leading a team that grew Planet Home Lending during one the most challenging periods we’ve faced as an industry is my proudest career achievement. We opened a servicing center in Dallas, assisted tens of thousands of customers whose finances were affected by the pandemic, and launched a revolutionary asset monetization engine for our private clients. And we did it while we more than doubled the portfolio from $22 billion in mid-year 2020 to $45 billion a year later.

Are there any women who have served as career mentors for you, and what did you learn from them?
Jarish: People often think that mentors must be people above them on the corporate ladder, but I think mentors are found at all levels both professionally and personally. The women who have mentored me the most on a professional level have been women not only on my team for years and sometimes decades, but also my female colleagues here at Planet that I have worked with over the past 10+ years. As a team, we have learned that hard work and diligence reap great rewards and we have met multiple business challenges and achieved great results. Through partnership and collaboration, we can accomplish our goals, however difficult. They have taught me the value of working across multiple channels to build initiatives. Together, we’ve built an eco-system of products and services that deliver synergistic value to clients served by the Planet family of companies.

On a personal level, although not a business executive or even a career woman, my most important mentor has been my mom. She taught me the basic traits that have allowed me to be successful: a strong work ethic, honesty, dependability, confidence, and most importantly, to be driven and a strong professional woman.

What is the most critical piece of advice you would give to women beginning their career in this industry?
Jarish: Find a company where everyone is included and treated with respect. Planet Financial Group CEO and President Michael Dubeck values, listens to and promotes employees based on merit, not gender. He supported my diverse team as we built the platform, processes, and technology to grow the servicing and sub-servicing portfolios. Opportunities exist with companies that value diversity and inclusion. If your company isn’t one of them, come join my team.

Excellence in Mentorship
Ramie Word
SVP Customer Care & Client Delivery, Mr. Cooper

What are your proudest career achievements thus far?
Word: This award is definitely up there at the top. I’m proud to have been recognized every year for the last seven years as a female leader within the industry. I’m also extremely proud of the career growth of those under me and around me over the last several years. I’m also a proud supporter and ambassador for our Cooper culture and D&I growth.

Are there any women who have served as career mentors for you, and what did you learn from them?
Word: Courtney Ehinger (SVP, Performing Servicing, Mr. Cooper) is a big one. She’s one of only two females I’ve worked for in the last 18 years. She’s strong, confident, and knowledgeable about her processes. She isn’t afraid to grab a seat at the table, even when the chairs may all be taken.

What is the most critical piece of advice you would give to women beginning their career in this industry?
Word: Be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. Never say no to a new opportunity. Don’t limit yourselves because you feel like you have to choose between your work or family. You can do it all!

Diversity & Inclusion Champion
Sophie Kim
SVP, People & Culture, CIVIC Financial Services

What are your proudest career achievements thus far?
Kim: There are two major achievements. First is being able to build highly successful and valuable teams. Whether it was in Sales or in Human Resources, the teams I’ve had the privilege of leading have been extremely valued by the business. Being a Shared Service, HR can be seen as transactional and administrative only, but regardless of the company or team, over the last 20 years, the teams I built were viewed as an integral partner to the business.

Second, because of spending over a decade in the learning and development side of HR, it would be changing the lives of many people I trained and mentored. Watching them start their careers and find success to build wealth to support their families and/or grow in to leadership positions; that’s why I do this and I’m proud to have been a big part of their stories of success.

Are there any women who have served as career mentors for you, and what did you learn from them?
Kim: There have been many women that have made a lasting impact on my career and definitely changed its trajectory. The most notable person would be Kristiina Hintgen. She was the head of Human Resources at loanDepot.com and loanPal (previously Paramount Equity Mortgage) during my tenures there. She would often remind me that everyone, no matter what level they’re at in the organization, is simply trying to figure everything out in the best way possible and nobody has all the answers. I learned three major things from her. First, be brave to try. You must try big and often and embrace being wildly uncomfortable.

Second, celebrate your failures because they make you stronger and better. Last, if you always focus on the people, the business will always find success. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the many years of her mentoring, observing how she ran our department, how she carried herself when partnering with the business on strategy, and how she cared for our team and our staff.

What is the most critical piece of advice you would give to women beginning their career in this industry?
Kim: The most critical piece of advice would be to consistently look inward by having real and honest conversations with yourself. For all things big and small this has paid off in volumes for not only rapid, but also consistent success. Real estate and financial services move quickly and sometimes erratically, so it may be an easier path to blame the people or factors around you when things don’t turn out well. Instead, taking the time to really ask yourself, “what could I have done differently” will pay off in volumes to increase your self-awareness for the next challenge, conversation, project, or initiative. There’s a tremendous amount of confidence built over time when you own the loss and know that you are empowered to not allow it to happen again.

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has nearly 20 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. He can be reached at David.Wharton@thefivestar.com.

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