In a year of challenges, it’s all the more important to recognize excellence. One way we do this at MReport is our annual September Women in Housing issue. Packed with content driven by female mortgage leaders, within this edition we also announced the 2020 Keystone Award finalists.
Throughout the next few weeks we will be rolling out profiles on the women who were recognized as finalists in each of the five Keystone categories. Today we bring you the finalists for the Cultural Leader Award. This award honors industry leaders who have successfully fostered forward-thinking company cultures and workplaces through corporate strategies and initiatives that have led to tangible, positive outcomes for colleagues companywide and beyond. Finalists in this category have a minimum of 10 years’ consecutive industry experience.
To read the rest of the finalist profiles click here—and stay tuned to the October issue of MReport where we will reveal which of these deserving women will take home the Cultural Leader award.
Laura Escobar, President, Eagle Home Mortgage
In 2002, Laura Escobar joined Eagle Home Mortgage, the lending subsidiary of homebuilder Lennar Corporation, as a Branch Manager. She worked her way up over the years to become Eagle’s President in 2018. Today, she leads a team of more than 1,100 associates working in 54 locations across 26 states. By fostering a culture that embraces change and rapid adoption, Eagle transformed into a digital-first organization, lowering of origination costs by more than $2,000 per loan while increasing customer satisfaction scores and production by double digits. She credits this success to her two-pronged “Principles for Transformation”: 1) Simplify and Question Everything: “It doesn’t matter if you are an intern or an executive," Escobar explained. “Everyone is expected to identify ways that we can simplify to remove friction for our business and our customers.” 2) Cross-Functional Collaboration: “As technology automates functions, cross-training allowed us to empower our talent to do more in new and exciting ways,” she said.
Escobar currently sits on multiple advisory boards and committees including the TransUnion Mortgage Advisory Board, Fannie Mae’s Affordable Housing Advisory Council, and the Ellie Mae Executive Advisory Board.
Escobar told MReport “As I reflect on the past few months, I realize that we’ve approached culture with a new intention and reinvigorated energy, which has led to a workforce that is remote but deeply connected. The events of 2020 have reminded us that culture is not your fancy office space, free meals, and happy hours. Culture is the collective consciousness of your associates. Our collective values of inclusivity, passion, and service are clear to me when I see the resilience of our associates, which is demonstrated in their agility to shift to a new reality and their commitment to deliver with excellence day in and day out.”
Sarah Gonzalez, COO, First Guaranty Mortgage Corp
Sarah Gonzalez’s 16-year mortgage career has taken her through Countrywide Financial, Bank of America, Citi, Nationstar Mortgage, and Stearns Lending before she arrived at First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation (FGMC) in April 2018.
Gonzalez has managed profits and losses for all areas of FGMC and is credited with increasing operational efficiencies by 50%. Her key accomplishments within the company include her ability to build effective teams, implement business process outsourcing plans, drive large technology initiatives, and lead the development of the branding for their proprietary non-QM product line, Maverick Solutions. She has also been instrumental in creating a company culture that inspires others to be a “Mortgage Maverick,” which means thinking outside of the box, being respectful and kind to others, and never settling for just good enough.
“This award represents the strong, people-first culture we are building at FGMC,” Gonzalez said. “Culture to me is something you live and breathe every day, and I want to lead a team of people who feel empowered, cared for and appreciated.”
This year, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Gonzalez led the firm through with compassion and direct action. She oversaw the credit risk teams that were reevaluating the turmoil created by pandemic and was able to pivot the company through safe and responsible lending guidelines. Additionally, she led the development of a communications and marketing strategy to help keep employees, borrowers, and corporate partners informed while steering through the abrupt changes that shook the industry.
“I want to be a part of something much bigger than what is going on now,” she said. “The people in our firm mean so much to me, and I can’t wait to help usher in the next generation of leaders for our industry.”
Alison Orlans, President & CEO, Orlans PC & eTITLE Agency
Alison Orlans brings a can-do entrepreneurial spirit to the legal services side of the real estate and mortgage servicing industries. In 2009, she formed Atlantic Law Group and in 2017, she led the merger of three law firms to launch Orlans PC. Orlans also leads eTITLE, a highly skilled title agency that has redefined land research and settlement with a tech-enabled, five-star experience. In January, Orlans teamed with her mother, Linda Orlans, to create Revlegal, a legal operations and innovation consultation company.
Orlans has built a core-purpose driven organization with strong values and employee engagement at its core. She charted a path to enhance Orlans’ culture through a variety of employee-centric programs and committees focused on client service, process improvement, charitable contributions and volunteerism, innovation, employee appreciation, diversity, and wellness initiatives. Employees benefit from enhanced lifestyle benefits, classroom and online training, and programs to celebrate the employee experience and tenure with Orlans.
Under her leadership, Orlans PC has been recognized as a Top Workplace, National Best and Brightest in Wellness, and has received USFN’s Diamond Award of Excellence 11 consecutive years. Orlans is also active outside of her companies with numerous professional affiliations and she sits on several nonprofit boards.
“Our team has worked together to build a special culture, and I’m so honored to be recognized,” Orlans said. “I am proud of what our industry-leading team accomplishes every day on behalf of our clients and each other.”
Ruth Price, First VP, Compliance & Oversight, Bayview Loan Servicing LLC
"This nomination means so much to me," Price said, "as there are so many strong and talented women in our industry and to be selected to stand alongside the other nominees, makes me very proud."
When reflecting on her career path and the strong leaders that mentored her through her 34 years in the mortgage servicing industry, Price said she found coaching and mentoring employees to success to be one of the greatest joys of her job. "A positive culture is critical at all times as we work toward our company’s mission and goals. "
Price has worked in many areas of mortgage servicing, and said she had loved each of her roles. During her early years at BancPLUS Mortgage in San Antonio, she started as a line-level processor in foreclosure. She said she never turned down an opportunity. "You cannot be afraid to take a step sideways or back to increase your knowledge and grow in your career," she said.
Within her current role at Bayview Loan Servicing, managing the Compliance Analysis and Implementation teams and the Customer Support Written Correspondence team, Price has the opportunity to bring business leaders together to solve problems, look for ways to enhance processes, and bridge identified gaps. She strives to lead difficult and complex discussions with a patient and pleasant demeanor, encouraging collaborative conversations.
She is extremely proud to have been a part of the mortgage servicing industry through all of these years. "We continue to grow and improve as an industry and work to provide an excellent customer experience, which is our ultimate goal."
Tracy Stephan, VP Innovation, Fannie Mae
Tracy Stephan first gained national attention in 2015 for leading the data effort in Fannie Mae’s FUSE program, which implemented a modern enterprise data infrastructure to handle trading, operations, and accounting activities. The program earned Fannie Mae recognition in Information Week’s Elite 100 for Innovation.
Stephan is responsible for leading Fannie's Enterprise Innovation Team, which researches, tests, and applies new and impactful solutions to make the mortgage process easier and more efficient. Her team joins Fannie Mae’s customer-facing business units to build partnerships with emerging technology firms.
Her team strengthens the culture of innovation within Fannie Mae by sharing research and insights through internal newsletters, workshops, and podcasts. Tracy’s team also created The Pitch, an internal crowdsourcing platform that enables employees to present and vote on innovative ideas. By investing in internal entrepreneurs, new tools like Community First by Fannie Mae™, an online tool that provides nonprofits access to purchase foreclosed homes in their communities, have been brought to life.
Tracy spearheaded the creation of The Exchange®, a data and public API platform that provides free access to housing, economic, and finance data.
“Building a culture that prioritizes forward-thinking and continual learning is incredibly important to me, my team, and the work I lead,” Stephan said. “I am honored to be recognized as a woman in the housing industry that’s fostering innovative teams and outcomes.”