In celebration of International Women’s Day, Flat Branch Home Loans wants to serve-up the conversation with a roundtable of our company’s female leaders, spread across our media platforms. At the roundtable, the director of sales and marketing, Mary Ropp, talked with eight of our most influential women, who have reshaped and expanded their home loan services past Missouri’s heartland.
Mary Ropp, Director of Sales and Marketing: How long have you been in the financial industry and have you always been surrounded by amazing women in the places that you've worked?
Karen Kreutziger, Chief Operations Officer: I’ve been in the mortgage industry about 15 years. Up until Flat Branch, I’ve always worked with men and for men, but with great experiences.
Jamie Pandolfo, St. Louis Sales Manager: Being in the industry for 17 years, you reflect on your career and other places that you’ve been and traditionally it is a male-dominated industry. And then you come to Flat and there’s so many females through all different stages of their life who have walked the same path as you. And it’s just a really cool, amazing place to be. You flourish.
It’s almost like every single year, I feel like I expand myself as a person, employee, and manager. You just evolve so much more being in this environment. I actually started out doing student aid loans at a local college, and I just sort of fell into the industry, and it sucks you in and you become a lifer.
Sarah Craig, Chief Financial Officer: Why does it suck you in?
Jamie: I think because the mortgage industry can be so complicated. It has such a great effect on the lives of other people that it’s just so impactful. The stress that you go through, if there’s not that pay-off, you find something else.
Ronda Hickey, Senior Mortgage Banker: I’ve been in the banking industry for 12 years, and I was not on board with coming to Flat Branch in the beginning. But Jim [Yankee] is such a fantastic, inspirational person. *Looking at Karen Kre* Karen, we had late-night phone calls with tears involved, where it was just like, how are we going to make this work? And it became such a perfect fit. My motto has always been, it’s a family, not a file. And that was Flat Branch’s motto as well. We’re a family working for families.
Kelle Walters, Senior Mortgage Banker: It’s like an orchestra. Everyone has their place and part to play, and when it goes really well, it sounds beautiful.
Jamie: At Flat Branch, you have that ability to grow as a person over time and move to different positions. Which is awesome, there’s not a lot of other industries like that.
Kelle: You don’t have that in a large corporation. I came from a large nationwide lender and this is a small enough company that you can have a say, especially as women, you can have a suggestion, and they listen. If it works, they implement it, and if it doesn’t, they still listen and take that into advisement.
Mary: Would you to tell me, it can be Flat Branch or in your life, someone who’s a mentor. Someone who inspires you.
Emily Harvey, Human Resource Director: Becky Wolken was the manager at my high school job at a cookie company in the mall. She saw strengths in me and utilized them right from the start. I was 16 years old when I first started interviewing applicants for a job. She taught me to never say “I can’t.” My first job in Human Resources was at the University of Missouri and Lori Goins was my inspiration to love that field of work. She molded me into a working adult rather than a partying college kid. At JES Holdings, Carol Hall was just the image of professional. She got the job done and everyone very much respected her. I think of all three of these woman when I look at where I am today.
Sarah Craig: Mine is my mom. It goes back to the beginning. But more importantly, it’s seeing her with my little sister who’s adopted. When she was twelve-months old, we took her to the hospital because she wasn’t developing. We found out that she has a very, very severe cerebral palsy, and she was told she can just leave her here, we’ll give her back, you don’t want to deal with this. My parents have dedicated the last twenty-five years of their life to taking care of her. That means no vacations. No this, no that. And that’s been their life-calling. When you talk about strong women, my mom, fully 100 percent encompasses that. When I’m having a bad day, it puts things into perspective — you think of that. You think of my little sister who can’t even talk but yet, every time you see her she has a smile on her face. She is also the product of my mom, with strength just in a different form. For me, she is the pinnacle - both of them - of what a strong woman really represent.
Everyone has stories, and I think that to the extent that we share them, it just makes us stronger. The level of support and understanding that you get from that, it is phenomenal.
Mary: The average work day is eight days, average work week is 40 hours, and I know many of you work many more hours than that. This means you and our employees are giving Flat Branch the best part of your day. How do you handle that work-life balance and how do you help [your teams] handle that as well?
Karen: For me, before [my son] left for college, I always made sure I was home for dinner whenever I could be. I made sure I made dinner, ate dinner with him and then would continue working. And I encourage it with my team as well and make sure they’re going home. If I see them online working at night, I talk to them and ask what’s going on, and make sure it’s a short-term solution, and that we have a long-term solution, and we’re working toward that so they can go home and be with their families.
Ronda Benton, Processing Manager: It comes down to making sure that I have my Flat Branch family taken care of, but also my family at home. And if I’m going to give up something, it’s usually sleep for myself, just to make sure everyone else is taken care of. And I’m sure a lot of us are in that same boat: we give up our time to make sure we’re giving with the other time that we have.
Emily: I remember I got an email from Mary saying “hey, we have 11 new hires starting next Wednesday. I think it was received on Friday.” And I said to Karen and Sarah, that’s my son’s first Christmas performance. I love working for Flat Branch so much, I said the performance would be over at 11 a.m., and then I can head to St. Louis. But they insisted “no, you stay the whole time and watch.” Jamie and Mary did my job for me. We just have each other’s backs because we don’t want anyone to miss out on those things.
Jamie: It’s sort of like you have that work-life balance inside Flat in it of itself. All of the amazing moms in the workplace, I get my inspiration from them every day. It’s like, you’re having a really bad day or you’re dealing with an issue or you’re just incredibly busy and then you’re thinking about how this mom just told me a story about how she goes home and makes dinner, or she’s going home to make a gingerbread house tonight for her kid’s Christmas party tomorrow. You don’t think it affects other people, but we all draw little things from [conversations] and we take it home.
Ronda Benton: I think the level of support from the people who work with us is genuine. It’s not just saying “we have a family-oriented company.” It is genuine.
Emily: We allow our employees to make family a priority, and they can do it guilt-free. We encourage it.
Ronda Benton: It’s setting an example, too. As leaders, we have to set that example that we think that’s important.
Mary: So you’re saying that at Flat Branch, you have to come in being that right person: humble, hungry, people-smart and caring about others. We can teach you how to process a loan, we can teach you about mortgages.
Mary: How do you mentor or nurture young, promising women?
Jamie: I think that we care, and we truly invest, not just in what they’re trying to do when they’re in the four walls of Flat Branch, but also what they’re going home to every night and on the weekends.
Karen: I agree with that, even when we’re talking to our employees, sometimes you can tell someone’s struggling, and when you sit down and talk with them, it’s not work. It’s just something going on at home: it’s their kids, it’s maybe their husband who lost a job and they’re feeling more pressure to support the family and looking for room to advance because they need that additional income. We focus on them at home which makes them better employees at work.
Emily: I don’t think that a lot of us go to work and say, “I want to empower someone today.” When I look back at all the women who have empowered me, none of them did it on purpose. I didn’t do exactly what they did, they just encouraged the aspects in me that were powerful.
Mary: The people around you know you’re smart, strong women. What’s hard about being a strong woman?
Emily: I think we are hard on ourselves. We see what we’ve done, we see the team that we’re a part of and we don’t want to let anyone down.
Mary: Quick survey, when was the last time you asked for help?
Emily: This morning - “does this look OK?” *Pointing at her clothing choice*
Ronda Hickey: I think the hardest thing for me, with being in the role that I’m in, which I’ve been the top producer for a long time -- I’m so grateful for that. But knowing that, like right now with my pipeline where it’s at, I’m thinking “I’m not going to be on top for much longer;” and I’m wrestling with “I just had a baby” and there’s going to be a time when I’m not gonna be out killing it, I’m not going to be the rockstar that I’m used to getting to be. That’s a hard adjustment for me. Sometimes it’s a little war inside myself for wanting to be the best and do the best, or let it go to someone else.
Sarah Craig: I would love to hear everyone’s answer on what advice you would give to women?
Kelle: Find somebody you admire: a mentor who’s farther ahead of you, and then compare yourself to her. And just for the purpose of learning, look at what attributes you want and have positive self-talk, because you don’t envy and you don’t get jealous. Emulate and then encourage others. Because otherwise you’ll just spiral around.
Karen: If someone’s trying to grow into that leadership role, it would be to get a mentor. A mentor with different strengths than you have so that you can work on being a little more well-rounded. And then confidence would be the other piece. You have to be confident.
Mary: But what if you’re not confident, what do you do then?
Karen:It’s important to surround yourself with people that support you and are strong women as well. I know if I’m struggling, all I have to do is call Ronda, or I am Ronda, and she will build me back up so that I can continue on with my day.
Emily: A good piece of inspiring advice that I’ve always remembered was think of the three or five people in your life that have inspired you and when you get to your peak is when you’re on someone else’s list, when they think of their people. I want to be on someone else’s list.
Jamie: I think if you don’t know where to start, a mentor obviously is a great one, but if you don’t know where to start… give. People always just say, if you give it comes back to you, and it’s not necessarily what you give, but in this sense - take care of other people. You’d be shocked what you can learn from yourself, if you can help somebody else solve a problem or listen to somebody else talk through something that’s going on.
So many people think success is measured by the money or the title, when really those things will take care of themselves. As long as you make giving your first priority.