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.
Over the past few weeks we rolled out profiles of the women who were recognized as finalists in each of the five Keystone categories. Today we bring you the finalists for the last category the Laurie A. Maggiano Legacy Award. Named in honor of the late industry icon whose distinguished and accomplished career left an indelible impacting on housing, this award recognizes those women who through their tireless efforts, collaboration, and ingenuity have powerfully influenced the industry and homeownership nationwide. Finalists must have a minimum 10 years’ consecutive industry experience to qualify for this award.
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 Laurie A. Maggiano Legacy Award.
Dana Dillard, EVP for Corporate Social Responsibility, Mr. Cooper
Dana Dillard joined Nationstar (the predecessor of Mr. Cooper) in 2013 and held various leadership roles during the years, most recently taking on the duties of EVP for Corporate Social Responsibility. In her work, Dillard is responsible for the company’s industry and government relations, nonprofit engagement, community outreach, and its Office of Diversity & Inclusion.
“It is an honor for me to be considered for the Laurie Maggiano Legacy Award because of my friendship with Laurie," Dillard said. “While we did not always agree on some topics, we both always wanted the best for the industry and for our customers. No one could wear that regulator hat like Laurie—where she would say what needed to be said, and then sit down and ask about your family."
Dillard has more than 25 years’ experience in the mortgage industry, with experience in multiple corporate capacities. Prior to joining the company, she was an SVP for Servicing at GMAC RESCAP. During that time, she was prominent In the HOPE NOW alliance and worked with hundreds of struggling families trying to save their homes. For that work, she received the Five Star Institute’s Humanitarian of the Year award in 2009.
Having survived the first housing crisis, Dillard is putting that experience to work with the recent pandemic-related housing issues and is a key player in industry discussions on the topic. On the diversity front, she built the company’s program from scratch and has seen it grow to 17 employee resource groups with more than 3,500 active members. Eighty-seven percent of Mr. Cooper employees think it is a great place to work and that belonging component is a direct result of the hard work of the Cooper Resource Teams and D&I leaders.
Laura C. LaRaia, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel, First Guaranty Mortgage Corp.
Laura LaRaia has dedicated her career to the mortgage industry over the last 25-plus years and first joined First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation (FGMC) in 2018. Her career has left a legacy of passion, expertise, and leadership based on empathy.
During 2020, LaRaia has been a crucial leader in ensuring that FGMC could safely navigate the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 pandemic. She took charge in examining how the components of the CARES Act would impact mortgage lending by investigating the legal implications of the legislation and charting a course of risk guidance.
With experience working both in lenders’ legal departments and in a law firm, she has extensive legal, compliance, governance, and risk management knowledge. At FGMC, LaRaia is leading her teams in the roll-out of the revised Uniform Residential Loan Application and oversaw the completion of multiple early and successful audits for the company by embracing collaboration, innovation, and a “can-do” attitude.
“Many women in our industry provided a hand up to me and believed in me,” LaRaia said. “In turn, I have provided opportunities to many women and other individuals with whom I have worked who are coming up through the industry ranks to grow, succeed, and to help to provide the dream of homeownership throughout the country.”
LaRaia serves as a member of the MBA's Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Committee and the MBA’s State and Legislative Regulations Committee. Additionally, LaRaia was featured recently in the DS5 interview series and is a speaker for the upcoming Five Star Virtual Conference.
She graduated from the MBA’s Future Leaders program in 2008. She has been a frequent speaker at the MBA’s annual Regulatory Compliance Conference and an advocate through the trade group’s Mortgage Action Alliance.
Suzy Lindblom, COO, Planet Home Lending, LLC
Throughout her four-decade career, Suzy Lindblom’s central focus has been understanding what drives satisfaction for business partners, customers, and employees.
An award-winning leader and industry expert, Lindblom drives operational success by knowing the numbers and loving the people. She relishes the challenge of building a business by bringing people together and motivating them to succeed.
Lindblom is known throughout the mortgage banking industry as an outstanding communicator and leader with a knack for identifying and mentoring future leaders. Her not-so-secret superpower is her ability to keep employees positively engaged while boosting productivity and business process efficiency.
She joined Planet Home Lending in 2017 as EVP of National Operations and was promoted to COO one and half years later and now manages IT, Marketing, Human Resources, Fulfillment, Credit Risk, Distributed Retail Sales, and Strategic Initiatives. She was previously Managing Director of National Fulfillment and Operations at Stearns Lending and held leadership roles at MetLife Home Loans, NationStar Mortgage, Countrywide Bank/Bank of America, and CitiMortgage. During her time at Planet Home Mortgage, Lindblom was credited with developing process efficiencies within the company that resulted increased cost savings and improved customer service.
"Being nominated for the Laurie A. Maggiano Legacy award in 2020 is an unbelievable privilege, and I am humbled to be considered," Lindblom said. "This award shows the strength of women in the mortgage industry, which the namesake and previous recipients have embodied in their careers. I am very passionate about the mortgage industry and will continue to assist in bringing it to the next generation, not only in homeownership but in potential careers."
Susan Stewart, CEO, SWBC Mortgage Corp.
Under the leadership of Susan Stewart, San Antonio-headquartered SWBC Mortgage has grown from three employees serving the Texas market to more than 650 employees in over 70 branch locations across 43 states. The company generates $3 billion in annual sales and has a servicing portfolio of more than $10 billion.
Stewart’s leadership abilities have been recognized across the industry. She is Chairwoman-Elect of the MBA, is a Past Vice Chairwoman of MBA's Residential Board of Governors, and is a current board member of Opens Doors Foundation, the trade group’s philanthropic endeavor. She is also a past president of the Texas Mortgage Bankers Association and the San Antonio Mortgage Bankers. In an interview with San Antonio Woman magazine, Stewart credited the corporate culture at SWBC in nurturing her skills when she joined the company in 1989.
“When I first came here, they celebrated every success I had, big or small,” she recalled. “Even if I make a mistake, I know it is my responsibility to resolve it and move on.” She added that “kindness and trust are part of the company’s DNA” and she seeks to pay that attitude forward in encouraging the next wave of women in mortgage banking.
“You might go into a job interview and meet only men in senior executive positions, but there is no reason that you cannot earn one of those positions in the future,” she stated. “Don’t worry about if you like the job, worry about if your employer is pleased with your work. Work hard, and you will succeed. Be completely honest. Change jobs if you are stuck, and keep moving forward.”
Maria Vergara, Director of Strategic Business Relationships Team, Fannie Mae
Maria Vergara joined Fannie Mae in December 2018, after four years as President of NAHREP Consulting Services (NCS). At NCS, she worked closely with mortgage lenders who desired to improve their outreach to underserved markets. Prior, she spent 16 years at CitiMortgage as Director of Strategic Markets, where she was responsible for overseeing the company’s CRA goals, affordable, and minority lending. She previously held executive positions in organizations focused on Hispanic consumers as President and Co-Founder of Avanza Marketing Services, Director of Multicultural Markets at Edward Jones, and a licensed financial advisor at Prudential/ Wachovia.
Vergara’s career has created a skillset that enables her to understand and respond to the financial and housing considerations of the multicultural consumer. Through her leadership, she has tirelessly advocated for the mortgage industry to move beyond stereotypes that persist regarding nonwhite communities.
“Diverse markets are many times seen as the low- and moderate-income segment, but that is a narrow and short-sighted view,” she wrote in a 2018 blog post. “Although many minority groups are still working hard to fill the gap between their income and the income levels in the overall market, there has been a great deal of progress made.”
As a result of her career, Vergara has helped numerous minority households achieve homeownership, enabling them to build a future of prosperity and economic stability.
“These are unprecedented times," Vergara said, "and I truly believe we all can make a difference to improve the world we live in. September is Hispanic heritage month, where we celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans. I am privileged to work in this space and to continue to strive for racial equality for all Americans.”