Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard, once said that “passion is the fuel behind a successful career,” and I’ve certainly found that to be true. My earlier career objectives were not even remotely close to mortgage, let alone servicing technology. Yet this is where my passion led me, and it’s fueled a tremendously fulfilling career.
By staying committed to my original vision, bringing in the most talented people I could find and learning from my missteps, I’ve been able to build a company that I feel is making a real difference. I’m at the point now in my career where my mission involves giving back and supporting other women entrepreneurs. But the journey was anything but easy.
Starting Out as a Woman Leader
I started in business with a local law firm that delivered best-in-breed default legal services. However, we were missing what I felt was a key element to achieving success: true business process automation. I believed that early automation efforts in the mortgage servicing industry only partially removed operational disorder and lacked the flexibility and dynamic fortitude needed for the long haul. Over time, I felt compelled to follow my instincts and my vision of creating a new, broader form of process automation—one that included third party coordination and removed the operational chaos that existed in almost every industry.
After putting together a team of talent that shared my vision, I set out to create technology that redefined process automation. While we were incorporated as eMASON in 2000, the CLARIFIRE application and our subsequent name shift to Clarifire did not materialize until 2007. Clarifire is a play on words, exemplifying how our product can clarify corporate vision and move an organization out of the fire of chaos.
Entering the new century with a clear vision for an entirely new approach to doing business was exciting but challenging. I discovered then that women entrepreneurs are often met with opposition amid what was then and is still a male-dominated culture. Over time, I learned to meet this culture head on with grace, perseverance, and honest diligence to be the best we could be. But the early going was difficult. Many times, I found myself as the only woman at the table.
Instead of letting this be a deterrent, I used it to motivate myself further. I learned to take risks, expect setbacks, and pick myself back up quickly. In addition to capitalizing on this energy for myself, I poured this passion into our product. Although there was a real need for our technology, however, it was not necessarily an easy sale.
For one, servicing was late to the technology front. Secondly, among large, publicly traded competitors, I represented a small woman-owned vendor. To break through the unintentional bias toward women in leadership and minority owned businesses, I had to rely on my persistence, passion, and belief in our product. I learned that recognizing an opportunity and seizing it the moment it happens are two different things. Frankly, it can be really scary, particularly when you’re a woman running a business in a male-dominated field.
One year before our rebranding, I received a phone call from the president of consumer lending for Bank of America, who had heard about what I was doing and wanted to see it. My heart was racing because our software wasn't ready—certainly not ready to share with one of the largest financial institutions in the country. But I knew that my vision was the right one, and that I had assembled a team that could deliver. This fortitude paid off, as Bank of America became our very first customer.
Another early challenge came when I was pitching my company’s software to one of the industry's largest organizations -- a true giant. I was asked directly, “You're a small company with less than 30 people. Why should we give you our business? How could you possibly implement your software in our organization?” I looked them in the eye and explained that Bill Gates started his company in a garage and he was able to deliver, and so would I. The contract was signed right there.
Rising above historic business challenges
Not unlike the current COVID-19 outbreak, the 2007-2008 financial crisis came out of nowhere, yielding both wreckage, opportunity, and a critical need for homeowner relief. This was a great opportunity, as my focus has always been to find a simpler, more direct approach to solve complex problems. I believed the financial crisis would help me take my earlier efforts to automate complex manual processes and deliver what evolved into sophisticated workflow for loss mitigation in struggling back offices.
This is where my commitment to my original vision really paid off. The financial crisis brought about a whole new world for mortgage servicers. Historically, servicers worked in the background with minimal resources and were often considered a cost burden. Suddenly, servicers found themselves under intense regulatory scrutiny and caustic criticism of their antiquated systems. I felt our technology was uniquely positioned to help servicers push beyond their constraints.
When the crisis hit, we evaluated our offering and our competition, which mostly included big box solutions that took significant time to integrate and implement. More importantly, our competitors weren’t ready to deliver immediate relief from the influx of delinquencies and regulatory changes.
Our timing was perfect. My company had the rare opportunity to ride the forthcoming wave of delinquencies, while I was able to tap my previous expertise from the legal side of defaults. This combination of driving forces would ultimately help my company cement its value in the mortgage industry and our specialization in default servicing and loss mitigation.
Later on, the lessons and best practices I learned during the financial crisis would help us successfully support servicers as they dealt with historical levels of natural disasters. As wildfires, floods, tropical storms, hurricanes and tornados began ravaging the U.S. starting around 2015, mortgage servicers were again in need of responsive systems to support new issues, processes and distressed homeowners. The onset of some of the most deadly and costly natural disasters created the need for superior responsiveness, as well as more complexity in terms of relief options and eligibility.
One of the lessons I learned from the previous crisis was the importance of constant innovation. This is important for all business leaders, regardless of gender. To help servicers improve borrower access to disaster relief, we created a unique online community that let borrowers interact with their services and access self-service tools to apply for and receive automated approvals for relief. It turned out to be another game changer for our company.
Finding Ways to Give Back
As I see it, the future for women leaders in our industry is wide open. But over the course of my career, I learned that success is never accomplished alone. Over time, I started looking for ways to give back to other women leaders and help them follow their entrepreneurial dreams. I felt it was important to promote and mentor other women professionals, both inside and outside of my industry.
I began volunteering my time to mentor women in the business world by joining the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), Women in Housing and Finance (WHF) and the C200, a global organization of women in business leadership. All three of these organizations exist to support the professional development of women leaders and expand leadership opportunities for women.
These experiences have taught me the value of helping other women achieve their goals and aspirations by sharing my own experiences. I understood what it was like to be a woman in the business of technological innovation. I also knew what it was like to overcome obstacles tied to self-confidence and fears of not succeeding. Over time, I learned that strength comes from listening and trusting one’s inner voice to push and persevere through these obstacles. I also learned how valuable it was as women to learn from one another and support each other as we follow our passions.
Today, my passion is the same as it was when I began. I believe technology in our industry must continue to evolve toward full automation and bulk processing. These capabilities were key differentiators in the success of our company. This is where servicers need to be, and we’re ready to deliver.
While I’m proud of my success as a woman leader, I’m more proud that my company has built a reputation for helping our industry, our servicer customers and their borrowers survive amidst volumes of relief requests, new regulations and unrelenting change. Our focus and passion have not changed, nor has our commitment as a small woman-owned industry player. Just as the Clarifire team was prepared for the financial crisis, natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re prepared for the next crisis, too—whatever it turns out to be.
It may not have been the journey I envisioned at the start of my career, but it has been more rewarding than I could have ever dreamed.