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Trailblazers: Salpi Meyer
This month I had the privilege of interviewing Salpi Meyer, who is the Senior Vice President of Sales for Plaza Home Mortgage’s National Correspondent Lending division. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the sales, account management and strategic business development function of the division, as well as developing and maintaining primary relationships with Correspondent clients nationwide.
In the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
One of the most important facets of achieving business success is making connections and nurturing them so they can be called upon when we need them, or they can reach out when they need us. There are many ways to meet these connections and keep them flourishing and vibrant as we move down our career path.
Salpi Meyer has learned this important lesson and has parlayed her connections into new and amazing opportunities for both herself and her colleagues. Through her own hard work, determination and making herself valued and memorable, she was able to maintain connections that became a vital part of her achieving amazing success in the mortgage industry and blazing a trail for other women in the industry to emulate and follow.
Salpi, please share with us, how did you make your journey into the mortgage industry and to Plaza Home Mortgage?
SM: I don’t think anyone plans to be in the mortgage industry. It isn’t like saying I am going to be a doctor or lawyer when I grow up. It seems to me it is something you just fall into based on a set of circumstances.
I started right out of college, I got a job at Countrywide, and I started in a low-level production assistant role always on the B2B side. I have never worked on the origination side or with brokers, I always worked in the background.
I was at Countrywide from 1993 until 2011 at which time Bank of America let our team go. I was careful not to burn any bridges as I had a lot of great clients I was working with, particularly in Southern California.
One of those clients happened to be Plaza. I had helped them get approved when they were a small third-party shop. We had a good working relationship, and I was thrilled to be able to work with them successfully.
The co-founders Kevin Parra and James Cutri are great guys, and they were one of my first big accounts. I had to give their account to a co-worker, but I thought about them often and they came to mind in 2011 when my time was done with Countrywide/Bank of America.
I went to Chicago for a conference around that time and Kevin was attending it too. He asked me if I would sit and talk to him about my future. I agreed and we sat on a rock outside of the conference hotel in Chicago and had a fantastic discussion. He asked me to come and start a correspondent division for him and I said yes right away. This was someone I was excited to work with.
Kevin told me he wanted to diversify his business and I asked if I could bring my team with me. He agreed with that and in January 2012, my team and I started our new adventure with Plaza Home Mortgage.
What this experience has taught me is how important business connections can be. When you work hard for someone and give them your best, they remember and if you need them somewhere down the line, they can give you a bridge to new opportunities. You need to take the initiative when you are presented with a chance to advance and not hesitate. I was a loyal, valued, long-term employee and was able to take advantage of what was offered to me at Countrywide. And then leverage that when it came time to move on to Plaza.
What is your advice for other women who are deciding whether to take opportunities being offered where they are now or if they need to move on to grow and move forward?
SM: I understand that sometimes the circumstances and environment will dictate your decision. There are workplaces where the culture or work environment are uncomfortable, unfair, or downright toxic. If that is the case, certainly moving to another organization may be the prudent or, in fact, the only choice.
It may also be the case that there is no room to grow and advance in the company you are with, so moving on means moving up and that is a completely legitimate reason to look outside for a better and more opportunity-rich place to hang your briefcase.
However, I have learned that sometimes you really need to look for the opportunities where you are. You may love the company you work for and strongly believe in what you do for them and what they do for the community. In that situation, it is important to turn over every stone to make sure you haven’t missed an opportunity to get where you want to be without having to up stakes and move elsewhere.
One of the best ways I have found to get moving forward even when it seems you may be stuck in place is to find yourself a mentor within the organization.
A mentor should be someone who you do not report directly to but to whom you can turn for advice, constructive criticism, and guidance when you are making decisions that require an outside and objective opinion. It often happens that we can get so focused that we miss a small detail that someone else will catch.
Some companies offer a mentorship program within their organization, and I cannot recommend highly enough that you take full advantage of that. The enemy of success is complacency and having someone give you a nudge when you seem to be spinning your wheels may be all you need to get your momentum back and have the confidence to ask for what you need and deserve.
Sometimes we hesitate to put ourselves out there because of circumstances in our lives like having small kids at home or other life commitments. What would be your recommendation for a woman in that position and making that kind of decision?
SM: My answer is simple — Don’t do that! Even the slightest hesitation can mean that you miss an opportunity that could change your life for the better.
I think as women, we tend to have to work a little harder to balance the things in our lives that benefit us and those around us. Children and family obligations would be a prime example of reasons why some women may step away from the promotions and rewards they deserve and have earned. I think that is a huge mistake.
My advice is to take the offer and then get creative to make it work. Customize the solution to your needs. Be flexible but keep the goal in mind. Ask for help when you need it and activate a support system within your family and friends that allows you to take advantage of offers to advance while maintaining the needs of those you love and are responsible for looking after.
You also must take full advantage of circumstances that arise which will move you toward your goals. Step outside of your comfort zone and into the spotlight when the opportunity presents itself. The thought of being on a panel at a conference might terrify you but saying no to the task could deal a fatal blow to your chance of promotion and advancement.
Fear is impactful but fleeting. Don’t let it hold you back from taking the chances that can be your golden ticket to the job of your dreams. You are good enough, smart enough and have worked hard enough. Now let everyone else see what you can do.
Knowledge is power. It is an old saying but so true. If you get a chance to learn something new, take it. Don’t hesitate or even think about it. Just take the opportunity to learn and keep learning. Even if you are busy at work and have home commitments too, learning will always prove worthwhile as you move along your career path.
Knowledge is important because it opens doors even in a hallway we weren’t intending to walk down. There are times when we may hesitate to accept an offer because we don’t have enough confidence due to lack of knowledge or experience. But, if we have opened ourselves up to new educational avenues when they are offered, the chance of hesitation becomes less and the opportunities less limited.
You are a mortgage veteran, what changes have you seen since and where do you think we are going in the future?
SM: I have been working in the mortgage industry for almost 28 years now.
You could literally write a book on how much our industry has changed but I think the biggest change I have seen is the regulation. When I started in the lending business it was kind of the wild west. There was little compliance or oversight.
Then we had the financial crisis of 2008 and things started to change. I weathered that storm and am glad and grateful that I was able to do that. There were a lot of my colleagues who didn’t survive that time and it was hard to watch and experience. But that correction was necessary based on the way things were headed.
The mortgage business has shifted significantly from an anything goes attitude to one of greater prudence and intelligent risk assessment. I do still see some of the questionable actors from those wild west days show up occasionally, and I use those appearances to remind myself that there needs to be a more substantial risk to credit balance in our business now. We need to balance the reputation and credit of the company with the financial risks associated with the mortgage.
I suppose one silver lining of the financial melt down was that those of us who survived it and continued in the mortgage business learned lessons and have made the adjustments necessary to work smarter and trust our instincts when it comes to people and the industry itself.
Do you think it is important for women to trust their gut instincts and intuition in the workplace today and has that played into your own career?
SM: Absolutely it has. In both ways. I have had situations arise where I felt something was off but ignored the feeling because I lacked the confidence in my own intuition. An example would be doing business with someone who, as it turned out, had questionable business ethics and my not walking away when my gut was screaming at me to do so. I learned my lesson when loans were left undone and needed to be bought back at a cost to the organization.
My advice in a situation like this would be to do your homework. If you get a bad feeling about a person you are considering doing business with, don’t just walk. Do some legwork. Ask questions and do your homework. If you find your gut was right, walk away. You might also discover that things are fine, and you can proceed with confidence. Either way, you are secure in the knowledge that you have done everything you could to substantiate or refute your instinct and the next time you will have more confidence in your ability to judge a situation correctly.
I have also had the satisfaction of having my instincts tell me, unequivocally, that I was in the right place and that I should leap in feet first. This was my experience in the meeting with Kevin which brought me to Plaza. I got a strong, positive vibe in our conversation and I didn’t hesitate to step into my new role. It was a good decision, and my instincts were right on.
This series is called Trailblazers. Tell me what being a trailblazer means to you and do you consider yourself one?
SM: When I think about the term “trailblazer” I think about someone who is willing to take a risk and make some bold moves along their career path or in life. And they are the first to make those moves so others can come behind them and feel more confident about making the same decision. The trailblazer takes the risk and sets the standard for those who come to the same crossroads later.
This is not to say that the trailblazer has an easy task or is a particularly brave soul. They may be terrified of what could happen should they choose a certain direction or decision to make. They could be having to decide on something that they know will impact others and not be popular with those around them.
The point is that they take the action and don’t step away because of fear or indecision. And once they have done that, based on the outcome, others can walk across the same path with less trepidation. The trailblazer follows their vision, and they move things forward.
I do believe I am a trailblazer. I made the move to Plaza, but I also brought my team with me. I was honest with them when I asked them to come along. I told them the first year was going to be a lot of hard work and not much fun. But I also felt strongly that it was going to make all our lives better. I couldn’t guarantee that, but I had a gut instinct. They trusted me enough to come with me.
If I had let fear and doubt hold me back from taking out my machete and hacking through a new patch of jungle vines, I might have missed an incredible opportunity and my team might not have enjoyed the success they have now as well.
I am of Armenian descent. Women are not generally in positions of power so for me to step forward and take the risks I have taken is a big deal for me. There have been missteps and sacrifices but when I hear my 19-year-old daughter tell her friends what her mom does and sounds proud doing that, I know I have made the right moves.
When I go to conferences, I often have other women come up to speak to me and tell me they have followed my career. It pleases me to think that younger women coming up in business can look to those of us who have experienced the climb and learn what pitfalls to avoid and what opportunities to grasp with both hands, confidently and successfully.
How do you recommend we bring other women up who are newer to our industry and encourage them to work toward a leadership role or step into one?
SM: We talked about mentoring earlier and I think this is one of the best ways to encourage and lift women into leadership roles in business. I think it is important to offer mentorship to women, especially when you see someone with good potential.
There may be a woman starting out who is rich in potential but lacking in self-confidence. Mentoring someone like this and giving them the support and benefit of your experience and knowledge can be vital for them to succeed and highly rewarding for you as a mentor. The feeling you get from giving someone the gift of your time is indescribable.
Speaking at conferences and seminars is another way to get the message out to women who are considering business careers that they need to be confident and giving them the information they need to make good decisions for themselves, their families and their careers.
Volunteering is another way to make connections with women coming up in business. There are many programs that are looking for experienced women to mentor, speak and connect with young women who are eager to learn and get started.
Changing gears, what do you do for fun outside of work?
SM: My favorite thing to do is travel. I go to a lot of different places. I have a good friend with whom I travel. We have a lot in common and kids the same age.
About ten years ago I started to travel in earnest. I think Tuscany was the place that blew my mind the most. The food, the culture and the way of life are so appealing to me. They live in the moment there. Americans, to them, are always rushing around and on the move. The Italians say, “sit down for 10 minutes. Enjoy your coffee.” It’s a different way to look at life and it is lovely.
I have seen the Amalfi coast and Pompeii. And we have been to the south of France. That is another region I just love. The scenery is breathtaking, and the wine and food are exquisite. They are welcoming and take good care of visitors.
Do you work to live or live to work?
SM: I used to live to work. But the company I am with now doesn’t encourage that type of culture and that is a very positive thing. They are supportive of a work-life balance for their employees, and it is a refreshing change. I admit it took me a few years to get used to, but about 5 years ago I started to change my outlook and understand how important balance is.
Kevin told me that I should relax, I was doing a great job and it was truly appreciated within the company. It felt like he was giving me permission to step back a bit and enjoy more than just work in my life.
What advice would you give to women who are trying to keep all the balls in the air? What have you learned about that part of life?
SM: I have realized that you need to learn to balance things early in your career. Ask yourself what if you have already won the battle? Then what are you trying to prove and to whom?
Surround yourself with supportive people. People who know you well and are like-minded. Those are the people who you can count on to step up when things get hectic, or you have a situation where you need a back up you can rely on.
They should also be people who are able to match your pace and not make you feel guilty for taking a breath now and then, but also motivate you to go after what you want and not give up.
I can recommend the use of a vision board to keep yourself on track when you are feeling pulled in all directions. Focusing on the goal and the best way to get there can dull down the outside noise and get you back on the best track for you and your family.
You can write out what you want and put it somewhere to help you visualize your path when it seems obscured by life swirling around you. It helps compartmentalize your tasks and make them more manageable and achievable.
I have a piece of paper with Vivid Vision written on it. I got the idea from an online video I saw where the speaker talked about writing down the things that are important to you to keep them in mind as you work toward a goal.
He had several things on his list. His were faith, family, finance, fitness, and fun. He used that list to ground himself and keep his focus clear while maintaining the balance between his work and his life intact and healthy.
I think many of us learned these lessons later in our careers and gave up a lot along the way. So, my advice to those starting out is to get the balance right earlier rather than later. It is beneficial to you and to your loved ones if you can get that figured out early on.
What is your wish for other mortgage women trailblazers?
SM: Trust that you can have it all. Have faith in your ability to get where you want to be but also remember that life needs to be in balance for it to be truly successful. One of my bullet points on my vision board is Get a Seat at the Table. I believe there are no limits anymore if you are willing to work hard and have faith in yourself.
I see women moving upward in so many different industries and it is amazing. Take a wander through LinkedIn and you will see what I mean. Our industry is filled with amazing, tough, smart women who are empowered, successful and a tremendous example to young women starting out today. Women are in the top ranks in our industry and that is so gratifying and inspiring. n