The team at Originate Report had the pleasure of sitting down with Valerie Hapner to discuss her career, leadership style, and her years of experience in the private lending industry. In light of her experience rising up the corporate ladder, she offered advice for the women following in her footsteps.
What was your first job and current role in the industry?
17 years ago, my first job was at a brokerage firm called UVF on the residential side where I received wonderful on-the-job training. Following that position, l joined a partner to manage another shop until the 2008 crisis. Today, I am the Vice President of Loan Origination for Forbix. I assess, analyze, and facilitate loans and financing options to meet my clients’ needs. I am also a regular attendee and speaker at industry events and conferences throughout the year.
Why did you choose to work in private lending?
Private lending provides a higher level of freedom and relative service that I can offer my clients. If you work for a bank, for example, you are limited by the number of loan products you can provide. If your clients don’t fit into that specific box or criteria, you cannot help them. With private money, there is more flexibility and creativity in relation to how financing can be structured.
What is your favorite thing about this industry?
It’s a wonderful feeling to have built my career by helping others achieve their financial objectives through real estate. Not to sound cliché, but it’s a win-win situation. I also like the fact that no two deals are alike. Each one starts as a puzzle to solve. The process of piecing the financing plan together is extremely rewarding and the final result is a mini masterpiece. Then, on to the next one!
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned in your career?
Never let anyone define who you are or determine what you can achieve. You will face difficult situations and people along the way, but no one, and I mean no one, can make you a victim. Additionally, you don’t have to take every storm head-on. Sometimes, it is wiser to steer around it – just don’t lose sight of the destination.
What effect do you want to have on the industry as a whole?
I believe I have been a positive contributor and advocate for the industry, and I want to continue along that path. As much as I stand on my own ground, I am also representing women in this industry, so I am probably under more scrutiny compared to men. By maintaining my integrity and professionalism, I hope that I can serve as a positive role model to other women who may be interested in this industry but are initially reluctant due to concerns about chauvinism.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about my family, my friends, and of course helping my clients! The gestalt of my life is connecting with others. It starts with meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet. Those help fuel a constructive mental and spiritual state. From that positive core, I truly enjoy and thrive on connecting with others. I cultivate the good within and then look for it and nurture it in others.
Have you seen a significant change in the makeup of the industry over the years?
I’ve definitely seen more women in the industry commensurate with more women in general entering into the finance, lending, and real estate-related fields. However, the number of women is still disproportionate to men in the industry.
How did you navigate power structures early in your career versus later when you held more formal leadership roles?
I’ve always maintained my professionalism and related to clients and colleagues from that place. I had to develop a thick skin, but at the end of the day, clients always want what is best for them. Initial negative preconceived notions or biases dissolved quickly when I was able to present opportunities and financial options that proved to be advantageous for my clients.
Describe your leadership style and how you lead others. Is it different from your male counterparts?
I always strive to lead by example, working from a place of mutual respect, professionalism, and personability. I never ask someone to do something that either I have not done myself or was not willing to do. I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves and dive in, but as a leader, my main priority is empowering others to do their best – not only for the company but also for their own personal growth and fulfillment.
Men and women are equal, but not the same. I believe there are fundamental differences in the way men and women lead – and I celebrate those differences as well as the synergistic benefits. Having said that, I do believe that good leaders, men or women, share similar characteristics including leading by example, compassion, confidence, honesty, and empowering others through the process of collaboration.
How can we calculate the positive impacts of having women in this industry?
Balance creates benefit. Men and women provide different perspectives, perceptions, and approaches to problem-solving. Traditional female traits like nurturance, sensitivity, intuition, and cooperativeness readily translate in business in general and especially in our industry. Part of being a successful woman is finding the balance of feminine and masculine energies within. In business, when men and women work together, the potential for success is unlimited.
How can women support other women in the workplace?
Make a point to connect, and not compete, with women coworkers. Going back to the idea that men and women are equal but not the same, women can support other women in navigating the unique challenges they face in the workplace.
How important is it to have a mentor to grow and how do you find one?
If there is someone open and willing, it can be a tremendous benefit although not strictly necessary. In a time with remote workplaces and virtual interactions, the singular mentor relationship is much rarer than it used to be. However, I think multiple people can provide mentorship across different areas. Whether it is one or more people, it is important to realize the relationships should be mutually beneficial. If there is someone whom you respect, admire, and can learn from, think about what you can offer in return.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?
Learn from the past, look to the future, but live in the present. Being a leader doesn’t mean always getting your way or having to be right. A good leader sometimes leads best by following. Know who you are and treat others as you would like to be treated. As a leader, your main job is to bring out the best in others. Be open to criticism. Never condemn yourself or others. Finally, it is better to be definitively wrong than tentatively right.