Imagine being able to build a stronger book of business than ever before, simultaneously working more efficiently. Yes, it is possible, thanks to Laura Brandao– President and Partner at AFR Wholesale. For over 12 years, Laura has been the driving force catapulting AFR Wholesale to the top of Manufactured Home, One- Time Close, and Renovation lending. Growing AFR into a national leader in specialized programs, she stays connected to the clients and families she serves, allowing her to develop new products based on market demand, including VA renovation, USDA repair escrow, and a full suite of One-Time Close Construction-to-Permanent programs. Under her leadership, AFR remains on the cutting edge of technology with mobile-friendly applications that cohesively integrate AFR with the borrower, Realtor, and broker.
The biggest thing that Laura has learned is that if you go into every situation with no preconceived notions or expectations, you can do ANYTHING! She feels that as humans, we often create our own fears or cause our own let downs, because things don’t turn out exactly the way we expected them to. But by realizing that you are doing it to experience something new, there is no possible way to be let down, because as long as she did something for the first time -SHE WON!
Opportunity- Building Wholesale Business
When Laura was a young mom, she needed to find a job she could do in the evening after her husband got home from work. At that time, that meant telemarketing. She was propelled into the industry because her first job was making calls for Champion Mortgage explaining to borrowers how to refinance. You remember, “when your bank says no, Champion says yes.” Turns out she had a knack for explaining the benefits of refinancing, and moved up quickly to management.
After a few years running the call center, her boys were out of diapers and Laura was ready to make the leap to working fulltime, during the day. Naturally, she went to work for a mortgage company. She quickly recognized that the company did not have a strong operations team, so Laura taught herself everything she could about how to process loans. She climbed to COO of People’s Mortgage, while still in her 20s.
Fast forward to the market crash of 2007. Laura Brandao had worked for a few mortgage companies since her telemarketing days and was looking for a new opportunity. AFR Chairman Rich Dubnoff was looking to start a wholesale division. He provided Laura the opportunity to build the wholesale business from the ground up, and at that time, there were a lot of great mortgage professionals out of a job. So, she did exactly what was needed to be done. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Striking the Working Balance
Laura Brandao is living proof of the adage, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” She LOVE’s what she does! She loves the people she works with, the company’s clients, and the families they are helping to bring home. When the company opened an office in Arizona was when Laura recognized just how important it is to strike a working balance between your personal and professional life. She realized you do need to take time to recharge – everyone does. Her husband and herself now spend winters in Arizona to break habits and reset. Her motivation is renewed in the fresh air and sunshine, and she can work out of AFR’s regional office in Scottsdale.
Laura feels blessed by the life she has. She is grateful for what she has built, and that at this point in her career, she needs less time tied to a desk to be an effective leader.
Among her many recent accolades, Laura was named a “Best 50 Women in Business” by NJBIZ in 2019, a HousingWire “Women of Influence” in 2018 and 2019, and one of “Mortgage Banking’s Most Powerful Women” by National Mortgage Professional in 2018 and 2019. Laura was also one of Mortgage Professional America’s “Hot 100 Mortgage Professionals” in 2017, and an “Elite Women of Mortgage” in 2014, 2016, and again in 2017.
She is also actively engaged with many industry organizations, including the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME), and is a sought-after speaker, moderator, and panelist.
Stay Learning and Listening
“Emerging business leaders should remember that continuous education is key. Continually feed your brain to stay fresh in your skills and broaden your perspective. Get out of the office and meet your customers and connect with your team. Stay learning and listening to make better decisions. Leadership should never become routine. You have to keep working at it. You are never finished, you are never done, and you should never stop putting people first,” says Laura.
Empowering Other Women
Not only has the ‘glass ceiling’ been shattered at AFR, but women account for more than half of all AFR employees up to and including the vice president level. Women do not want to hide in the shadows anymore, and each year more organizations are recognizing that they need to support, and empower women, or be left behind. The AIME (Association of Independent Mortgage Experts) Women’s Mortgage Network, for example, is a community for women in the wholesale mortgage industry to influence conversations between industry leaders and wholesale mortgage professionals across all levels. The group offers a place to discuss industry topics, celebrate career accomplishments, share personal experiences, insights, and resources. Also, the upcoming Annual Regional Conference of MBAs (Mortgage Bankers Associations) will host its first-ever Women’s Event! Developed for and by women, this event promises to engage, empower, and provide value to all who attend.
Laura is actively trying to empower other women to pave the way; teaching them that by uniting, she says, “we can all succeed together. No one can limit you, except you. And, there is strength in numbers.”
It’s a new decade, a decade of doers. I want to leave a legacy that the mortgage industry is not just for men anymore. Boys club be gone!