At Vitiello Communications Group, we believe everyone’s story is worth telling. Wonder Women is a blog series that lets me introduce you to amazing businesswomen doing remarkable work. In this series, we amplify the success stories of women who live and work in New Jersey. Their contributions to the Garden State include professional, civic and personal endeavors that enrich our community. Meet Laura Brandao, President of American Financial Resources Inc. Be sure to catch our new lightning round at the end of the Q&A.
Q: What’s the one leadership lesson that’s helped shape your career?
A: Roll up your sleeves! I got into management early in my career. My husband and I got married young and I wasn’t even twenty years old before having my first child. I went into telemarketing because I could work in the evening when my husband got home. It turns out I was good at it because I could easily get people to speak to me on the phone. I would make it personal and really connect. Very quickly, I was promoted into a management role. I’m in my early 20s, with no management training, yet I had this room full of people who I had to figure out how to motivate, inspire, and teach. I did whatever was needed to make sure that they were successful. If I had to climb under a desk to fix their computer while they were on the phone, or support them on a call, I did it. I didn’t know any other way to lead except to help them.
As my career progressed from being that 20-something supervisor to a 30-year-old running an entire company, then a 40-year-old with her own company, I’ve never changed that thinking. My job as a leader is to support my team members, because if I take care of their needs and roll up my sleeves no matter what position I hold, then everybody will be okay, and we’ll build success together. So that young girl who didn’t know any better applied this amazing leadership philosophy that has worked throughout my entire career. If I take care of my employees, they will take care of our clients, and in turn, everyone wins. It’s really servant leadership.
Q: What advice would you give to women aspiring to achieve your level of success?
A: Trust your gut. We are being guided with a phenomenal gut instinct – or “women’s intuition.” When I go with my intuition and what I believe to be true, it all works out. But when you sit there and overanalyze and try to find the plusses and minuses and say, “let me think it over” and “let me get opinions from 12 other people” – it prevents you from making a decision. Trust that inner guiding compass and don’t be so hard on yourself. Of course, don’t be haphazard, but I think women especially must listen to their gut instinct.
Q: What are the three traits that are vital to being a Wonder Woman in your community?
A: Communication, authenticity, and not allowing your emotions to get in the way.
Q: How do you use communication to lead and to grow your career and business?
A: My business – the mortgage industry – is cyclical. We experience constant change. I found that one of the most important things in leadership is to communicate with my team no matter where we are in the cycle. Every morning up until a month ago, I sent out a company-wide email with a motivational quote and a quick snapshot of how we’re doing. About a month ago, I started doing videos with shout-outs to team members and updates. My team is made up of remote workers – people who live across the country. Communication helps us stay connected and productive.
Q: Talk about a time you used communication to turn a challenging situation to a success.
A: We recently made the strategic decision not to compete in the mortgage industry’s rate wars. We just could not win. Instead, we pivoted to become the best specialty lender in the country. We changed our message to employees from grow, grow, grow to focus on working on fewer, more complicated deals. I am so proud of my team because those specialties are much more difficult, much more labor intensive, and much more challenging and complex. But everybody said, “OK, if this is the direction we are going, we are going to be the best. We’ll learn it and come together to master this.” And they’ve done that. We are the number one renovation lender and the number one construction to permanent lender in the country. We are the fourth-largest manufactured home lender in the country — all because we believed in the vision, which we communicated clearly and reinforced regularly.
Q: What personal quality fuels your most significant accomplishment?
A: Passion. I’m very passionate about what I do for multiple reasons. I never take for granted the fact that my team trusts me to look out for them, to make the right decisions, and to help their families. I never set an alarm because I don’t need to. Every morning I’m in my office by 6. I’m so excited and passionate and energized to come to work. Our mission is being able to bring families home. That’s an honor, a privilege, and it’s important. My personal quality is having that passion and energy to fulfill our mission.
Q: What woman inspires you, and why?
A: That’s easy — my mom. My mother is very strong and has an unbelievable work ethic. I couldn’t be in this position without my family and her, because another life lesson is that you can’t do it all by yourself. You need supporters, you need help. I can assure you that you can have it all: supermom, superboss, whatever. But you need help to do that. My parents and husband helped, but my mom taught me one lesson when I was young: no limitation. Zero. I have two things that ground me: a positive attitude and I never forget my foundational morals. Every morning after I send my video to employees, I send handwritten thank-you notes to clients. My mother taught me those things. You do the right thing and make the right decisions. That foundation has made me into who I am today.
New Jersey Lightning Round
From one Jersey girl to another, answer these questions:
Q: Taylor Ham or Pork Roll?
A: Taylor Ham
Q: Wildwood or Seaside Heights?
Q: Yankees or Mets?
Q: Giants or Jets?
Q: Does Central Jersey really exist?