Always up for a challenge.
Invigorated by her work, Tabitha Fitzgerald has become a passionate force in the private lending industry.
Tabitha Fitzgerald, COO of Specialty Lending Group, is a force in the private lending industry. Her natural drive, competitive spirit, creativity and compassion are on display not only during her interactions with her peers, her team and her clients but also as she throws herself into her favorite pastimes and philanthropic endeavors.
Fitzgerald landed in the mortgage and real estate finance sector after spending eight years in the printing industry, whereshe held accounting and management positions. Looking for a new arena where she could put her skills to work, she answered an employment ad for a local mortgage lender who was seeking a financial assistant. She applied, got the job and didn’t look back. She eventually worked her way to vice president overseeing loan production and compliance at iWantaLowRate.com and then joined Specialty Lending Group when Jeffrey Levin formed it in 2007. She agreed with Levin that there was a huge opportunity in the private lending space, was excited about building a company from the groundup and being part of a new way of thinking about lending and real estate.
Private Lender by AAPL caught up with Fitzgerald to find out more about what drives her success.
Q What keeps you excited about the real estate and lending industries?
A I stay so passionate and engaged because the real estate and lending industries have so many facets. No matter how much you think you know about either, a new loan or property will come along and pose a new issue or challenge. There is always something new to learn. With each new borrower, property and project comes an opportunity to structure lending that makes sense and, ultimately, makes money for borrowers and investors, as well as for the company.
What do you love about your current team?
In our fast-moving lending environment, I love that my team is agile and always ready to respond to customer and investor needs. In our space, responsiveness and accuracy can mean the difference between success and failure.
Our team is incredibly focused on making sure we deliver results at the speed required, whether we’re working on new loans, servicing loans or on loan pool sales. The team is focused on getting results for our borrowers and those who place their capital in our hands. The team members are genuinely supportive of each other and willing to pitch in to get the job done. I feel lucky to work with them each day.
What do you find most rewarding about being COO of SLG?
It’s exciting to have a hand in day-to-day operations while also being able to step back as a strategist and help envision and build the future of the company. As the COO, I’m able to collaborate with Jeff on the larger vision for the company, and then create and implement tactical and management strategies for achieving success. I also really enjoy mentoring SLG’s staff and building up a high-functioning team that can grow and scale our operations.
Tell us about a challenge you experienced in your career and how you overcame it.
Becoming COO presented a challenge, albeit a rewarding one. I still like to think of myself as a work-in-progress. I began in a much more hands-on capacity with the company, executing almost every aspect of the work myself. It’s been a learning process for me to delegate, trust in the team and allow the work to grow beyond the point where I could touch all of it myself. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had a lot of support and resources: a CEO who trusts and has confidence in me, two mentors in the lending business who have helped me grow as a leader and a coach who provides insight, perspective and sound advice. I’ve also connected with other leaders who provide inspiration. All provide confidence and wisdom, and all have helped me see that you cannot move forward if you are still holding on to everything. So now, I embrace the philosophy of trusting in the team and “Let go and grow.”
How do you keep up to date with news that affects the industry?
I’m always reading and talking with people in the industry locally. The Washington Business Journal, national lending publications, and Private Lender are some of the resources I turn to, in addition to webinars, real estate and lending conferences and networking. I also find links to valuable news on lending websites.
What’s your advice for someone starting out in the industry?
Take the time to learn as many aspects of the industry as possible, even if you’re only interested in one facet. The knowledge you gain can only benefit your career. Network. Attend as many industry conferences as you can and become a member of industry organizations. Lastly, trust but verify everything, always.
Do you have a favorite book or movie?
“Shawshank Redemption” is my favorite movie. It reminds me that life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it will, or the way it should. You can dig yourself out of, and through, anything you believe you can, but you have to “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
“Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein is my favorite book. It sparked my interest in poetry, which grew somehow into a love for the theater.
We did a little Facebook stalking and saw your jaw-dropping, better-than-bakery cakes that you provide for weddings, baby showers and other events. How long have you been making cakes, and do you have any other creative outlets?
Baking and cooking have always been a passion for me. As long as I can remember, I was underfoot in the kitchen, curious and wanting to help. Mama never could have known where letting me bake my first cake at 8 years old would lead! Ten years later, my cousin knew I loved to bake and asked me to make a Power Rangers cake for her son’s birthday. I had never made a cake look like anything before and had no idea how to do it, but was excited by the challenge, so I decided to try. From then on, I was the “cake lady” for my family.
As time went on, my friends started asking me to make cakes for their celebrations. And from those events, people would ask for cakes, and so it began. I love the creative outlet that making cakes brings to my life, and I also love the challenge that every cake brings. I’m not formally trained. Cooking and creating new recipes or putting a spin on old favorites is another creative outlet. Making people happy with food I make makes me happy. I also enjoy crafts and DIY projects. It’s nice to look around my home and see things that are unique and either made or improved by my hands.
Select one: A) I am a rabid sports fan. B) I am a somewhat-engaged sports fan who occasionally and casually watches games. C) Sports? Nah.
Definitely a rabid sports fan! I am competitive and believe in teamwork, so I guess sports speak to those personality traits in me. I have always played sports, from tee ball when I was very young to softball while growing up and cheerleading in high school. These days, I’m in a kickball league in the spring and fall. On occasion, I’ve been known to throw a pretty mean cornhole game as well. I like staying active and keeping fit. Participating in sports is a great way to do that without the monotony of the gym every day.
You support several philanthropic causes. Tell us why they are important to you.
I love the opportunity to make an impact through philanthropy, and most of the cakes I have made have been in exchange for a donation to charity.
I’m an animal lover, and the Senior Dog Sanctuary in Severn, Maryland, is very special to me. I love what this charity provides for dogs that are no longer cared for by their owners and for those that have been abused or neglected. Their program and services are focused on fostering and medical care for these dogs while looking to find a permanent home for them.
I am also a “Partner in Hope” with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. A sick child is stressful and heartbreaking for parents and families, not to mention worrying about the cost of care. St. Jude’s research and treatment are some of the best in the country, and their staff have been recognized as some of the best in their field. And, families do not have to worry about paying a bill.
Which women inspire you?
Women with a clear point of view. Women who can engage others by painting a picture of what might be. Women who learn from their failures and get back up swinging. Women who help and encourage others professionally, especially other women, either through mentoring, teaching, simply listening or being supportive.
What advice would you give to young women entering a male-dominated profession?
Be comfortable in your own skin and find your “voice.” If you are not being heard, speak louder. Sometimes, in this male-dominated profession, it’s all too easy to fade to the back of the room, or to sit quietly through a conference call or meeting. Don’t. Be present; be a part of the conversation; be heard. Know who you are. Someone who believed in me, and still does, would give me that advice when I was struggling. I repeated those words in my head and the struggle would pass. To this day, I still repeat those words to myself when I feel eclipsed in this very male-dominated profession. ∞