‘My first manager tried to ridicule me in front of clients’

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Dawn Trustam The Bridging Group

Pioneers are people who go ahead to do the hard work of blazing a trail to make it that bit easier for everyone who follows them. Senior women in finance who 20 years ago joined a closed, virtually all-male shop are such pioneers. If the sector is more diverse and vibrant today it is because women like Dawn Trustam refused to give up, despite fierce opposition.

“I hate to say it as it sounds so archaic to where the industry is now but when I first started out, being a woman was a barrier,” says Trustram, now joint managing director at lender The Bridging Group.

After doing a BTEC in business and finance, Trustam was hooked and went on to do business and finance at degree level. Her first role after graduating was as a broker for a well-known estate agency. After two decades of (albeit unfinished) progress, the story she recounts of what women had to put up with then still shocks.

“My manager used to try and ridicule me in front of clients,” recalls Trustam. “The turning point for me was when he pretended to hit me while I was doing a mortgage application for a couple buying their first home.” Even now the words she uses to describe the incident, “completely degraded”, and “so embarrassed”, reveal the impression it left on a then junior employee just trying to do her job.

Trustam says at the time the income from her mortgage applications made the office win best branch three years running. Excellence, as many women know, is no protection against discriminaton. With two decades hindsight there is palpable satisfaction when she says, “When I left it took the next broker six months to top me from pole position due to my pipeline. I was a young woman in a world where they believed I didn’t belong – how wrong were they?”

Very wrong indeed. Trustam has gone on to work at some of lending’s biggest names, from RBS to Barclays, Shawbrook, and Funding 365, until joining The Bridging Group pre-launch in 2018 as head of sales, before becoming joint MD last March. “I’ve always worked on the sales side, it’s where I thrive, down to me being able to talk for England!” she says. Her obvious love of people – “I feel lucky to work with the team, they are still young but get on so well and help each other” – makes even the overused phrase “we are a family unit” seem genuine from her.

American rags to riches insurance magnate W.Clement Stone is credited with saying, “Sales are contingent on the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect”. Trustam’s comes out when she talks about the “amazing contacts” she has made in finance. “I can call them and just chat – no business, just a “how’s you?””. She still speaks to the couple (who stuck up for her) on that fateful day in the estate agency. “This is why I love what I do,” she says, “relationships run this world and I’m very proud to be part of an industry and company that truly embraces this”.

It’s not all sunlit uplands, however. Trustam lists her challenges; house price stability, Brexit, being a young lender in a very big sector, and inevitably Covid-19. “I will be slammed for this but I do think Covid has been good and bad,” she admits, “bad because so many people have lost their lives and are being made redundant, but good for us in that we continued to lend throughout when others didn’t, and because it made us think about how business was done, and some adaptations will remain”.

Has it accelerated expansion plans at The Bridging Group (only officially launched less than two years ago in January 2019)? “Being a young lender in a pool of large established and respected lenders is scary,” admits Trustam. “I am not saying I want to be a big lender, we are happy, we have time to review each case, make sure the lending is responsible, and have lost deals because of this. But we would rather be known as a lender that cares and does the right thing.”

Echoing recent comments by some brokers, Trustam points to “some unscrupulous characters who do not think about the end result – lender and broker” as an issue on which the sector “really needs to pull together on to get clamped out”. She has, she says, “heard some terrible stories about fees”, on broker and lender sides, and has concerns bridging is being used “when it really shouldn’t be, which pulls us all down”.

Trustam does have one special request for Father Christmas though. “I do wish our industry was highlighted more in careers for graduates, we have some great experience in this industry but we need new blood”. Her advice to anyone considering bridging as a career? “You will be knocked, but that’s in every industry.  Be resilient, get back up and show them that it hurt you, but don’t let it break you.  Show you have learnt from it – and you have carried on.”