Rising stars to watch in 2021

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Rising Stars

In a year where it took previously untapped human resources just to tread water, professionally and personally, any success at all is worth celebrating. But some names have risen to the top, women who through tenacity and grit managed to go above and beyond for their colleagues and employers even as the world was being turned upside down by Covid-19. Having set themselves apart in 2020, these are Bridging Loan Directory’s six women to watch in 2021.

Ellis Cluff, marketing executive, Alternative Bridging Corporation

Ellis Cluff Alternative Bridging

If anyone was giving out life points there’s a good case for getting more for starting a new job at the beginning of 2020, blissfully unaware before you’d even had a chance to forget the names of everyone in the office that you’d be expected to invite them into your box bedroom via semi-regular Zoom ‘catch-ups’. Such was Ellis Cluff’s baptism of fire into bridging.

Alternative Bridging’s social media output is up and more useful, moving closer to the lender’s aim of being better recognised, and favoured, by brokers.

Cluff’s success is more impressive given she had first to understand the market. She came into bridging from the medical devices sector, and has moved deftly from witnessing open heart surgery and avoiding cliched images of stethoscopes to dealing with first famine then feast in the UK property lending sector and avoiding cliched images of bridges.

Good marketing makes a human connection, which may be the secret of 28 year old Cluff’s early progress, revealed in her response to what is the biggest Covid-19 induced work challenge: “We all need to realise we are dealing with outside issues which may have an impact on our day to day lives, work, business timelines and decisions.” Quite. When her boss goes on to say Cluff’s honesty and integrity, combined with her vision and diligence, makes her a role model in the business and industry, you see why. Oh, and she’s fostered more than 200 rescue cats over the years, a level of kindness that is actually quite intimidating.

Allegra Penny, relationship manager, Funding 365

Allegra Penny Funding 365

If like Satre you are of the (correct) view hell is other people, anyone whose main job is managing relationships has to no small degree, superhuman strengths. According to Allegra Penny’s boss her “stand out star quality” is her positive energy, and that she “meets every suggestion, request and brief put to her with enthusiasm and passion”, which frankly sounds exhausting so kudos to her.

In the industry for less than four years, when Penny joined she worried being a 21 year old woman would put her at a disadvantage. She has not found that to be the case. Penny progressed from sales and marketing executive to her current role within six months of starting at Funding 365. Her relentless lust for lending helped attract £2bn of enquiries from over 300 brokerages in 2020, which is a lot of relationships to develop and nurture by anyone’s count. With Covid-19 criteria and risk levels being reassessed daily, Penny has done all this under even greater pressure to ensure brokers are kept on side.

Some may have had few pleasantries left for colleagues after all that, but 365’s underwriters praise Penny as not only “a huge inspiration” but “very, very easy to talk to”, and “always happy to jump on a case to help me out”.

A true team player, Penny gets involved in the development and progression of younger colleague’s careers, and aims to up her involvement in hiring, training and leading a team in 2021. “A big reason I have more confidence is Allegra’s feedback and watching her work,” says one colleague, which gives you a measure of the woman far beyond her day-to-day duties.

When she isn’t lifting up the next generation of bridging professionals Penny fancies herself as a pretty good bartender for margaritas, a heady mix of tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice, or what may be better described as ‘a good start’.

Naomi Little, consultant, specialist lending, Boxtree Recruitment

Naomi Little Boxtree Recruitment

Matching those looking for their next step with suitable positions in need of a new face is by no means an easy task. Lawrence Bossidy, who for three decades held executive positions at General Electric, is credited with saying, “I am convinced nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. You bet on people, not on strategies.” How then, does a 21 year old become trusted in this by both financial companies and candidates? 1) be extremely competent 2) be brave. Naomi Little is both.

Little joined Boxtree in July 2020 during the first lockdown. Since then her passion and drive to professionally match-make has seen her place £1.1m in candidate salaries into the UK bridging and lending markets. In the last few months she has graduated to work with some of Boxtree’s most prestigious clients, growing the firm’s roster in lending and bridging through referrals and a reputation for success she has helped augment.

She has done all this while privately, and, in a striking testimony to her strength of character also publicly, overcoming a mental health diagnosis for borderline personality disorder in November 2020. Covid-19 has forced us to literally retreat inside, our homes and ourselves. Little courageously decided that was not how she would deal with her condition. Instead she has chosen to use her own difficult times to become an advocate for good mental health, sharing her story with others and ensuring her clients support each candidate she represents.

In case anyone assumed compassion and drive were mutually exclusive, Little has clear ambitions to eventually step into a management role within Boxtree. She plans to undertake her management training and obtain qualifications to deliver on her professional goals.  Lots of potential employers have told her she’s ‘too nice’ to be a recruitment consultant, and that she should ‘stay in admin’. These knock backs only fuelled her fire, making her determined to prove to all these people they had it wrong. They did, and she has.

Kelly Rule, senior specialist advisor, VIBE Finance

Kelly Rule VIBE Finance

In a country with famously bad service where it can often feel like the person paying is little more than an inconvenience, VIBE’s Kelly Rule is a welcome breath of fresh air. Customer service is at the top of her agenda. Rule’s golden rule is don’t make promises you can’t keep, and keep the ones you make.

While running a very busy client base she manages to return voicemails quickly, acknowledge emails politely, and manage expectations with sensitivity even during the busiest of periods. Clients appreciate this attention to detail, and Rule knows what many in business forget – customers will forgive delays but never rudeness or being an afterthought in the chain of communication.

Vital for all, this strategy is even more key, if, like Rule, your aim is work with partners of quality. On joining VIBE in 2019 she wasted no time in setting out her stall to attract a certain type of clientele, and has secured some high-level introducers to provide that essential revenue stream for any well run and successful company; bread and butter business.

VIBE is headquartered in Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire, but having previously worked in London looking after several mortgage brokerages Rule saw there was a huge opportunity with budding property developers and investors. Undeterred by a global pandemic, lockdowns at the drop of hat, and skittish lenders pulling up their financial drawbridges, by Summer 2020 she achieved her aim for a London presence with an office set up and ready to go. All this and she has only been an actual broker for 18 months.

Rule’s dream is to one day build her own property empire, not unlike a certain Donald J Trump. She is also immune to chickenpox, and can name all 52 US states in three minutes, very much unlike Donald J. Trump.

Lisa Baker, senior manager, underwriting and support, Shawbrook Bank

Lisa Baker Shawbrook Bank

Since taking on her current role at Shawbrook in mid-2019, Lisa Baker has doubled the output and productivity of her team. No, that’s not a mis-read; she has doubled output and productivity. According to her boss, (who is making sure Baker gets every ounce of support necessary while undertaking these Herculean efforts), her secret is an extraordinary love and enthusiasm for the job, an exceptional work ethic, and a ‘first in last out’ approach.

The last few years have ushered in many positive changes for the Shawbrook underwriting team, but Baker’s natural management skills and collaborative approach have enabled her to bring everyone along a journey towards heightened performance. In what was supposed to be only a temporary office in Peterborough, she has built a large team virtually from scratch, embarking on an ambitious recruitment drive by hiring good performers to inject fresh blood, while working with and supporting current staff. This work at the coal face has paid dividends, and Baker’s team has been able to deal with record levels of business while improving service, with her team consistently scoring above benchmark across Shawbrook’s regular internal engagement surveys.

As well as excelling in her management role, Baker has become Shawbrook’s ‘go-to’ expert in commercial underwriting for colleagues in need of technical expertise and experience. Never content to stand still, she keeps one eye on instilling smarter ways of working with new tools to improve professional life for her colleagues and, ultimately, Shawbrook’s commercial performance.

In large organisations it can be easy for individual achievements to get overlooked as just more grist for the mill. But such is Baker’s stand-out contribution to Shawbrook’s success, she is credited with being a key contributor to a recent award won by the lender. According to her Manager; “it was recognised across the bank that one of the main reasons we were successful with ‘Commercial Lender of the Year’, was thanks to the strong work and performance of Lisa and her team.” High praise indeed.

Jemima Hayes, junior underwriter, Market Financial Solutions

Jemima Hayes Market Financial Solutions

In a little under two years if you’re Google you’ll study 180 teams to see what makes them successful (dependability and liking each other, mainly), and begin creating then abandon video games. But if you are Jemima Hayes you’ll make the journey from just starting out in underwriting to becoming a fully paid up member of the underwriter’s club. Having joined MFS as an assistant in May 2019 she had already been promoted to junior underwriter by April 2020, before making the final leap in January 2021. Her boss says her diligence, and skill in assessing deals, already rivals longstanding MFS underwriters, including those working in the bridging industry for more than a decade.

Despite her seemingly stellar rise, Hayes actually took a pragmatic view of entering the financial sector. Aware tens of thousands of hopefuls flock to London each year in a bid to make their fortune, she knew competition would be overwhelming without some experience in her back pocket. So she started off working for a small mortgage lender near her hometown in Surrey. Once she felt she knew the ropes she was ready to tackle the capital. It is a level headed approach to risk assessment you want to see in an underwriter, and which has helped drive her early success.

Fast-learner Hayes is already training new staff, including an underwriting assistant standing in shoes she herself has barely left. Through Hayes’ support and expertise, the trainee has now been promoted to the position of junior underwriter, epitomising the magic that can happen when we endeavour to lift each other up. When not creating the next generation of bridging professionals, in a difficult 2020 Hayes thrived, even taking on extra clients looking for emergency funding after their lenders had pulled out due to the pandemic.

Unsurprisingly, Hayes is very much on track with her professional goals at MFS in the near future. Though if her plans did ever change you might find her at Courchevel in the French Alps reviving her much loved first professional role, as a dedicated chalet host. Ski good or eat wood.