Each year the HW Vanguard awards recognize a standout group of housing executives whose leadership is moving markets forward every day, even in turbulent times. 2020 Vanguard recipient and Executive Vice President and Head of Single-Family at Freddie Mac, Donna Corley was no stranger to leading her team through the ebbs and flows of the past year.
Corley worked hard to navigate the path forward for Freddie Mac’s single-family business, leveraging the firm’s strengths to provide liquidity and stability in a time of crisis. Now, looking ahead, Corley is excited to focus on initiatives around racial inequities in housing, including a new Equitable Housing team within Single-Family that is taking an innovative approach and working across the whole industry to make positive changes.
We sat down with Corley to learn more about the path that led her to where she is today and how Freddie Mac is working to encourage a new generation of leaders.
HousingWire: As you think about your career, what moments and experiences really prepared you for this current market?
Donna Corley: When you’re dealing with a global pandemic that no one alive has ever lived though, you’re never exactly prepared. I have no problem admitting when I don’t know something though, and that helped during this period. To be in an environment where no one had the answers felt comfortable to me, especially since I have always tried to analyze information from a diverse group. I scour around me for the best suggestions and input. Of course, the flip side for any leader is that you don’t then want to be in analysis paralysis. My experience as a portfolio manager making critical, fast-paced decisions was a great foundation to minimize that risk.
This past year, I thought a great deal about how powerful it is for a leader to convey a sense of calm during challenging times. I have learned something from every boss I ever had, including from one who was a very calming presence. There was just something about his demeanor that helped center me and keep me focused on the tasks at hand. Thinking about that motivated me to try and be that calming presence for others at Freddie Mac during such a chaotic period in history.
HW: What would you say are some of the challenges of leading an organization like Freddie Mac at the moment?
DC: Right now, all companies are trying to establish a new work environment. Should we be fully back in the office, completely remote or somewhere in between? All of these options have unique challenges and there is no one right, obvious answer. Add to that the fact that companies have employees whose preferences are all over that spectrum. How do you work forward in a way that supports them, the business and your organization’s culture – and in our case – supports clients and borrowers as well? That’s one of the big challenges we’re zeroed in on now, and I know we are not alone.
HW: Growing new leaders is critical to any business. What is your company doing to develop the next generation of leaders?
DC: This is a very important focus for the Freddie Mac Single-Family Division. Every team member has both business objectives as well as professional development ones. We are providing flexibility so that team members can select the training that best suits them, whether it’s focused on strengthening overall leadership skills, learning how to be a first-time manager, exploring best practices for leading innovation, or effectively managing change, to name a few. In addition, we have an active succession planning process that we go through for officer-level positions and above. We identify employees who can be those successors who will lead and further our mission.
Nominations for the 2021 Vanguards close this Friday, July 23rd. Click here to nominate someone today!