Those in the housing economy have had a front-row seat to the effects of the financial crisis, including a housing boom and bust, the Great Recession and a lingering foreclosure crisis. As the economy recovers and the housing engine that drives the whole country forward shifts back into gear, we thought it was the right time to recognize the leaders who have brought their companies through — or started their companies in — this difficult time.

We created the HW Vanguard Awards to highlight the leaders in every sector of housing who are forging a new path toward profitability and sustainability. We received a lot of outstanding nominations, but every one of the 27 executives we chose in this first year were clear winners.

Paul Anastos, president, Mortgage Matters

Patty Arvielo, president, New American Funding

Rick Arvielo, CEO, New American Funding

Brian Benson, CEO, ClosingCorp

Rajesh Bhat, CEO, Roostify

Rob Chrane, CEO, Down Payment Resource

Brian Coester, CEO, CoesterVMS

Jonathan Corr, CEO, Ellie Mae

Joseph D'Urso, president, Clayton Holdings

Brian Fitzpatrick, president and CEO, LoanLogics

Don Ganguly, CEO HomeUnion

Brian Hale, CEO, Stearns Lending

John Hillman, CEO, Nationwide Title Clearing

Mat Ishbia, president and CEO, United Wholesale Mortgage

Tawn Kelley, president, Taylor Morrison Home Funding

Sharon Matthews, president and CEO, eLynx

Stanley Middleman, president and CEO, Freedom Mortgage Corp.

Keith Murray, founder and CEO, VRM Mortgage Services

Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO, CoreLogic

Phil Rasori, COO, MCT Trading

Tim Reilly, president, Green River Capital

Tom Sanzone, CEO, Black Knight Financial Services

Jeffrey Taylor, managing partner, Digital Risk

Twila True, co-founder and CEO, True Investments

John Vong, president and co-founder, ComplianceEase

Tom Wind, executive vice president home lending, EverBank

Sue Woodard, president and CEO, Vantage Productions

Some have decades of experience, while some are running companies that could still be considered start-ups. One thing all the executives have in common is their ability to face market challenges with innovation and enthusiasm, wringing the proverbial lemonade out of a big pile of economic lemons. Other common themes are a singular focus on their vision, hard work and building a committed team. 

For our profile of each of the Vanguard Award winners we gave them the opportunity to pick one question to answer about success, or habits or advice. I love the insight you can gain from people who have overcome great obstacles to succeed. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Brian Benson: "To me the secret to success is to be honest, transparent and always treat people with respect. I've found that you don't always have to exude brilliance, because personal brilliance in and of itself rarely gets things done."

Rob Chrane: "If you think you're done, you're toast."

Joseph D'Urso: "Early in my career, before search engines, I used to carry around a piece of paper and jot down any words or concepts that I heard during the day that I did not fully know or understand. On the way home from work, I would stop at the local library and get books that would explain it all to me."

Tawn Kelley: "We hire the person first, resume second, and watching people start in their careers and become professionals beyond their expectations is the most fulfilling reality any leader can ever know."

Tim Reilly: "A complex organization doesn't thrive on chaos...Employees want a vision; they want to succeed and win." 

Read our entire feature to find out what makes these winners true standouts in the housing economy.