Confidence Balanced by Compassion
Written by CaZ - Women With Vision Magazine
"The devil whispered in my ear, 'you are not strong enough to withstand the storm.' Today, I whispered back, 'I am a child of God, a woman of faith, a warrior of Christ. I am the storm.'"
This quote has an interesting history, or perhaps non-history is more accurate. The concept is clearly taken from biblical lore, and often to this day includes an element of faith referenced by millions across a broad base of religious dominations. The core message has been quoted and revised across the millennium, always changed slightly, and always communicating a message of strength and resilience. In modern days, the attributable quote is considered to be this:
“Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’” – Jake Remington
Today, we share these words as Dawn Muñoz knows them and uses them daily to reinforce the vision she lives and shares with her husband David in their family-owned mortgage company, Home Lenders of Georgia.
In speaking with Dawn to prepare to tell her story, her passion and belief in this quote was clearly stated, so much so I had chills listening to her speak. She is a strong woman, a natural leader with a solid business mind, and no one who knows her would deny this description. She is also a warm, loving, and kind person who fills many roles, including mother, wife, employer, mentor, and friend.
“In my office,” Dawn shares, “is a copy of this quote right next to the picture of the girl standing up to the Wall Street bull. Both empower me when I am down. I look at the picture and I feel like it’s me standing against the bull.
“I am reminded not to let my knees buckle when the devil whispers. I whisper back a loud NO! You are not going to get after me today as I say to myself ‘come on girl, suck it up! God did not make you weak.’”
Dawn credits her mother with instilling strength and a do not quit work ethic saying, “She was a hard worker who usually held down two jobs to provide for our family. I never saw weakness in her. Oh, sure, she cried but then pushed through, dried the tears, and got back up to figure out what had to be done. I think of her example when I see myself as the girl standing up to the bull and my spirit fills with strength.”
Growing up in a low socio-economic status while attending school in a rich district contributed to a less than ideal childhood for Dawn. She left home immediately after high school and admits to making many mistakes in her first year in college with regard to finances, causing her to return home during her second year to work to pay off credit card debt. This delayed her education for years until she was able to get back on track. In typical Dawn fashion, however, once back on track she stayed true and finished with an undergraduate degree in business followed by an MBA, both from Oglethorpe University in Georgia.
Never one to let adversity stop her for long, Dawn’s strengths as a leader, including passion, an ability to inspire, an empathetic nature, and a strong need to drive to success were honed in those early years growing into a young woman. Of the hard-learned lessons she mastered, Dawn names this as the greatest, “Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Find your niche and work the hell out of it. Always listen to your gut and do the right thing even when it’s hard. The reward is greater than you can imagine. Don’t give up. Don’t give up on yourself or your dreams. You were made for more.”
In the beginning, whenever a client or agent would call me with an ‘I need magic’ scenario, I would commit to it. I had many, many sleepless nights because of this. Would I get it done? You bet I would but at what cost? Now, if someone calls me with an ‘I need magic’” scenario, I am no longer interested in being the hero. If it makes sense, if it fits within guidelines yes, I will do it but I no longer take the approach of making something happen.
In 2005 when she and her husband David decided to open their mortgage company, she joined him, leaving her position as VP for a software company behind. Dawn was ready to leave corporate America and a role in which she found little satisfaction or fulfillment.
As she remembers the time, “The industry was dominated by overpaid men who worked as little as possible; just enough so they could get by. When I had the opportunity to join my husband to help him grow and succeed, I jumped on it. I started as his processor. I loved it. Oddly enough, I loved the detail of the paperwork. I loved putting together a package, submitting it to underwriting, and then clearing conditions. I enjoyed the challenges we had dealing with underwriters. This was back in subprime days so we were working with companies like Countrywide and First Horizon. In 2007, we were awarded top broker by Bank of America wholesale. In 2008, the mortgage meltdown started to affect our business and there were days when I was not sure we would make it. But we did. We kept our expenses low. We adjusted with the times. It wasn’t pretty. It was scary but I was not going to quit.
Fast forward to 2021, we are now licensed in six states and opening a second branch here in Georgia. Slow and steady wins the race.”
Dawn speaks easily about what she likes best about the mortgage industry: genuine opportunities to help borrowers. As a person who enjoys talking to people and is interested in knowing everyone’s story and where they are coming from and why they are moving. It’s not a surprise to learn it is normal for her clients to stay in touch, even after her part in the transaction is complete.
Dawn explains it this way, “There are many loan officers in this business who do not take the extra five minutes to explain the process or explain to the client why one option would be better than another. These are conversations I have regularly. And typically, at the end of our conversation, they continue to reach out to me for advice, asking questions about their life and financial decisions not related to giving them a rate.”
“I believe it’s important for us to provide a safe place and guarantee integrity. I expect my company and my employees to always do the right thing for the client. I will always do the right thing no matter how painful it is and conflicting it may be or how it may impact me financially. At the end of the day, I always do what is right for my clients and my employees.”
Dawn, amid her many virtues as a leader, is also a realist. Her main goal for the business is to empower her employees to make them better than she is and have them running the company someday. In Dawn’s vision for success, she surrounds herself with people who inspire, with art that inspires, with quotes that inspire.
“It has been said the biggest battle is the one between your ears. Learn to take control of those thoughts creating doubt or fear. Fear does not come from the Lord. As a business owner, I hire people who are better than me. As a woman, I love other strong women. I have no issues working with strong, sensible businesswomen.”
“I think more and more consumers will educate themselves on working with a mortgage broker versus a retail lender. I think consumers want the personal attention you don’t receive from larger organizations. We are small and I like being small. I like it when a client calls and asks, ‘Do you remember me? You did a loan for me five years ago. And I can say, ‘Yes of course I remember you. I put you in your first home.’”
Women, historically in business, have too often been our own worst enemies when it comes to breaking the barriers to enter the boardroom. Not so for Dawn. As a strong woman leader, she embraces rather than feels threatened by other strong women. In fact, she prefers to populate her world with strength and courage.
“Often for a woman, ego is less of an issue than with men. I can easily entertain someone’s criticism or hostile comments and allow their words to roll off of my back. I’m not easily offended and welcome criticism. And this may say be bad to say, but I think the general consumer wants to deal with a woman, especially a confident woman like me who is trustworthy and empathetic.
I don’t have to sell. We have a conversation. I give them advice I don’t have to compete for business with a loan officer who is kind of selling them a rate.
Dawn tells a great story about when she first started working in her career before working in mortgage. She and another woman with more experience were hired at the same time for two parts of the same job. Each approached their role differently, with nearly opposite points of view. Dawn, fresh and new and imbued with a strong get-it-done work ethic and natural leadership abilities, went looking for tasks when none were assigned. Her senior partner waited for the assignments and did nothing more than the job assigned. A week after being hired, her manager called her in and announced he was giving her a $5,000 pay raise. He apologized, saying he had started the other woman at a higher salary and should not have done so. It was apparent who was the go-getter and should be rewarded. In the end, she began with the company as an administrative assistant and left as a vice president. That story epitomizes the confident and compassionate leader everyone who works with Dawn Muñoz sees and experiences.
And yet, there’s more.
Dawn, like many of the career women we profile in the WWV Magazine, is also a mother and wife. Her goal in life is to have balance and spend more time with her children. Nine-year-old Hannah and ten-year-old Manny are miracle babies, by Dawn’s definition. She had her children while in her late 30s due to difficulties conceiving. She believes firmly her children were born when it was their time to join the family and she is a better mother now than she would have been at a younger age.
When Dawn and husband David made the decision to open up shop as a mortgage broker, they had less than $10K in the bank. “It was nerve-wracking, for certain,” Dawn shares, “but 16 years later as I look back, I know it was the right decision. David felt the time was right to go out on his own as a broker.”
For Dawn, encouraging David to take this leap of faith came instantly. Starting their own company while for sure was a risk, was not much of a leap to take. They both earned their licenses in 2004 and by May of 2005, Dawn’s own last straw came as she realized the men in comparable positions had a base salary and a bonus structure while she had a much lower base salary and every quarter her bonus had to be approved AND even then, did not equal what the men were earning.
“I’ve been working side-by-side now with my husband for 16 years and you know, crazy as it sounds, I enjoy seeing him every day. We each have characteristics the other does not have. Over the years, we have learned to stay in our lanes.”
One of the greatest blessings Dawn finds in running a business is also one of her greatest challenges. Dawn suffers from guilt, worrying she is not spending enough time with the family. This is her ongoing challenge, one not above to be solved with one blanket answer. As a confident and compassionate leader, the role of mother is weighted on the side of compassion.
Balance is found by allowing the children to be a daily part of the business in as much as a child can be. They meet the clients and the employees and often help out when preparing mailers to send out. They understand this is how their parents provide for them. Dawn schedules dates to have lunch with them and do fun things together. For them, this is a normal way of living. You go to school, you come home, or you go to the family office, you find a moment when your mother is not working and share a bit of your day, or you pitch in tying ribbons around a gift or stuffing a mailer with staff. And so, she is teaching them the same powerful lessons she learned as a child with, she hopes and prays, more compassion than was sometimes shown to her.
On a final note, Dawn shares what is likely an open secret: she is passionate about gift-giving.
“Another lesson I’ve learned in life is when to be a pit bull and be aggressive and when to give people grace. I’ll speak up and say what needs to be said and then I show grace and remind people, whether it’s employees, kids, or clients, to look for the other side of the coin before going in to attack.”
“Giving gifts is a part of giving grace. I love blessing people in need. If I could ask for more success financially, it would be for me to have the ability to give more. I know it’s better to give than to receive and I truly live by this motto in life. My employees will tell you, I often leave a gift on their desk. It’s not always something big. Just this morning I left a gift for a young lady who has been working for me for about one year and has taken on a lot of responsibility. She is committed to delivering excellence. I found a plaque with this on it: Beautiful Girl–you were made to do hard things so believe in yourself. I could see she was giving her all and felt she needed recognition for her hard work.”
“Her response was priceless, ‘You always seem to know when I need to hear something like this.’”
That simple statement sums up the confidence mixed with compassion that Dawn draws upon and shares every day on business and life.