Q&A with Debra Still

As we begin Women’s History Month, we are honored that Pulte Financial Services’ very own President and CEO, Debra Still, has been identified by U.S. Mortgage Insurers as a top female leader in the housing and finance industry! Read the full Q&A feature with Deb here below:

What piece of advice has stuck with you most and helped you become a leader in the housing finance space?

Two pieces of advice have made meaningful marks on my career and my leadership. The first was early on when I was a production manager overseeing mortgage branches in the southern region of the country. A competitor hired away an entire branch. I was devastated and thought my career was over. A wise person advised me, “It’s not the problem that will define you, it’s how you manage through it.” This motivated me to focus not on what had happened, but on moving forward. I have used this advice multiple times in my career in demanding situations and challenging environments.

I received another invaluable piece of advice when I moved into the role of President and CEO of Pulte Mortgage. I had been the COO for seven years prior, and my first instinct was to continue “business as usual.” I was counseled by a colleague that in taking that approach, I would be wasting an enormous opportunity. Instead, I should dedicate time to deciding what I wanted my “leadership brand” to represent, as well as what strategy and culture I envisioned for our team. After much thought, I created my leadership platform and aspirations. I was able to clearly verbalize my passion for our industry, the importance of understanding the entire real estate finance landscape and how to thrive in it and paint a vibrant vision for the strategy and future of our company.

What’s your message for young women in the housing finance industry who seek a long and successful career?

Be intentional in building your leadership brand. Throughout my 45 years in real estate finance, I have always considered my career a “work in progress” that constantly requires cultivating knowledge, expertise, and experiences along the way. That takes time and patience. I believe future success begins with doing your absolute best in your current job and being objective as to whether you are getting measurable business results. Never be defensive about constructive feedback; take it as an opportunity to learn. Be curious and creative about new ways to contribute to your organization. Leadership is not a job; it is an attribute that, at its best, results in healthy relationships, collaboration, and trust. Begin by leading now. Engage and be visible even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. Whether it’s a position, a stretch assignment, or a new experience, don’t be afraid to take some risk along the way. More than anything else, accept that your career development is yours to own and believe that the possibilities are endless.

“Since any sustainable change begins with strategy, and strategy begins at the top, we can certainly recognize the important ways women contribute and lead.”

We have seen a surge in the number of mortgage companies owned by women. What do you think women leadership brings to the table for the mortgage industry?

It is encouraging that our industry now has more companies owned by women and many more women in senior leadership roles including an increasing number of women CEOs. I am also continually impressed by the self-confidence of my female colleagues and their growing engagement at industry gatherings. I would include among women’s leadership strengths, leading with empathy, being good listeners, fostering collaboration, being inclusive, and valuing people over process. Since any sustainable change begins with strategy, and strategy begins at the top, we can certainly recognize the important ways women contribute and lead.

With women becoming an increasing share of the home purchase market, how do you think the housing industry can best respond to meet these borrowers’ homebuying needs?

It is indeed exciting to see the increasing demographics of women purchasing or owning their own homes. The National Association of Realtors reported single women made up 22% of homebuyers in 2020, compared to 9% for single men. But there are still disparities. For example, men achieve better economic results in negotiation than women according to studies. This assumably would apply to negotiation in the homebuying process. Such a gap indicates our industry needs to further increase opportunities for homebuyer education and counseling as well as increasing the diversity and gender of its workforce.

Originally published by U.S. Mortgage Insurers on March 30, 2022