[quote style=”boxed”]I work on my vision twice each week, two hours each session. I can’t stress how important it is to plan and strategize to grow as a person and as a professional.[/quote]
Neena Vlamis, president and co-owner of A & N Mortgage Services, Inc., has more than 12 years of experience in mortgages. The company, which celebrated its ten-year anniversary in May, has received an A+ Better Business Bureau rating for seven consecutive years and allowed A & N to be voted Top Ten Most Dependable Mortgage Brokers in Chicago Magazine. Neena was recently ranked in the top 200 Mortgage Consultants nationally for the third year in a row and is one of the top three women originators in Illinois, per Scotsman Guide. She is a member of the IAMP and NCWR. She lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, three children, ages 8, 6 and 2, and their dog, Zorba the Greek.
What are you working on right now?
In addition to my regular job helping homebuyers obtain loans, this year I am focusing more efforts on growing our business through a strategic marketing campaign. We’re working to really differentiate our company, build the brand and raise our profile.
Where did the idea for A & N Mortgage Services, Inc. come from?
I became interested in finance when I was about 10 years old when my parents sat me down and laid out the household budget, income and expenses when I complained that my friends had more shoes than I did! It was a real eye opener, and I became cognizant of how much things cost and how important it is to plan and budget to be financially secure. After college, I thought I wanted to teach but my dad encouraged me to go into the mortgages business. I started out answering phones and was quickly promoted.
I met my business partner, Aaron Gitler, at my first job. When I was 28, Aaron and I opened a branch office, but after a year we realized we could start our own company and manage it more efficiently with better service for our clients.
How do you make money?
Mortgage professionals are paid through fees received when our clients receive loans. The mortgage industry has been through a tough time – starting in 2008 when the market crashed. We managed to not just survive but thrive because we never offered just one product. We’ve always provided FHA and VA, and when Chicago provided grants we offered that, too. When things were really tough, we found creative ways to keep out doors open. We renegotiated with vendors to get rates down, leased out our storefront to a fitness company and even sold a billboard in our parking. Now that the market is bouncing back, we still offer an array of services, are investing in our company and are focused on growing the business.
What does your typical day look like?
I have three kids – ages eight, six and two, but I try to return voice mails and emails before I get them up and ready for school and day care. I’m not a great cook, but I usually make a crock pot dinner before I leave so I don’t have to worry about it when I get home. When I get to work, I’m back on the phone and on email. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I block out two hours to work on my vision for the company. I do this religiously. Then I’m pounding the pavement until I go pick up my kids. After dinner, my husband and I spend time with the kids, usually in Kumon- inspired learning activities including advanced reading, math and music. Then its bedtime until the alarm goes off the next morning and we start it all over again.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As I mentioned, I spend four hours each week dedicated to thinking about my vision for the company, what I want to achieve and how to get there. Then I work my fantastic team to help make those ideas happen!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The real estate market is really picking up! People are ready to buy and prices have stabilized so sellers feel comfortable putting their homes on the market.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I was a shampoo attendant at a salon, and I picked up the hose without checking the water flow and I sprayed an entire row of women! I was so embarrassed. It taught me to slow down and listen to directions, and to focus on the task at hand.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I think I purchased too many real estate properties too quickly. I’m a firm believer in real estate as a secure investment, but you need to be cognizant of the market and maintain a balance of investments and liquid assets on hand for emergencies.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I work on my vision twice each week, two hours each session. I can’t stress how important it is to plan and strategize to grow as a person and as a professional.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
To be honest – I have such a strong fear of failure that I can’t point to one incident. I am responsible for my business, for everyone who works with me and their families. Failure is not an option.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
In addition to teaching my children the basics, I am teaching them to be entrepreneurial. The two older ones have their own websites under their names, and I’ve asked them to create them with a business in mind. So a good business idea would be a formal learning tool to teach kids how to do this so they become strategic thinkers and entrepreneurial minded, which will help them in school and later in life in their careers.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Increasing student success and building confidence by bringing entrepreneurial thinking into the school systems. I think this should be done as early as kindergarten.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
My office chair is an exercise ball – which I love! And I am obsessed with my FitBit.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google, so my kids can look up answers to the questions they ask me. Online banking is a real lifesaver, so easy and efficient for managing finances. And travel sites. I’m an expert at finding ways to obtain the maximum amount of points to travel for free.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Driven: An Autobiography about Larry H. Miller by author Doug Robinson. Miller was essentially kicked out of his home at the age of 16, and overcame great struggles to become a successful Utah businessman and philanthropist who was well known as the owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz and of the of Triple-A baseball team, the Salt Lake Bees, 41 automotive dealerships throughout the Western United States and a variety of other businesses. His story is so inspirational. I find great strength in it when I read about his achievements and try to apply his principals in my own life.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why? (please don’t include yourself)
1. @BrianBuffini – industry expert and business ideas, and inspiration.
2. @Sue_Koch – I think she is genius at social marketing and business in general.
3. @ForbesWoman – for women-focused entrepreneurial insights.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Pretty much every night when I come home and spend time with my kids. They are so smart and witty. They provide our nightly entertainment.
Who is your hero?
My dad. He is the one who encouraged me and pushed me to leave my comfort zone. He gave me the confidence to set my goals high and work hard to achieve them.
When is the best time to start a business?
My dad taught me that if I wanted to start a business, I should do it while I was still young, before marriage and children. He said to always try, but do so at the right time.
How do I manage being a business owner and a mother of there young children?
When I’m at work, I’m at work. When I’m home, I’m home. You can’t mix the focus or things get messed up. It’s important to pay attention to the task at hand.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.