MAKE IT REAL! Success in business is all about relatability — being someone others truly like, not just as business associates but as people. Near the beginning of COVID I realized that I needed to stay connected and to be around people the best I could, safely. So I started a WALK AND TALK campaign for myself. I asked clients and prospects to throw on their walking shoes, shorts, tees, baseball caps and sunglasses and enjoy a “walking meeting” with me, typically at the end of the workday. I mapped out a beautiful 2.5 mile route around my neighborhood which is centrally located in Charlotte, and we would talk about life (families, backgrounds and struggles), and weave in a few minutes of business, too. The bonds I formed during these WALK AND TALKS have led to trusted and productive long-term relationships — because they are real.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lisa Vogel.
What serves tennis ace Lisa Vogel well in her role as Senior Vice President, National Commercial Division, Boston National Title. Her championship strategy combines competitiveness, compassion, and networking — netting her success in an industry dominated by men.
Lisa joined Boston National Title, one of the largest title agencies in the U.S. and an Incenter company, in 2015. She developed and launched its National Commercial Division, which now manages complex, multi-million-dollar deals within and across all 50 states. She holds a B.S. in marketing and economics from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in marketing from Goizueta Business School, Emory University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
When I was a child, my love of tennis framed my world, and it still does to this day.
I grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina and was lucky enough to have a tennis court in my backyard. Every day, I practiced for hours after school — whether hitting balls from the ball machine, or being coached by my father. My parents, brother and I were all fiercely competitive tennis players. We all played in tournaments and were even named the 1985 North Carolina Tennis Family of the Year.
This early introduction to competitive tennis made me the person I am today — in business and in life. Tennis teaches you to be incredibly self-reliant and strategic. Even when you’re eight years old, the outcome of every match is up to you. You not only need to visualize where you want the ball to go, you have to play against your opponent’s strengths and capitalize on their weaknesses.
You also learn to work smart. For instance, there are times you don’t have to hit the ball hard. If you pull back a little and place it well, you’ll win the point. On a day when there is even more than usual to juggle, that’s a very valuable lesson.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
It was all a matter of serendipity.
I was a single mother going through a terrible divorce, and I hadn’t worked (i.e., received a paycheck) in 17 years.
I met the then-Chief Executive of my current firm, Boston National Title, for a quick coffee. In just a few minutes, I was ready to sign on. I knew very little about what a title agency did, but I loved his authenticity, positive energy and fantastic team.
That was six years ago, and it was the best career decision I’ve ever made. It taught me that it’s the people who really make your experiences and your world. You can always learn the rest.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The story started when BNT’s Chief Executive asked me to start from scratch our National Commercial Division, and to figure out how to get it done.
That self-reliance lesson from my childhood really kicked in then.
I decided I wasn’t just going to start; I was going to pivot us to the top.
From then on, everything I initiated was strategic and intentional.
In our industry, for example, deals get done on the golf course. Not only did I take golf lessons; I flew to an important golf fundraiser where the most powerful commercial dealmakers in New York and New Jersey were known to congregate.
I networked aggressively, though I knew no-one there; and I didn’t leave until I’d met the most powerful billion-dollar dealmaker on the course.
Back in North Carolina, I followed up to suggest that he and I meet again. Flying back to the New York metro area, I sat down with him and said I wanted to walk away with:
- A deal (or a portion of a deal)
- An introduction to one of his influential colleagues
- An invitation to his holiday party, which boasted 1,500 guests and had a three- to four-year waiting list
I landed all three, as well as the privilege of playing doubles tennis with him once a month when I visited thereafter. Tennis gave me the confidence to reach out, get to know the other impressive people we were playing, and build a stellar network that has helped our Commercial Division expand.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Competitiveness — My city is filled with title companies. When I started in commercial title, all of them were getting referrals from the attorney down the street. I have never heard so many people refer to one individual as their “best friend”! He was everywhere, so I was too. Finally, I got my first referral from one of his contacts on the golf course. I knew this was a real victory when “everyone’s best friend” invited me to lunch, told me that I was making a name for myself, and even offered me a job (which I turned down). We continue to be friendly competitors.
- Compassion — When clients need to escalate a time-sensitive request, they naturally call me. They know I won’t put the phone down until I solve whatever challenge they’re facing. In complex, multi-state deals, numerous issues can emerge. I advocate for every single client on each issue because I feel like I am part of their team.
- Strategic matchmaker — I’m a natural matchmaker and my focus on helping clients make connections really sets me apart. I’m constantly asking, “Who do you need to meet to drive business your way?”
I have a spreadsheet of over 1,500 contacts, categorized by region, asset class, and profession. My goal is to introduce each client to two to five quality contacts for their networks. Everyone can do great deals if they’re connected to the right people. People can find commercial title insurance from many sources. However, one of the ways I add value is by making these matches.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
For many people, the status quo is much more comfortable than change. Women are just “killing it”. We’re juggling everything — business, the household and children. Most of the men I know are enthusiastic and supportive, and understand that the broader DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) movement is also good for business.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
When I began my job, I drew on my experience as a single mother of three — taking the initiative and making things happen. Though leadership was delighted, I struggled over whether I should relax a little. After all, society has often discouraged women from being perceived as too strong. Over time, I realized that in the business world, it’s important to have as high expectations for our company as male leaders would.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
A smile opens the world to you. I try to keep my facial expression soft and kind. I also compliment people and ask them about themselves. All of this increases their comfort level and helps us form deeper connections with one another.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
There’s a strong movement of change in the whole country, and encouragement of women in leadership roles is one of the ways it’s manifesting itself. The groundswell has been happening for some time and people’s mindsets are already evolving. When women face those who are less comfortable, the best they can do is smile and ease them in.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
Unfortunately, the #MeToo movement affects an untold number of women. Luckily, I have never been in a situation where I have felt threatened, but it’s difficult knowing that the problem is so pervasive.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women become leaders because of their intellect as well as their business smarts. It can be difficult when people don’t recognize this right away.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
I have always been a master multitasker. That said, there is always a tension between my natural tendency to give 110% attention to everything, and the need to scrupulously manage my time.
When I began work as a single mother with three children after a difficult divorce, I especially wanted my children to feel that they were my number-one priority. At the same time, I wanted my colleagues to see my overwhelming dedication to my work. When work commitments and school events coincided, I really had to juggle because my family truly is the center of my life. Our corporate culture is family oriented and that has helped.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
The tipping point occurred when our commercial division reached profitability, two years and seven months after we started it. Before that, I sometimes felt like a gerbil on a wheel. Commercial deals and relationships take a very long time to cement. Once we were profitable, I was able to stop running in place and take a breath. My mother died just before we reached that milestone, so it was a watershed year in many ways.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
People remember those that make them feel good about themselves, and I think that’s important for women to remember. I like being “put together” without gaudiness or flash. I opt for a neat, simple and understated appearance so that I am approachable. I’m in an industry dominated by men, which is an advantage because people notice women more. That’s another reason that I think carefully about how I look — seeking to project intelligence, confidence and class.
How is this similar or different for men?
Men don’t have the advantage of being in the minority in the mortgage/title industry. It’s great being noticed when I walk into a networking event, and I’m one of few women there. Men like being around women! It makes it easy to join their conversations.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- MAKE IT REAL! Success in business is all about relatability — being someone others truly like, not just as business associates but as people. Near the beginning of COVID I realized that I needed to stay connected and to be around people the best I could, safely. So I started a WALK AND TALK campaign for myself. I asked clients and prospects to throw on their walking shoes, shorts, tees, baseball caps and sunglasses and enjoy a “walking meeting” with me, typically at the end of the workday. I mapped out a beautiful 2.5 mile route around my neighborhood which is centrally located in Charlotte, and we would talk about life (families, backgrounds and struggles), and weave in a few minutes of business, too. The bonds I formed during these WALK AND TALKS have led to trusted and productive long-term relationships — because they are real.
- BE ONE STEP AHEAD & channel your inner Serena. I grew up playing competitive tennis. Tennis legends like Serena Williams don’t get to the top on muscle power alone; they are “uber strategists”. That’s what lets them harness every opportunity and “crush” any obstacles. The tennis strategies I learned while playing competitive tennis translate into professional strategies now. On and off the court, I anticipate where the ball is going and am one step ahead of it. I lean in and go toward the ball, or business issues, before they start to make their way toward me. I understand the other players’ strengths and weaknesses, styles and vulnerabilities. I prepare and play into them for a competitive advantage. I use this same playbook every time I’m going for a big win — whether securing a coveted client, or finalizing a complicated multistate deal. Especially in a field populated by men, strategy is everything.
- GO STRAIGHT FOR THE TOP! Never climbed a mountain before? Great! Start with Everest. I love a good challenge. There is nothing more exciting than being the underdog, and getting to the summit. But you need complete confidence, and no doubt in your mind that you can do it. That was my mindset when I started, from scratch, the Commercial Division at Boston National Title in 2015. Even though I was brand new to the industry, when I went out to start networking to launch this new division, I aimed straight for the top of the organization — the managing partners of law firms, and CFOs of commercial real estate developers and investors. I knew in my gut that with the right attitude and strategies — combined with a strong sense of hustle — I would win the game from the top. Now our Commercial Division has grown exponentially and routinely handles large, complex, multi-state deals in every state in the U.S.
- Love love. We all experience highs and lows, and as others have said, “it takes a village” to get through life. For me, that village is my close family. My journey to success started at an extremely low point — my back was against the wall. At that time, I was whiplashed by a devastating divorce, and with three children to raise. I had been a stay-at-home mom for 17 years and needed to start bringing in a paycheck to support myself and my children. The people that I loved the most blew life and strength back into me and pumped me up with self-worth — until I was primed to go for the gold, and fight for a job at BNT for which I had no on-paper qualifications. Life is all about the relationships you keep. Hold family and cherished friends close, and they’ll keep you soaring, confidently, so that colleagues and clients always see your strength.
- DoRAK. DoRAK stands for Do Random Acts of Kindness. One of my mother’s greatest legacies is doing random acts of kindness for others, and I think that is a key to success in both business and in life. My mom would often hand a grocery store cashier a Starbucks gift card for good service, and weekly she’d send handwritten cards to friends and family just to tell them they were special and loved.
In business, the ability to demonstrate genuine kindness and compassion matters more than ever, especially in a remote environment. When people know that you care about them as individuals, and are available to help them through the rough spots or to celebrate their victories, they’ll support you every time because they know that you will lock arms with them and get the job done in the best way possible. So do random acts of kindness to people you know in business and in life outside business, and even to complete strangers. And let’s, together, make the world a better place.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Of course, I admire so many people in business, sports and entertainment. However, I feel so lucky that I’d love to pay it forward.
It would be great to inspire a soon-to-be-single mother needing a real dose of empowerment. I would be honored to cheer her on and share some more tips. I’d also love to go “back to the future” — sharing a meal with one of my future (hypothetical) granddaughters who is just getting into commercial real estate.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.