Dr. Vanessa Montañez, DEL, ‘21
Vanessa, a goal oriented, self-driven, and competitive businesswoman was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. From a history major in junior college to a business degree from National University and an MBA from Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, her educational pathway was unconventional. However, it certainly has had an impact on her career and her outlook on how she can bring positive change within her industry.
After a 27-year career in the financial lending world, Vanessa never dreamed she would end up at a small school in Charleston, WV to earn her doctorate degree. The story of her path to UC is a true display of tenacity and grit.
“When I finished my undergraduate degree, I started working at a lending company. They did everything – lending, insurance, car loans, credit cards, etc. However, they did it all at really high interest rates and I did not feel right about that.
“I was there a short time before a recruiter for Countrywide Homes Loans called and I decided to make a change. In the first two weeks with Countrywide, I made every possible error there was to make. I was warned that if I couldn’t figure it out soon, I was going to be let go. I had no time to waste! So, I printed out the guidelines and found a great mentor. It all started clicking and I promised my boss that I would be one of his top people.
“Sure enough, I kept my promise and was doing so well that it was recommended that I move into a managerial position and help coach and train others. I became a branch manager in the San Fernando Valley, an area with a high volume of Hispanic clientele.
“I started to discover programs for affordable lending and the state and city would give borrowers money for down payment and closing costs. I started looking at how we could begin closing affordability gaps from a different solution angle.
“I was able to find affordable first homes for clients and watch their families build generational wealth. Most of us are not born into wealth, most people get wealthy or accumulate wealth by acquiring real estate, being self-employed, or playing well in the stock markets.
“For me, I thrived with investing in real estate. I wanted to pay that forward to my clients. I really have a passion for helping families find their first or forever homes and accomplishing the American dream.”
Unfortunately, layoffs sometimes happen in businesses. Vanessa is one of many who have ever had to face the “What now?” question that comes with losing a job you were successful in and loved.
Vanessa’s desire to stay relevant within the workforce after a layoff sparked an idea.
“My severance package allowed me some time to further my education and come back into the workforce with the exact job that I wanted, instead of just settling for a job because I needed one. It was the perfect time to go back to school and my husband supported my ideas. I already had my undergraduate and master’s degrees in business and I knew I wanted to do something different, something for me.
“I called up one of my friends, Jackie, who is a higher education counselor. Jackie said, ‘I’ve been seeing this one university who has a good success rate, they are affordable, and it’s a hybrid between in seat and online classes.’ She gave me three recommendations, but UC was her first choice.
“I started looking at the different universities and the Doctorate of Executive Leadership program was perfect. Being in lending, I had lived through the global recession in 2008. The public blamed everything on the loan officers and the reality is, the derivatives stemmed from the top down. It was executive decisions that were bad judgment calls and capital greed that had the biggest influence during that terrible time. I wanted to be a better leader and learn good leadership was and the DEL program spoke to me.
“I enjoyed the DEL journey and the connectivity of my cohort. I have never been in a cohort environment and within the group I made incredible connections and friendships that I have kept even after graduation. We were so diverse in thought, and I loved the exposure of military personnel as cohort mates.
“The writing and research really gave so many little golden nuggets. It changed my thought process to approach things with a more wholistic global experience in mind.
“I finished the two years of courses and then the hard part, the dissertation. During my doctoral education time, I took a wonderful job that required a lot of traveling. The traveling and lack of structured class time meant I needed a little more than the traditional two years to finish my dissertation.
“Then, the pandemic hit. Everyone went virtual and I wasn’t traveling anymore. That meant more time to finish the dissertation. The pandemic saved me! I was able to really focus on the dissertation and had the ammunition to finish. I graduated with honors.
“I had nothing but cheerleaders along the way. My teachers were phenomenal – Dr. Bennet, Dr. Wiley, Dr. Walker, and Dr. White. These wonderful individuals want you to survive, thrive, and succeed and are committed to your success! I can’t thank them enough.
“Now that I had my doctorate, I thought, ‘What’s next?’. I was doing well at my previous company, but there was no more opportunity for me to grow. However, part of the doctorate journey taught me to be my own voice and advocate. So, I told my boss, ‘Look, I want to grow my career and I need your support.’ His hands were tied but I told him I would give him a year before making a move, presumptuous of me but I had to do it.
“During my doctorate studies, we looked a lot at social capital which is the return on investment when you have social relations. I am all about capital and returns on investments because of my background in lending so exploring this type of capital became my dissertation topic.”
Vanessa would soon experience a return on her own social capital and live out what she had been researching and writing about.
Sitting at a conference, Vanessa’s friend and fellow businesswoman shared that City National Bank was looking to create a Community Lending division and they would need a manager. “As we chatted, I learned the position is national, I’d be creating a lending program from scratch, and I met the qualifications. I told her to send me the information and she connected me with the recruiter. Here I was, living out my social capital and having tremendous ROI on my network.
“As part of the interview process, I decided to write a business plan because the work inspired me. My recruiter recommended to write 3-4 pages. I wrote 14 pages with an appendix. I happen to be really good at writing now after my dissertation work.
“The competition was fierce but when I met with my current boss for the interview and he started talking about the program that he is thinking of developing, I had already created what he was describing. I had even already named it, The Way Home program. Within twenty minutes of showing him my business plan, he asked me, ‘When can you start?’.”
Vanessa earned the position of Senior Vice President – Community Lending National Sales Manager and started the role this past November.
“It was a great feeling of satisfaction, and it would not have happened if I had not learned my critical thinking skills and found my passion for writing through the DEL program. Within one year of graduating from UC, I got an executive position and am the highest-ranking Latina at City National Bank. I am very proud of that accomplishment and proud to be the first in my family to earn a doctorate.
“I wanted to share my story because I wanted to encourage more women and more people of diversity to earn their doctorate. Believe in yourself, finish what you start, it is all worth it.”
In addition to building her new team and planning to launch the new lending program this year, Vanessa is very involved in her community.
She mentors five local women within the industry, serves on the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals Corporate Board of Governors for the Southwest Region, works with a group called Rebuilding the City of Angels helping create safer homes for the elderly, veterans, and disabled citizens, and more!
She and her husband live in Pasadena but also enjoy their home in wine country!
Congratulations, Vanessa, on all your success!