MBA Education Path to Diversity Scholar Profile: Annie Zager
By MBA Insights Staff
September 23, 2019
(One in a recurring monthly series featuring efforts of the Mortgage Bankers Association's Diversity & Inclusion Committee, part of MBA's commitment to increase racial, gender, sexual orientation and ethnic diversity within the mortgage banking industry.)
Ann E. (Annie) Zager is a Senior Analyst with Bellwether Enterprise Real Estate Capital, Minneapolis.
I was raised by two of the best people I know--my mother, a science teacher turned computer programmer; and my dairy-farm raised father, a geologist. My parents raised me to work hard, dream big and empowered me to pursue and accomplish anything I set out to do in this world. For that, I am truly thankful.
My father's job required that our family move around a lot. As a result, I went to six different elementary schools and lived in many places across the South, North and Western United States. My early interest in real estate came purely out of moving to a new house every few years. I began to pay close attention to places, structures and what drives the desire to work or live in a certain place to call home.
The place I consider my hometown is Anchorage, Alaska. We moved there from southern California much to my dismay in the 5th grade but were able to stay put in Anchorage though high school graduation. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. Alaska is a unique place. The city of Anchorage (or Big Apple of Alaska as I affectionately call it) is a melting pot of people and home to the United States' most diverse census tract. It's a fact I am aware of now but never occurred to me living there. Alaska attracts people for many reasons; strong economy and jobs, year-round outdoor sporting activities, wildlife, skiing, hiking, fishing, living on or off the grid, you-name-it.
At my public high school, my volleyball team did Samoan chants for warm ups, native Alaskan tribal dances were at every pep rally, and my friends and classmates were of many races and cultures. I never thought about my friends as a highly diverse group of people but rather just people. I didn't think of diversity at the time, the way I do now because it was so normal to me. Now, especially in a male-dominated field like commercial real estate, I always notice when there are other females or persons of color in a meeting as it is more rare versus being the norm.
During a summer in college, I had the opportunity to work in residential real estate as a realtor, helping clients buy and sell homes. I was 19 years old and had just finished my freshmen year of college in Minnesota. My peers in my residential real estate courses were much older than I; many of whom were pursuing residential sales as a second career.
Upon passing the state test, I was fortunate to work on a team with a former army veteran who took the time to mentor me. I learned valuable lessons about professionalism, managing expectations, communicating and negotiating a deal but most of all the importance of mentors. Unlike many of the other realtors I encountered who didn't take me seriously, call me back or would make snide remarks in front of my new clients, this individual helped me build confidence and learn. By the end of the summer, I closed my very first deal--selling a young couple from Wisconsin their first home! I have always loved the physical, tangible aspect of real estate and from this very first moment of intrinsic satisfaction of closing a deal with happy clients, I was hooked.
It wasn't until college that I realized there was another side to real estate. My college had a specific major in the business school of finance for real estate studies geared at commercial real estate careers and I knew I was passionate about it; however, enrollment was at a low in fall of 2009 and the market down.
By the time I graduated in xpring 2013, there were still only a handful of us; I graduated with seven young men in the program and managed to land a job in my chosen pursuit of real estate development.
My experience from my first real job in affordable housing development and residential foundation are what I enjoy most about mortgage banking; I get to think creatively yet analytically to help find solutions for our clients on a wide range of assets and investments.
I've again been lucky to work with an amazing group of mentors in my office and within Bellwether Enterprise as a whole; committing to help me accomplish personal and team goals. With each deal, I've been able to learn and apply changes immediately to the next deal with a new thrill and satisfaction of closing each time. Now that I'm about five years into this career, I hope to keep learning, growing my responsibilities and clients, stay hungry for the fire of brokering a deal and be able to pay forward the invaluableness of mentorship that I can foster and impart on a new generation interested in real estate.
In reflecting on my unique experiences growing up, as a woman and my goals in real estate, I never thought I would be candidate for a diversity program. I'm a middle-class white woman. Yet, it's so exciting to see the mortgage banking industry recognizing a history of white males/lack of diversity in its workplaces and proactively work to add new voices, races and genders. And for that, I am truly grateful.
The MBA Diversity and Inclusion Committee was formed in 2013 to provide leadership and guidance to help the real estate finance industry gain a competitive advantage by increasing diversity in leadership, workforce and suppliers.
MBA encourages its members to support these efforts and to recognize the competitive advantages of embracing a diverse and inclusive workforce and marketplace. For more information about the MBA Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, click https://www.mba.org/who-we-are/mbas-diversity-and-inclusion-initiative/about-mbas-diversity-and-inclusion-initiative.