by Michele Ocejo
July 2013 – As published in The Secured Lender
The Secured Lender – July 2013 –

“Portraits in Perseverance” would also have been a fitting title for this article. The participants were honest and acknowledged challenges still existing, but with the support of some amazing mentors, supervisors and colleagues, women in commercial finance are definitely growing their ranks. This group of women represents the important contributions female executives make to the commercial finance industry every day.

Betty Hernandez Freire is one of the founding members of North Mill Capital and is also the chief credit officer. She has over 25 years experience in asset-based lending. “I went through a management training program at First Fidelity Bank, which is now part of Wells Fargo, straight out of college. I found the job in a book in the career development center at Rutgers University in Newark. It was part of a two-year training process. During that time I was provided with credit training and I was placed in various commercial lending areas of the bank. As a credit analyst or credit underwriter, I was able to join the loan officer at the credit approval meetings and was asked questions about the credit we were presenting. And someone on the committee liked my answers and thought that I could be tough enough for asset-based lending, so I was placed into the asset-based lending area of the bank. And I was fortunate enough that at that time that was run by one of my mentors, Ted Kompa,” Freire said.

Freire laments the lack of women entering the credit side of the business. “I think we can be tough when we need to be and can handle it if given a chance. I’m not quite sure why more women are not inspired to enter the credit side,” she said. She admits she has seen more women entering the new business side, however. “When I first started and went to one of my early networking events, you could count on your hand how many women there were at these networking events.”

Among the ways to attract more women to the industry, Freire lists more training, more networking opportunities such as those offered by CFA’s Women in Commercial Finance Committee and engaging discussions about balancing career and family. “It’s often a challenging balance. As a woman, I’m pulled in many different directions between family and work responsibilities; it’s a lot of long hours. I’ve been fortunate to have a supportive group of colleagues. It all gets done in the end, but I think we need to get the message out to younger women that you can have it all; it’s just a matter of working hard and balancing. But they need to see role models; that’s what’s lacking, but we’re starting to see more of them. CFA had its first female president a few years ago, Debbie Monosson, and there are quite a number of women now in executive roles. I think that’s a good start,” said Freire.

What words of wisdom would Freire offer to women entering the business? “Work hard and learn as much as possible from anyone willing to sit down and teach you. Ask a lot of questions and don’t complain about the workload.”