As an extension of Women in Construction Week (WIC) – The Construction Careers Council has a mission to celebrate, educate and promote the roles of women in construction. The Council set out to highlight the women who currently work within West Michigan’s industry through our “Women Who Build West Michigan Series.” The goal is to inspire and educate specifically young women but also those interested in being a part of our next generation’s construction workforce.
I sat down with women across West Michigan to discuss their career path, the work they do, what they like or dislike about their role, what motivates them and much more. Our conversations were authentic and the women I interviewed have a wealth of stories and tips to becoming successful.
Our fourth interview was with Sarah Baar, Vice President of mortgage lending with Old National Bank. Sarah has 30 years of lending experience and is a member of the Professional Women in Building. Our conversation gave me insight into the lending side of construction and Sarah’s perspective on how the industry has changed.
Q: Mac Dodds
A: Sarah Baar
Q: How did you get into the construction industry?
A: I studied marketing and sales at Ferris State University, but I wanted to do pharmaceutical sales. That didn’t work out. I had two acquaintances from high school who started a mortgage company in the Grand Rapids area. Every time I saw one of their support staff, they would say I was perfect for that position and that I needed to get out of my small town and come to Grand Rapids. ,I listened- and the rest is history. I started with what's called a mortgage broker, which was a great place to be brought up. I had two astounding mentors during this time, both were women with very different skills sets.
Q: Tell me about being a Home Builders Association (HBA) and Professional Women in Building (PWB) member.
A: Throughout my 30 years I have always been involved with the HBA and we had a women’s council when I first joined. That slowly dissolved throughout the years with all the changes in the building industry. It was exciting for me in 2018 when the local women in the industry decided to start a professional women in building council locally, and here we are.
Q: What has that experience been like both personally and professionally?
A: It was very exciting to add the PWB to our local HBA chapter. We have 11 monthly meetings and really try to provide for our membership. We bring in speakers on prevailing topics within the industry. Those can be goal planning, time management, leadership training- you name it. It also allows us to network with other women in the industry.
Across our membership we have women in different roles, including building companies, supplier representatives, lending, title companies and more, making for a broad mix of occupations. We are also diverse in our age, backgrounds and roles. We want to be an outlet for women to gain an education and be a part of community engagement.
Q: How does being a mortgage lender tie into the construction industry?
A: As a lender, one of my favorite aspects of my work is when I have clients who want to build a home. I love new construction- I still remember the first construction loan that I took the application for. Like anything you do for the first time it was a bit scary. I had to consult with my mentor because they asked a question I didn’t know. I thought I had dropped the ball, but that client used me again. Construction lending even led me to my husband who is a builder!
Over the years I’ve been a lender, builder and a client. It gives me a unique perspective working with builders because I have sat in that seat and they realize that, so the relationships are great. I do love the whole process. I like the challenge.
Q: What are the pros and cons of working in construction lending?
A: One con is that not every lender can lend for new construction. Working for a lender who offers that gives you an advantage but there is more risk associated because you are securing on collateral that's not built yet. Part of the policy a construction lender puts in place is to mitigate as much of that risk as possible. A pro is the ability to work with the builders. It is always exciting to be part of a building project. I enjoy making the client feel comfortable during our time together so they can focus on the building aspect. I want them to enjoy the building journey from the blueprint to the final product.
Q: Looking back did you see yourself being in lending? And what would you tell high school students now about choosing a career path in construction?
A: My family was deeply rooted in medicine, and I thought I was going into medical sales. Looking back almost makes me laugh because I never thought I’d go into lending, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. My advice to high school students is to research different options and that information to build a five and 10-year plan to see what the future may look like.” I would also say to be tenacious. Tenacity can be used to be successful – go after what you want with a balance, try not to be that bull in a China shop.
Q: That is great advice, do you have any final thoughts to share?
A: Construction is a great industry to be involved with- there are so many opportunities. If you don’t want to be outside swinging a hammer in the cold, you don’t have to. You can be a lender, work as a project manager or as someone that does their trade indoors. The opportunities really are endless.