People throw around the term “born leader” all the time. So I understand the skepticism. But I think we have an open and shut case with Vickie Butler.
Nevertheless, I understand the burden of proof is on me. And I’m fully prepared to present the evidence. So here goes.
Let’s start back in high school, in Irving, Texas.
That’s when a retired Air Force commander who led her ROTC unit saw the spark in her. He named her group commanding officer when she was in 11th grade—even though she was the only girl and the only African American.
She became a very unlikely drill sergeant to a bunch of Texas high school ROTC boys.
Can you imagine?
So yes, she clearly had leadership potential at a young age.
But human potential is a mysterious thing. Is there even a marker for it? How do others recognize it in someone, so they can nurture it, grow it, help someone realize it about themselves?
All good questions, certainly. Not sure about the answers.
But Vickie Butler just knows there’s been “a pattern in her life.” Teachers, parents, bosses, singling her out for special coaching because they saw something in her.
And today, at 57, this senior mortgage banking executive looks back at the people who recognized her potential and helped her to achieve. And let’s just say there were many. And it wasn’t always easy to take their advice.
Sometimes it even felt like they were picking on her, drilling boring details into her head, marking up her drafts with a sea of red ink.
Vickie Butler is senior vice president, operations manager for warehouse lending, at Texas Capital Bank. She leads a team that handles one of the most time-sensitive and complex parts of the mortgage banking business. Texas Capital is one of the country’s top 3 warehouse lenders. So a lot is riding on her expertise, which, by now, is fully ingrained in her brain, thank you very much. Your red ink is no longer required.
She could literally write the manual (and has) for just about every arcane operation that makes up the business of banking. And she is such a strong leader that even a global pandemic couldn’t stop her team from getting loans closed during the worst of Covid and a statewide power outage.
Actually, just try to throw something at her that she can’t handle. That’s what leadership looks like. And it’s not “potential” any more for her, it’s been established as fact for decades.
But the ability to lead involves someone who people want to follow. It’s about character, generosity of spirit and gratitude for what you’ve been given. So born leader? I’m pretty sure I can easily make that case.
It starts with this only child born in Terrell, Texas. She counts her mom as one of her earliest mentors. Here’s where that story begins.
Making the bed
When Vickie was very little her mother would clap for her whenever she made her bed, to reward her efforts. She was taught to always keep their home in perfect condition. Her mom also told her that you should always strive to be the best. That is the kind of coaching that sticks.
Her mother was “way before her time,” Vickie says. She would commute the distance daily from her home in Terrell to her job in Dallas. Her mom worked 37 years in the same job and missed maybe a day or two. “She was just incredible,” Vickie remembers.
Vickie’s early confidence stemmed from being an only child, she says. She was “always around adults, always mature for my age.”
One particular memory sticks with her. The story involves fellow Terrell native, Jamie Foxx, whose grandmother, Ms. Talley, had been Vickie’s daycare provider before they moved to Dallas. (And yes, we are talking about that Jamie Foxx.)
Vickie’s family would occasionally come back to Terrell to visit extended family members. During those visits, she remembers seeing Ms. Talley encouraging her grandson to practice the piano. Ms. Talley was teaching Jamie if you want to get good at something—even if you have natural ability—you have to put in the work. And that seems to have turned out pretty well for Jamie. And the lesson wasn’t lost on Vickie, either.
A high school standout
Vickie was a straight-A student in her high school in Irving. She was selected to be part of a program called DECA, Inc. (Distributive Education of America). It turned out to be her favorite class.
DECA is designed to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges.
Mostly young women with excellent grades were selected for the class. Vickie recalls DECA students would attend fancy events in wealthy Dallas neighborhoods like Las Colinas, an urban and residential area that is home to several Fortune 500 companies.
Local executives and professionals would mingle with the kids and they would tour fancy homes and learn how to interact with business leaders. Vickie recalls being the master of ceremonies for one DECA event and wearing a business suit and having to rehearse her remarks. It was an early dress rehearsal for a successful career. Playing a business executive, until she became one in real life.
And then there was the experience leading her high school’s Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corp. As Group Commander, she was responsible for the appearance, discipline, efficiency, training and conduct of her unit. (Okay, boys, listen up, we can hear her saying.)
She recalls running the marching drills for the guys and they would chant back the usual “Left, left, left, right, left….” Some of the cadets came up with a few gender-taunting variations on the words and gave her grief for being a girl. But Vickie came up with her own sassy retort and threw it right back at them.
Finding a career
Her career in mortgage banking began at one of the country’s early, premier, independent mortgage banking firms, Lomas Mortgage. It was a respected financial powerhouse headquartered in her backyard.
She stayed at Lomas for more than 8 years. Long enough to attract one of her first serious career mentors—the guy with the red pen.
Vickie held various jobs at Lomas. She worked in the call center, in quality control and for the Presidential Priority Unit. It meant interfacing with some very powerful and extremely well connected people.
The legendary chief executive officer of Lomas Financial Corporation was Jess Hay, who was about as well connected in local, state and national politics as you can get. He was on countless boards for academic institutions and nonprofits. And he served as National Finance Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1977 and 1978. Hay served as Texas finance chairman or co-chairman for President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Al Gore, Vice President Walter Mondale and Senator John Glenn.
The Presidential Priority Unit handled incoming calls or escalations of cases from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and other matters requiring the attention of top management regarding regulatory findings or consumer complaints.
The Presidential Priority Unit manager took an active interest in the performance of his employees. But he took particular interest in Vickie and became an active and dedicated hands-on mentor (and yes, this is the man with the red pen).
“He literally took me under his wing and taught me what I needed to know about business writing and how to respond to customer complaints. He was tough and would mark up my responses in red ink and almost brought me to tears at times,” she remembers.
She says she would wonder: “Why is he picking on me?” Now she realizes, “He was just trying to help me.”
Her unit had a red phone and it would get calls from the Better Business Bureau and enforcement calls from regulators. They were the kind of interactions that required perfection.
She says he “pushed me out of my comfort zone” on many levels.
But when he decided to relocate, out of the twelve people in his department, “he recommended me for the position and allowed me the opportunity and exposure that I would never have received without his mentoring and coaching.”
With some impressive accomplishments now on her resume, she started to think about what might come next.
Student and teacher
When she looks around today and sees so many people with college degrees that have nothing to do with their jobs, it makes Vickie shake her head. She questions the wisdom of the “piece of paper” and the debt load that often goes with it.
So she came up with another plan for herself. She asked Lomas to underwrite the cost of sending her to an Instructional Design Developer program.
They said yes, and she’s been using her training for the last 26 years, she says.
It proved fundamental at her next job at Guaranty Bank.
She was hired to be an Instructional Design Developer. The list of things she did during her 16 years at the bank resembles a catalogue of all the functions at a large commercial bank.
She served as Instructional Design Developer—Procedures & Training and Development; and she ran courses in Business System Training. She handled User Acceptance Testing for Business Systems; managed the Call Center; was manager for Business Banking, Home Equity Lines of Credit, CD Secured Loans, Automobile Loans, Pool Loans and Quality Control.
She also assisted and cross-trained on various lines of business including commercial real estate, warehouse lending, construction loans, business continuity and audit-related tasks. During her time at Guaranty, she also spent six years with a group called Toast Masters, fine tuning her speaking skills and furthering her professional training.
Not surprising, Vickie had a mentor at Guaranty, too. Her name was Karen Klein and she ran the IT department.
Klein was blunt, tough, young, well off, blonde and beautiful, and could be outright rude, Vickie recalls. But she took a special interest in Vickie. Klein told Vickie to come in on weekends and watch hours of VHS tapes of Klein training the bank’s employees on the business systems for all the various product lines.
Not only did Vickie have to watch the tapes, she had to record them as well. It added up to a crash course in commercial banking. Klein told Vickie to commit to memory everything that Klein did—to basically become her as a trainer.
Vickie says, “I hated it at first, but it helped me become a great trainer to this very day.”
Looking back, Vickie understands and appreciates all that Klein taught her about the commercial loan industry. She pushed her young pupil hard, but today Vickie is a raving fan of Klein’s because she took the time to teach her so much.
But perhaps the most telling moment in their relationship came when Vickie quietly stood up to the demanding IT executive.
Around this time, Vickie had taken some marriage training classes and learned a technique to avoid escalating arguments. Instead of saying something potentially provocative, you would simply bark, like a dog.
Vickie used this approach on Karen Klein, and then afterwards explained the strategy behind it.
“Nobody had talked to her like that.” Vickie remembers telling Klein that it was a technique for responding when someone makes you really mad. Vickie remembers that conversation ended up being a breakthrough in their relationship. Klein had never been called out before on how mean she could be.
This was full circle for Vickie Butler. She had always been the one to benefit from teachers in her life, but now she was starting to become one.
The imperfect storm
After 16 years at Guaranty Bank, Vickie moved over to running the warehouse lending operation at Texas Capital Bank.
She was hired as Vice President—Warehouse Lending Funding Manager and then promoted to Senior Vice President, Operations Manager. And that’s been her job for the last 8-plus years.
Yet none of her many years of experience in banking could prepare her for what happened during the last year and a half.
Even for someone whose specialty is training for business contingencies, what happened in Texas last year was unreal. Pile a global pandemic on top of a statewide collapse of the electrical grid and see if you can keep the home loans closing on time.
Vickie remembers attending a “mock pandemic” seminar run by the Business Continuity Group at Texas Capital in October 2019. That was five months before the pandemic arrived. (And really folks, could you even spell coronavirus back then?)
She recalls taking lots of notes at the seminar. Then, just to be prepared—should such a situation ever actually occur—her operations development team proactively ordered lots of masks and gloves and hand sanitizers.
“It cost a lot and our company thought we had lost our minds.” Vickie says her team was actually told to “stop buying so many supplies” because a real pandemic would probably never happen in their lifetimes. And then five months later it did.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, her team was ready. “I had to put on my ROTC mindset and be a commander,” she says.
But let’s just pause right here for a second, because for starters, who plans for a pandemic? Well, Vickie Butler, does. All her training kicked in, and she got serious about something the whole rest of the world was trying to pretend wasn’t happening.
Her team buckled down and did what they had to do. The warehouse lending team worked every day, coming into the office, to handle all the collateral coming in. There would be no remote working for them.
She says, “Every day we said ‘we can do this. Nobody can do this as well as we can. ’”
They used all the masks they had stockpiled and put in place a whole bunch of protocols. People coming into any room had to knock outside first, before entering, allowing those in the room to put on masks. In the lunchroom, only one person was allowed per table. At a kiosk people’s temperatures were taken. The company restricted all outside access to the floor where the warehouse lending group worked.
They wore face shields and masks when training people. Special plexiglass temporary dividers were used in the area where they opened the collateral.
Had they not had supplies on hand for their essential Collateral Staff, they would not have been able to provide the protection needed for a safe work environment.
“Every day we did this for 14 months,” Vickie says.
There were disruptions in FedEx and UPS deliveries because of the huge spike in ecommerce volume nationwide. Some custodians were dealing with Covid outbreaks that caused delays in loans getting certified.
“We had record funding volumes and collateral shipment volumes all year long,” she said. Because the housing market was booming, she says her team “worked long hours, sometimes until 8 pm.”
And then in February 2021, something else happened. That’s when a massive ice storm took out power in the entire state of Texas for at least a week.
FedEx deliveries were delayed by more than three weeks after the ice storm. And that was just one of the hardships her team endured. Talk about leadership tests, this one was epic.
The massive power outage meant Vickie and her Collateral Staff had to stay at a hotel for almost a week. It was the only way to ensure they could continue to receive and process all the collateral they received. The hotel’s food service was shut down, no restaurants were open, and there was limited food available at grocery stores.
When Texas Capital’s new President and Chief Executive Officer Rob C. Holmes heard about the situation, he drove around to grocery stores to get cases of ice, food, water, snacks, fruit and drinks. And then he delivered it to the marooned staff in the hotel. He located caterers that would deliver hot meals. Vickie says, “That speaks volumes to who he is. He’s amazing.”
Access to Texas Capital’s office building was a challenge because of generator problems. There were a few days when her staff had to climb 8 flights of stairs with a flashlight to get to their floor.
But nothing stopped in the warehouse lending operation during the worst of the storm. “When I tell you they are troopers, they are. We were like kids in a candy store, when they got the elevators working again.”
Some days when most outside activities were paralyzed by the snow and ice, Vickie’s team would caravan in to the office. Roughly 18 people would slowly drive together through ice and snow to the building. There were about 4 in each car, trying not to breathe on one another because of Covid. She says they would jump out of the car and take selfies of each other in the snow on the way to work.
And she says through it all, her team “got there early and stayed late.” See what I mean about this born leader? Do you have enough proof yet?
Just in case you don’t, the outside accolades keep coming in as well. She was nominated under the Corporate Spotlight section for Who’s Who in Black Dallas in 2017. In 2018, she was honored as a Women of Influence by HousingWire.
A coach for life
If anyone could write an instruction manual for living, it would be Vickie Butler. Her instructional design training is still coming in handy—but this time it’s training for real life.
Her students run the gamut from single moms and their children, to women suffering from addiction, and homeless families in crisis.
“My husband [Ray Butler] and I are looking to invest in rental property for the sole purpose of helping these single moms to have the opportunity to move into a home and work to improve their credit scores and avoid credit card debt.” She also helps single moms with their income tax returns (no red ink, though).
She and her husband support the Arms of Hope program, affiliated with the Boles and Medina Children’s Home. And they help MICAH House and the Housing Crisis Center with fundraising and other activities. She has been honored by Sisters Inspiring Sisters for her work with single mothers and their children.
And every year, Vickie sets aside two weeks of her vacation to assist single mothers, whether it be with childcare during spring break or just giving them a break, period.
She has worked with one family for more than 9 years. She says they have signed contracts about budget rules, emergency cash funds, and placing funds in controlled accounts to ensure their car note is paid. Stimulus money is used to ensure groceries are purchased, oil changes are completed and car tags are up to date. “They’ve had to learn the importance of putting money aside for rent in the event of a job loss,” Vickie says.
In other words, she is teaching these single moms financial planning 101. And they are learning from an absolute pro, a very senior banking executive who is as successful as you can get. It’s like she is back in her old DECA class, only she is the teacher now, fully comfortable in the business suit.
And she hasn’t forgotten the people that took the time to help her. “I believe in empowering. I know what people did for me,” she says. Her mom would be proud.
Janet Reilley Hewitt is an award-winning financial journalist who served as editor in chief of Mortgage Banking, MBA’s monthly publication that set the standard publications in the mortgage industry. Now retired, Janet spends her time traveling, volunteering and spending time with family.