By Leona Baker
Chairman and CEO of TowneBank Mortgage (Retired)
Jackie Amato is retired. Or so she claims. As proof she’s serious about some well-earned down time after 30 years of success in the mortgage industry, she elaborates on her plans for a two-month vacation in Italy and renovating a house she recently purchased in Jupiter, Fla.
But she doesn’t seem very retired as she makes an entrance into the reception area of TowneBank Mortgage near the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, where she served as chairman and CEO until December 2016. And she doesn’t sound like it either.
“They can hear me coming from a mile away because I’ve got a big mouth,” Amato quips of her colleagues’ reaction when she’s in the building in her ongoing role as a consultant and board member. “They say, ‘We heard you, we miss you.’ Yeah, you miss the noise. That’s what they miss.”
Photo courtesy of TowneBank Mortgage
Amato got into the mortgage business at the urging of her older sister, following a divorce that left her with two kids to support and wondering how she’d make ends meet: “I didn’t even know how to manage a checkbook.”
She not only found her way in the world of real estate and banking but discovered a tenacity and a passion for the job. She established a partnership with William E. Wood home sellers and her own venture, Hampton Roads Funding, which she describes as “a very happy, cute little company that was fun to have.” Then success came knocking.
In 2000, Hampton Roads Funding merged with locally owned TowneBank Mortgage with Amato as its president. With the help of a team of “really talented people that were really good at what they did,” she presided over significant expansions of their operations into North Carolina.
“Every year we almost doubled in size. In our business, you’re either stressed out because you can’t handle the amount of business you have or the complete opposite. But you kind of grow with it, and you’re jumping all over the place thinking, ‘I can do this, I got this!”
Since a recent merger with Monarch Bank, the company has approximately 800 employees in its mortgage division and does about $4 billion in production annually, Amato notes.
“I love that it’s high stress all the time,” she says. “I just can roll with that. I love that everything we do is satisfying to somebody. I look at my customer, and I say, ‘We’ll meet your closing date.’ Because that’s a big deal. We do everything to meet a closing date.”
Amato credits her drive and adaptability in part to a mobile upbringing—her family emigrated from Great Britain to Canada, later moving around the U.S. She is demanding of herself and just as demanding of her employees, who she admits are “probably scared to death” when they come to work for her.
“All I want to be is fair. I will always tell you what I think. And, ultimately if I ask every one of them what they love about the job, they love putting someone in a house. They love the feeling of satisfaction they get when it’s a job well done.”
In terms of being a woman in a high-stakes, male-dominated industry, a successful female colleague once gave Amato some advice that stuck with her.
“She looks at me one day when we were golfing, and she says, ‘You know it’s not going to be as easy as you think it’s going to be. Just keep in mind; you’re not really a woman—you’re a mortgage banker. Remember that.’”
This mortgage banker does have her soft spots. She is particularly passionate about her role in the nonprofit An Achievable Dream Academies. She is also a mother and grandmother who has every intention of spending time with her family and a good book in Wilmington, N.C., now that she is retired: “That’s going to become my heart.” You can bank on that.