Success by the Numbers
Numbers have always fascinated me,” Tonya McGee, COO of BVFR & Associates, LLC, said. “But I never imagined I would become an investment banker.”
Her career began as a licensed cosmetologist and, as she calls herself, a “serial entrepreneur.”
It was during her work as a sales professional with Mary Kay Cosmetics, where she reached the director of sales level and managed a group of more than 30 individuals, that this mother of four was presented with the opportunity to become an investment banker.
“The transition was easy from the aspect of working with people to help them achieve their goals,” she said. “I had owned and operated my own business and always had the entrepreneurial spirit, so learning the ins and outs of other industries and what made a business successful fueled my fires.”
But that doesn’t mean McGee, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, didn’t have to learn a few things about the business.
“Our investment banking firm has such a niche that you could have a Ph.D. in economics and still have to start from the ground floor … to learn what we do,” said McGee. “So in that aspect, I was right in line with all of the other lawyers and MBAs who were learning how to mitigate the risk via government-enhanced loans.”
BVFR & Associates, LLC, launched in 1995, is a privately held, minority-owned investment banking and financial solutions firm that provides creative financing for clients in both the public and private sectors, with an emphasis on credit-enhanced funding such as USDA, FHLB, etc.
The company, she explained, is made up of three sectors: investment banking services, cash flow loans, and credit-card processing services. Each of these can be fine-tuned to meet the specific needs of her clients.
McGee, who was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in Harrisburg, said that because her husband, Dr. Jameson Lawrence, Esq., founded and owns the company, she has to look at the overall health of the company, as it is “our family legacy.”
But on a day-to-day basis, she works closely with her team “to ensure that we are marketing and reaching out to those who can benefit from our services,” she said. “I work with my husband to ensure that the company has a healthy bottom line.”
Every Thursday, McGee hosts weekly team meetings that she refers to as “Empowerment Thursdays,” where they take the time to review the status of potential clients and ways that they can work together to grow both personally and professionally.
“I also get to work directly with business owners,” McGee said. “My goal with every client is to be a resource for them. I need to know the good, the bad, and the ugly to help them avoid pitfalls and overcome hurdles and ultimately get them to the finish line.”
A typical day for McGee is speaking to lenders and/or business owners and reviewing financials and business plans prepared by her clients. She also prides herself on being a resource for her team and working with them to find solutions for their clients who are trying to secure funding.
“We could not do what we do without the cooperation of the lenders we work with across the country,” said McGee. “We help make their job easier by bringing qualified loan applicants to them with professional loan packages. They help us by providing us with timely responses to loan requests.”
McGee also said that she and her team must rely on the client’s CPA, their lawyers, and their financial advisors because those are the people who have been with the client and know the intricacies of the company.
“We have to be lock step with them to ensure that the client is getting the benefit of collective expertise,” McGee said.
These days, meeting face to face with clients typically only happens with local business owners because email and Skype so readily provide the opportunity to meet lenders or business owners just about anywhere without leaving the office. It’s also very important to the health of the company that the team feels like an integral part of helping the company achieve success.
“We operate as a family,” McGee said. “Outside of working hard together, we spend time in social settings and arrange outings that allow us to explore our interests and appreciate each other. Everyone that works for us or comes to us for an internship is part of our extended family.”
There was a time when she “could sense the feeling of skepticism that older men had when they were meeting me as a ‘government-enhanced financing expert,’” McGee recalled when asked how being a woman in her industry has affected her career.
“But now, the world is changing drastically. There are many women in positions of power that are the crux of an organization or a government. There are more women than men in most graduate programs. Our voices … have become more powerful.”
In most situations, she likes to take what she refers to as the “doctor’s office approach.”
“I will ask a few leading questions, and I want to listen, listen intently, to see where my breadth of knowledge can add value to a situation.”
She wants to be a trusted resource and to be viewed as someone who can provide invaluable services to get the desired results for her client. When McGee has some quiet time to herself, usually as soon as she open her eyes in the morning or very late at night, she first reads her daily devotionals “to keep me grounded and replenish myself.”
A strong proponent of education, McGee and her husband support causes that celebrate educational opportunities for young people.
“Education is a priority for both of us, and we welcome any opportunity to speak with young people about their career path and to be a part of helping them think outside of the box of what their degree says they should do,” said McGee.
But perhaps most important of all, McGee quite simply still loves what she does.
“There are days that are challenging and I can’t see a clear way through the forest, but I can always look back at the lives I have impacted … That is what I hold onto when all else fails.” BW