MARIETTA — Dec. 24, 2008, changed Vicky Thompson’s life. For most, an obscure federal banking agreement has little effect. But for Thompson, a one-time bank teller who started her first company with credit cards and grit; she was sitting on an undiscovered gold mine that would soon become one of America’s fastest-growing companies.
Thompson, founder and CEO of Valuation Management Group, never went to college, instead, becoming a bank teller after high school graduation. Remaining in her hometown of Burlington, N.C., she then took a job with Southern Discount, which became Fleet Finance. After just a year, she was promoted to manager, the company’s youngest ever.
“My dream was always to come to Atlanta and Fleet was headquartered in Atlanta,” Thompson said. “They sent me for classes at University of North Carolina and Marquette (University) and educated me on how to run a business. I was 19 and managing people in their 30s.”
Thompson was promoted again and transferred to Atlanta in 1989. She ended her 18-year career with the company as a senior vice president. “I traveled from Monday to Friday every week,” said Thompson. “I wanted to get involved in my community.”
Thompson says she loved real estate and, after considering options, decided there was a niche in the appraisal industry. “I resigned my position, went to appraisal school and started my traditional appraisal company, Priority Services, on my credit cards in 1994 in a rented office space off Cumberland Boulevard,” Thompson said. She still owns and operates Priority Services in the building next to Valuation Management Group.
In 2006, when the real estate market began slowing down, Thompson says she realized she had to do something. She approached a client with the idea of independently managing his appraisal processes from inception to completion. When he agreed, Valuation Management Group was born. “I saw how lenders wanted to influence appraisers and we did not let this happen in our company because they didn’t talk to the appraisers, they talked to the office staff.”
Thompson said that for two years, growth was stagnant until December 2008, when the “home valuation code of conduct” resulted from a legal agreement among Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the attorney general of New York. The agreement required mortgage bankers, beginning in May of 2009, to have an independent appraisal process.
“Lenders had to decide what they were going to do and how they were going to do it,” Thompson said. “We already had an infrastructure and we were already up and running. It gave us a big advantage.” Thompson said the company grew from three people to 20 that year.
In December 2009, “the interagency guidelines” also went into place, requiring banks and credit unions to have the same independent process with a review. Again, Thompson’s company was ready. “No one else had our business model,” she said. Her current credit union clients include LGE and Georgia’s Own Credit Union.
Valuation Management Group has ranked in Inc. Magazine’s top 500 fastest-growing companies in America for the last two years. Based on a phone call Thompson just received, her company is also in this year’s top 50. The magazine publishes the rankings in August.
In 2011, the company ranked as Inc.’s 22nd fastest growing company, growing 7,909 percent in one year. With 2010 revenues in 2010 of $25.7 million, the company ranked first in Inc.’s real estate category.
Lora Helt, business development manager for Bradford Technologies, has both worked for and with Thompson in several different capacities. “Vicky is one of the most-forward thinking business women in America,” said Helt. “Her entrepreneurial spirit has allowed her to develop and grow her business to be one of the largest independent appraisal management companies in the U.S. She is passionate about providing quality and excellent service which has set her apart from her competition.”
Both of Thompson’s companies have called Cobb home from their inception. She purchased her first building off of Powers Ferry Road in 2000 and the adjacent building in 2009. Thompson currently employs 80 and has opened offices in Orlando, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala., with an officer opening soon in Tampa, Fla.
“I never thought we would be here. I didn’t have a three-to-five year plan,” said Thompson. “Having the infrastructure in place was just key.”
CEO PROFILE: VICKY THOMPSON
* TITLE: CEO, Valuation Management Group
* AGE: 57
* EDUCATION: Didn’t attend college; completed leadership courses at UNC and Marquette.
* FAMILY: Two daughters, Natalie, 31, VMG vice president. (Has worked for Thompson since she was 16.) Christy, 36, (mother of Thompson’s six grandsons.) Thompson’s life partner/significant other is Patrick.
* FIRST JOB: Age of 15, in a department store as the Easter Bunny. “My family was poor and I was working to earn money to go on a teen church trip. I walked around the store with an Easter basket giving away candy. You can imagine the kidding I got from my friends when they came into the store, unfortunately the costume did not cover my face.”
* BEST JOB: Current job, as CEO of VMG. “It is challenging and rewarding. No two days are alike. I am blessed to be able to lead a remarkable team.”
* LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: Consult with professionals on issues outside of your core knowledge base.
* ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Always be passionate about your career and believe in yourself.