Growing into Leadership

“As a child, I was regularly asking my mom when I would be able to work; it amazed her how eager I was.” -Christina Lopez

Aries Capital’s Christina Lopez on her slow and steady rise to the top

Christina Lopez was born in Chicago a product of various ethnicities, including Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Indian. Lopez credits this multicultural background for teaching her many traditional values. “My parents didn’t graduate from college, but they were extremely smart and strong people, and instilled in my brother and me the importance of being honest, working hard, and striving to reach our goals,” she says. Lopez got her first job at age 14. “As a child, I was regularly asking my mom when I would be able to work; it amazed her how eager I was,” recalls Lopez, who took the initiative to get an early-age work permit allowing her to work 20 hours a week.

The month after Lopez graduated from high school, she began studying accounting at Robert Morris College and found a position as a receptionist at the advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding. A little over a year into her associate’s degree, at age 19, Lopez left school and work to give birth to her first child, and a month later, returned to Foote, Cone & Belding, but not to school. “I had a child to support and decided working should be my priority,” she says.

Less than a year into her return to Foote, Cone & Belding, Lopez started getting calls from recruiters. She turned down the first recruiter, but agreed to hear out the second, which had a job at Aries Capital, a national full-service commercial mortgage and real-estate investment banking firm. The timing was fortuitous. “I was seeing constant shifting in the advertising industry that made me think it was time to leave,” recalls Lopez, who began as an office assistant position at Aries Capital. “Keeping your job was hit or miss.”

Lopez was promoted to marketing and human resources coordinator after a little more than a year. “It was the height of the commercial mortgage-backed securities boom, and business was flourishing, with loans closing left and right, so we needed to market,” Lopez says. “At the same time, we opened up three offices and went from a staff of five to over 20, so there was a need for a more formal human resources function.”

Lopez left Aries Capital for an administrative assistant position at another advertising agency, Walter Latham, in Oakbrook, Ill. She stayed in touch with Neil Freeman, chairman and CEO of Aries Capital, and occasionally doing  freelance work for him. “As needed, I’d come in and make PowerPoint presentations or work on other projects,” Lopez says.

Lopez eventually returned to Aries because, “sometimes things are just meant to be.” Aries was in need of an office manager and Lopez was offered the position. She’s been at Aries ever since.

A year after Lopez’s return, she became Freeman’s executive assistant. “I was always the one who stepped in when an assistant was on vacation, and we had a good working relationship. He’s a great mentor to me. In addition to doing office work, I handle some personal work, so his family and I are close as well.”

Lopez also began a concerted effort to mentor whenever she could. “The mentoring experiences I’ve had have allowed me to guide other people in their careers, and many of them are doing really well now because of it,” she says.

Lopez’s duties expanded when Aries Capital’s affiliate, Urban Development Fund (UDF), became involved with the New Markets Tax Credit Program, which was established in 2000 as part of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act 2000. The program, which seeks to revitalize low-income communities, provides tax-credit incentives to equity investors in certified community development entities that invest in low-income communities. UDF created dozens of new entities—currently 56, though the number could rise to more than 100—incorporated in many different states. “I’m helping the two gentlemen running the program keep track of those companies,” Lopez says. “It’s a big project.”