Keeping Her Promise
Resolve, ambition and intelligence compel this alumna to deliver on a pledge she made long ago.
By Annette John-Hall
It almost seems unfair to say that Kristy Williams Fercho ’00 (M.B.A.) was driven to success by adversity. Even if her family tragedy hadn’t occurred, she undoubtedly would have achieved her dream of succeeding in business.
But tragedy did strike in 1982. Fercho’s father, Willie Williams — a sprint finalist in the 1960 Olympic Trials, starting his 13th season as head track coach at the University of Arizona and named to coach sprinters on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team — died of an apparent suicide. He was 41.
“When I talk about my dad’s death, how he died is less relevant than the fact that he died at such a young age, leaving my mother [Margaret] to raise four children,” Fercho says. “My mother is an amazing part of my story in that she became a single parent and was determined that her kids would have a normal life, finish high school and graduate from college. She did it all on her own.”
Fercho, the second oldest, was only 15 when her dad died. Grief nearly consumed her. But so did determination. “I stood over his casket and promised him that I would be successful so his name and legacy would continue to represent excellence,” Fercho says. “It has definitely driven me.”
Now the senior vice president of customer engagement for Fannie Mae in Chicago, Fercho is responsible for overall customer management and maximizing the business contributions of single-family mortgage banking customers in 27 states. She works with banks and mortgage companies to sell their loans to Fannie Mae. She then repackages them into mortgage-backed securities that provide access to affordable mortgage credit and help to reduce costs for families buying or refinancing homes. In 2013, her team handled more than $300 billion in acquisition volume delivered to Fannie Mae.
“With the housing crisis [beginning in 2008], we’ve played a tremendous role in helping people who wouldn’t be able to stay in their homes otherwise,” she says. “From 2009 through 2013, we provided approximately $4.1 trillion in liquidity to the mortgage market, assisting families with more than 1.5 million loan modifications, 3.7 million home purchases and 12.3 million refinances.
Fercho, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, always wanted to go back to school, especially because her father was a Ph.D. Yet, while her talent, work ethic and willingness to relocate had rewarded her with promotions, she never lived in one place long enough to get started.
In 1998, while working as director of human resources for PepsiCo, the company relocated her from St. Louis to Philadelphia — her seventh move in 10 years. She decided it was time to look into master’s degree programs. She chose SJU.
Immersing herself in the Executive MBA program, Fercho experienced something she never expected. SJU’s collaborative, group-oriented approach enabled her to make lifelong friendships.
“That was the highlight for me,” she says. “When you’re with people for 21 months, you have this shared experience of going through the highs and the lows together. How do you deal with the unexpected events? How do you pick up the slack, get the work done and also support people through their personal challenges?”
The fact that she’s often the only African American person in the boardroom, still today, hasn’t affected Fercho, who was named 2013 Diversity Executive of the Year by Commercial Property Executive. She was also included in Diversity MBA Magazine’s Top 100 Under 50 (2012) and STEM Magazine’s 50 Top Women in Finance (2010). Fercho doesn’t dwell on differences; she focuses on common ground.
“I’ve had some great mentors and supporters throughout my career,” she says. “One of the reasons I joined Fannie Mae was because [then CEO] Frank Raines was one of three black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. I wanted to know if having a black man at the top would make a difference. It did. Fannie Mae is the most diverse company I have ever worked for, and the strong commitment to diversity creates an unspoken confidence that it’s about your contributions and not your skin color.”
She has made Chicago her home for the past five years with husband Steve Fercho, executive director of international banking at J.P. Morgan. She’s a board member of Windy City Habitat for Humanity and LIFT, a nonprofit that helps under-resourced community members achieve economic stability and well-being.
Fercho is successful, accomplished and gives back as much as she gets. And it’s safe to say she has kept her promise to her father.
Annette John-Hall is a Philadelphia journalist.
Kristy Williams Fercho ’00 (photo by Brent Jones)