Women in Business: October 2015

Annie Engel, Karla Villatoro De Friedman, Kristen Hammel, Laurel Rae

Annie Engel
President & COO
Howard Hanna Insurance Services


Real estate was always in the cards for Annie Engel, granddaughter of real estate mogul Howard Hanna, founder of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services.

“I always knew that I had to get a real estate license … it was part of everything we were taught,” says Engel, a Pittsburgh native who graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. “It was the natural progression of our education – graduate from high school and get a real estate license. It’s a family business and incredibly important to be a part of that.”

Engel got her real estate license at age 18 and her broker’s license at 21, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and earned her master’s in insurance law from the University of Connecticut, which she parlayed into a position as Deputy Director of the Insurance Law Center at the university.

After a four-year stint of teaching insurance law, she moved to Pittsburgh with her husband and joined the family business as chief legal counsel in 2005 and later as president of Howard Hanna  Insurance Services in 2010. Simply put, her role is to assess and manage risk for the fourth-largest real estate company in the nation, with 205 offices in eight states with more than 5,000 sales associates and employees.

“I describe myself as an insurance nerd, and it fits so well into the services that we provide and what we do,” says Engel, a mother of three. “It’s incredibly important to me to be able to educate our buyers in how to best protect their largest asset – their home.”

Engel has led Howard Hanna Insurance to be the number one real estate-owned insurance company in the country (based on number of closed transactions in 2014), which has been a constant distinction for the past six years.

“Every day, I’m in awe of our Howard Hanna family and the continued growth that we’ve had,” says Engel, who proudly supports the Howard Hanna Children’s Free Care Fund, which raises money through its annual “Choo Choo Chow Chow” events for the care and education of children. “It’s always exciting to be able congratulate our team on being number one again.

Karla Villatoro de Friedman
Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Karla Villatoro de Friedman, an immigrant from El Salvador in Central America, started out in an inner city neighborhood in Houston, Texas, before graduating early from high school and receiving a full scholarship to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. There, she went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in business management.

Upon graduation, she worked at JPMorgan Chase as an investment-banking analyst for three years, focusing on equity capital markets before leaving to pursue a law degree at Fordham University, also in New York City, where she served as president of the Latin American Law Students Association.

“Because I was an analyst, I was pegged to be an attorney who was good with numbers,” says Villatoro de Friedman. “You have to use the skillset you have and leverage that. I was always interested in real estate and curious about the way cities grow and the way neighborhoods are transformed. And it turns out that being good with numbers is an asset in any transaction.”

Almost four years ago, Villatoro de Friedman and her husband moved to Pittsburgh. She now practices at Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP, a full-service law firm, where she handles all aspects of real estate transactions, from financing, purchase and development to leasing and disposition. She also focuses her practice on public finance and commercial lending matters.

“Pittsburgh is such a dynamic city, and being a lawyer here who’s focused on commercial real estate does allow you to play a role in facilitating growth in the city,” says Villatoro de Friedman, who serves on numerous nonprofit boards and is a member of the Hispanic Attorneys Committee of the Allegheny County Bar Association. “It’s a way of feeling like a stakeholder in my community and also in those that I don’t live in. I feel like I’m helping to shape the future of the city.”

Kristen Hammel
KLH Design
Sewickley, Pa.

With a background in marketing and advertising and post-graduate design classes, Kristen Hammel burst onto the design scene in 2007, founding her own company, KLH Design. The company specializes in the design of new homes, renovating existing residences as well as commercial construction and redesign.

This business concept was born after she worked with her husband, Chuck Hammel, Pitt Ohio Express president, on various development projects, such as the Cork Factory, Cioppino and Osteria 2350. Clients were clamoring for her designs, so KLH Design was born.

Hammel, along with her team of builders, contractors and architects, guides the client through the design process – from picking exterior materials and flooring to furniture and moldings. Her aesthetic is a “twist of tradition with modern concepts.”

“A big accomplishment has been working with my husband on interesting development projects that we felt needed to happen to do our part in helping Pittsburgh become a thriving and energetic residential city,” says Hammel, who graduated from Penn State University with a degree in marketing. “Chuck has his finger on the pulse of what is happening downtown and typically runs an idea by me, and if we agree that we can make it happen, then off we go.”

One of the Hammel’s largest ventures is 2500 Smallman, a city living space based on sustainable concepts, materials and design located in the Strip District. What started as an empty warehouse is now in the process of becoming 11 high-end city homes. These residences are multi-level, custom residences with a private community courtyard and individual garages, balconies and unique interior design.

“I see KLH Design being able to grow by taking on more and larger development projects, and I’m also excited to see Pittsburgh grow and change with an influx of city residents and all of the development that is required to support them,” says Hammel, who is a chairwoman of Summerbridge Pittsburgh, which provides underserved and at-risk students with a tuition-free academic enrichment program.

Laurel Rae
RE/MAX Select Realty
Wexford, Pa.

Laurel Rae has spent her whole career in customer service, a role that started in retail management and later progressed into a real estate career.

Rae was purchasing her first home when her realtor told her that she would make a great real estate agent. She took her advice, as well as classes, and started her real estate career in 1997 at Century 21 and later, Coldwell Banker. Less than four years later, she joined her now-husband, Ed Rae, as he started his own franchise, RE/MAX Select Realty.

Rae and her husband worked as a real estate team, but as the number of offices grew (currently eight), he stopped selling to focus on building the company. Rae then took over their joint business and started selling real estate solely.

“It’s my opinion that to be successful in real estate, it needs to be a full-time career,” says Rae, who is originally from Elwood City, Pa. “My biggest accomplishment is being able to balance being a good wife and mother with a full-time real estate career, and servicing the clients the way they need to be serviced. Without that balance, you’re not going to succeed at either one.”

Another one of Rae’s milestones was achieving her RE/MAX Hall of Fame induction in 2012 – but Rae finds it just as rewarding to give back to the communities they serve.

RE/MAX Select Realty supports Children’s Miracle Network through their Miracle Home Program. For every closed transaction, they make a donation on their clients’ behalf, with all proceeds benefiting Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. To date, RE/MAX Select Realty has donated more than $400,000 to Children’s Miracle Network.

“I’m proud that our company leads by example and we support our local communities who entrust us with their largest investment,” says Rae. “We want our clients to know we care about them, and through our trade, we can be a positive force in the community.”

Categories: Women & Business