As two of the most successful mortgage agents in town, Austin Lampson and Kelly Marsh viewed each other warily, from a distance. 

For the then up-and-coming Lampson, Marsh appeared to dominate the local Santa Barbara home loan market. 

Now vice president of Cornerstone Home Lending, Marsh has worked in the industry for 25 years. She’d been named among the top one percent of loan officers nationwide, as well as number one in Santa Barbara County.

Austin Lampson | Credit: Ashley Taylor Henning

“Looking at someone who’d achieved so much was daunting,” says Lampson, the branch manager at the Homeowners Financial Group. Lampson herself has been named “Best Mortgage Agent” in the Independent’s Best of Santa Barbara® Readers’ Poll for five consecutive years.

For her part, Marsh worried she “wasn’t as young [as Lampson], not as energetic, that I didn’t have the online presence she had,” says Marsh. Worse, she was sure Lampson was out to steal all her business.

That rivalry changed some years ago when both women found themselves in the same networking group. They agreed to meet for coffee one day.

The meeting was a game-changer for both. “The humanity and depth you can generate when you meet face to face is so much greater than anything you can get by email or phone or at a large event,” says Lampson.

They quickly forged a bond, getting past each other’s reputations to the actual person seated across the table. It turned out they had a lot to share, including similar frustrations and challenges.

Marsh says she could laugh at herself for creating this mythic competitor out to steal her clients. Meanwhile, Lampson discovered she could benefit from Marsh’s experience without being afraid she’d lose out by just being her authentic self.

I’ve had the privilege to work with both these businesswomen and their teams, and it’s been an incredible experience to help them get under the hood of their businesses, tinker around, and find more efficient ways to work together.

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As we celebrate International Women’s Month, I’ve been thinking about the way these two — once rivals — have gained so much by choosing collaboration over competition.  

I know this from my own experience. When I used to be a professional organizer, I put together a monthly luncheon that included my competitors. People thought I was crazy to do this, but I discovered along the way I had more to gain by collaborating.

Kelly Marsh | Credit: Michelle Lauren

When I asked Lampson about this recently, she pointed out that, as women, we let others — or our own insecurities — too easily pit us against one another. “We women can be so hard on ourselves,” adds Marsh. “Competition can easily turn into self-judgment or ridicule.”

It’s not that competition itself is bad; rather, it’s the way it’s used that often disempowers women and keeps us from succeeding. “My success is in my own hands,” Marsh says. “It’s not controlled by another person — especially not a competitor. 

Lampson agrees. “I think you can be competitors in a general way and collaborators on the individual level. If each person brings their best, isn’t that what the community receives? And aren’t we on this planet to help everyone the best we can?” she says. 

Both acknowledge the big mindset shift necessary to arrive where they are now. “I’d always masterminded with others, but never a direct competitor in the same town,” says Marsh. The benefits of collaborating have been enormous — among them a way of staying on top of a rapidly changing industry.

“It’s invaluable to have someone with whom you can compare notes, commiserate when needed, who understands what you’re going through day to day,” says Lampson. “We have a ‘bat line’ to each other, and we can trust that what we say will stay confidential and respected. That goes a long way,” she says.

That feeling goes both ways.

“It’s comforting to know I have her to turn to when I’m faced with something big and scary with industry changes or challenges,” says Marsh. “I’ve sought out Austin’s advice when faced with a challenge in our business, and laughed with her about some of the funny, but frustrating things about our industry. I’ve even learned a few tricks and tips from her,” she says. “Now it’s completely different,” she adds.

Sara Caputo transforms how individuals, teams, and small businesses navigate workflow and increase workplace efficiency. Her work has been featured in Working Women, Success, and Forbes, as well as other national and regional publications. She can be reached at

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