Climbing the Corporate LADDER

By Swann, Nicole Leigh | Independent Banker, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Climbing the Corporate LADDER


Swann, Nicole Leigh, Independent Banker


Female executives share their stories of success in the world of high finance

"A leader can be defined as the sum of her personal attributes, which correspond with success: Passion, persistence, high energy, an open mind, strong intuition and self confidence," says Angie Wong, president of the credit card division of $4.4 billionasset First Interstate Bank in Billings, Mont.

"I'm hands-on, loyal, hardworking and always try to do the right thing," says Lynda Nahra, president and CEO of $450 million-asset Community West Bank in Goleta, Calif.

"I'm an inclusive leader. I strive to convey a clear and compelling picture of the future that is responsive to the long-term needs of the organization, our customers and the community. I rely upon collaboration and participation from our diverse workforce to design the strategies that will show us how to get there," says Anne Arvia, president and CEO of $1.7 billion-asset ShoreBank in Chicago, Ill.

Independent Banker interviewed 10 high-achieving female executives looking for answers to the age old question: What's the secret to success? And is it any different for women than for their male counterparts? The message: Where there's a will there's a way. Knowing when and where to strike; having a solid foundation (education and onthe- job experience); surrounding yourself with the best and brightest; and staying in touch with customers' needs make a winning combination, regardless of gender.

"Looking back, if there were any opportunities missed because I am female there were probably opportunities gained [for the same reason] so in the end, I think it was more than a fair trade," says Hope Johnson, president and CEO of $53 millionasset Slocomb National Bank in Slocomb, Ala.

"What's my advice for other females looking to excel in banking? Find a good work/family balance. Stay focused on your priorities. Work hard, but work smart and relentlessly develop talent and future leaders."

Regina Barr, past chairman of the Financial Women International Foundation, a group dedicated to the advancement of female executives, agrees women have made great strides in finance despite their under-representation in the executive suite. The group's Women at the Top study found only 12.6 percent of executive positions are held by females at the 50 largest U.S. commercial banks. Disappointing? "Yes," says Barr, "particularly if you consider the fact that the financial services industry has a workforce that's over 75 percent female." (Women run fewer than 2 percent of Fortune 500 companies.)

Still, progress is being made and women can build on the successes of their predecessors by seeking out professional and leadership development opportunities where they can showcase their talents, Barr suggests.

Early Start

A visit to the local bank as part of her school banking program at the tender age of 10 sparked a lifelong love affair with banking for Waterford Village Bank Founder, President and CEO Kathleen Kiesel Flemming. "I fell in love with the business of banking, started as a teller at age 16, and decided one day I wanted to be president of my own bank," says Flemming.

Before venturing out to start not one, but two de novo banks, Flemming cut her teeth at Boatmen's Bank (now Bank of America) where she developed what would later be the niche of her first startup- Frontenac Bank out of St. Louis, Mo.-private banking for professional athletes. Flemming retained 80 percent of her portfolio when she left Boatmen's, helping her to grow Fontenac's assets to $100 million in a little over the first 1,000 days of operation.

In addition to raising a 4-year-old daughter and preparing to open her second de novo, Waterford Village Bank in Williamsville, N.Y., this month, Flemming is working to pass on her entrepreneurial spirit with the bank's KidsCount2 program, which teaches financial responsibility and fosters ingenuity in grade school students. …

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