Banking on Finance

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Byline: Melanie Kalmar Contributing Writer

Thirty years ago, when Donna Smith earned her MBA from Northwestern University, she entered banking because she enjoyed finance and it provided exposure to a variety of industries.

Ultimately, she would discover that through banking, she could help mid-sized companies expand and prosper, contributing not only to a company's success but also to the bank's and the local economy that it supports.

That is what really gets Smith excited about banking.

Smith's career began at Harris Bank, where she learned as much as she could about the industry. She then went to LaSalle Bank, "the place to be for Chicago's middle-market finance at the time," she said.

Smith was a trailblazer at LaSalle, creating a middle-market division before her promotion to group leader.

Then things changed.

Bank of America acquired LaSalle and Smith was named a market executive for companies with revenues up to $2 billion.

"I learned a great deal in terms of new processes and procedures from Bank of America," she said. "But it's a bank that supports retail and mid-to-large cap relationships. If you're a $75 million distributor or manufacturer, it's difficult to move the needle there."

So, about a year ago, she moved to Associated Bank, where she has recently been appointed executive vice president and head of regional and middle-market commercial banking.

It's a return to her roots.

Clients come from industries as varied as steel service centers to food ingredient companies and automotive suppliers with annual revenues ranging from $5 million to more than $500 million.

"You get to see the benefit of what you're doing," she said. "We have a number of great clients. You won't read about them in Forbes. They are key suppliers to Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies."

For every company Associated Bank finances, that company is employing a number of people in the community, as does the bank, said Smith of North Barrington. …