Diversity in the executive ranks of a bank remains an unusual enough occurrence to know that it doesn't come about by accident. In Kansas, Sunflower Bank, which has $1.7 billion of assets, has been a model for diversity. Nearly half of its 116 corporate officers are women and Mollie Hale Carter, one of our 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking, leads it.

Clearly a case of diversity by design? Not the way Carter tells it. She says there's no edict to advance women; it's simply been a case of the best rising to the top.

"We didn't really set out, specifically, to have a certain percentage of women or a directive for it, we just looked at certain people who were really good at doing their job and kept moving them up and the numbers speak for themselves," Carter says.

Of course, demonstrating a willingness to have the best women rise through the ranks provides a foundation for attracting talent in the first place. Carter, the president and CEO, has assembled a team that shows a commitment to making sure that women have every opportunity to advance that the men do. That team includes executive vice presidents Sandy Jacobs, Jennifer Johnson and Phyllis Pickel; chief operations officer Kristy Balthazor and vice president, trust officer Brandy Felzien.

The bank has seen loan growth of 3 percent through the second quarter of the year over the same period in 2008, despite lending to mostly rural areas with decreasing populations. It's also increased its assets size by 8.3 percent and deposits have climbed 5.1 percent. Its returns on equity and assets were strong enough in 2008 to place it in the Independent Community Bankers of America's ranking of the Top 20 community banks with more than $500 million of assets.

Jacobs heads western Kansas and community banking. Her division's net income grew 22 percent through the first half of 2009 over last year. Johnson, as part of a bank-wide directive called Execution 2009, has helped to recommend cost-cutting measures - without any layoffs - that will help to save the bank about $500,000 this year.

Pickel, the bank's Corporate and Relationship Development Officer, spearheaded the eighth-annual ABC Program, which helped to raise more than $50,000 to help support community schools.

In terms of building relationships with customers Sunflower has been more overtly organized toward diversity. Twenty years ago the bank launched a program called First Ladies to educate women about financial responsibility. The program's success inspired a successor initiative: Club Vogue, which began in 2007, is a social networking project aimed at women.

Combined customers involved in the two programs represent about 10 percent of the bank's retail customers and nearly 50 percent of retail deposits.

"We have had groups with men before but they really haven't grown vibrantly," Carter says. "First Ladies has been around for 20 years and has always been very strong and that's why we started the Club Vogue program, trying to target a different audience."

POWER PLAYS

Mollie Carter, President & CEO
Sandy Jacobs, EVP
Jennifer Johnson, EVP
Phyllis Pickel, EVP
Kristy Balthazor, COO
Brandy Felzien, VP
Tammy Fesmire, President, Pueblo
Cheryl Campbell, VP
Sue Niernberger, VP
Sue Thompson, SVP
Alissa Foth, VP
Lynn Herbic, VP

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