Diane Thormodsgard accomplished plenty during her career at U.S. Bancorp, most notably building one of the largest corporate trust businesses in the country. But in Thormodsgard's eyes, no achievement beats having earned the affection of her employees.
"I've gotten e-mails, calls and letters from people who will say things like, 'You won't remember this, but when I was brand new to the organization, you stopped and talked to me,'" says Thormodsgard, who retired in June. "I'm proud of the impact others have told me that I had on them as a role model."
A desire to treat employees with respect was a hallmark of Thormodsgard's career. She is remembered for hand-writing countless notes of praise and encouragement, which could often be found thumb-tacked onto cubicle walls.
"She started with a respect for the person, set aggressive goals and was able to celebrate with them and reinforce their good behavior," says Richard Davis, the chairman and CEO of U.S. Bancorp. "And she never put people in harm's way-you weren't afraid to work for someone like Diane."
Thormodsgard says she admires leaders who demonstrate respect and fairness-and she puts ex-boss Darrell Knudson, the one-time acting CEO of First Bank System, and Davis in that group.
Treating people with decency was critical, she says, in the defining accomplishment of her career. Thormodsgard led the integration of 15 businesses to build the wealth management and corporate trust operations at her company, starting in 1995 when its predecessor, First Bank System, bought Bank of America's corporate trust unit.
During the process of integrating the acquired businesses, Thormodsgard insisted on treating employees with "the highest level of honesty and respect because during that process, some people are going to lose their job," she says.
Thormodsgard's people skills were matched by her calm consistency. "She was steady, but at a higher level," says Davis. "You'd never walk into a meeting and say, 'Wow, she's having a bad day-you'd never know."
Thormodsgard, an Iowa farm girl, took on big challenges right up until the end of her career. In 2007, Davis tapped her to be vice chairman and head of wealth management. Her charge: Lay the groundwork to transform U.S. Bancorp's wealth management business from a regional into a national player.
She made large strides toward that long-term goal, overseeing a new branding effort and improving customer segmentation and service models. "We were over-servicing some customers and greatly under-servicing some customers," she says.
The wealth management business also made several key hires and invested enough in technology to make up for many lean years.
Says Thormodsgard: "I'm extremely proud that we're so well positioned."
Thormodsgard has slowed down in her retirement-but not much, from the sound of it. She has agreed to become a regent at her alma mater, Luther College, in Iowa. She also continues to volunteer for numerous organizations, including lending her expertise to an effort to expand a light rail system in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul area.