Executive vice president First Union of South Carolina

Cecelia S. "Cece" Gardner earned her stripes running First Union Corp.'s bank in Rock Hill, S.C.

In three years, her hard work and marketing savvy transformed a mediocre operation that had suffered from excessive turnover into one of the stars in the First Union National Bank of South Carolina system.

Last year, when it came time to appoint a new head of consumer banking in the state, Ms. Gardner was the obvious choice, even though she was only 34.

"I talked to senior managers and asked myself, is there anybody on this list who can do this job better than Cece? I didn't have anybody that passed that test, says Sid Tate, chairman and chief executive officer of the South Carolina bank.

Mr. Tate says he considered 69 candidates throughout First Union's five-state territory before deciding Ms. Gardner could handle the promotion from city executive and senior vice president in Rock Hill to executive vice president in Greenville, where First Union South Carolina headquarters is located.

Ms. Gardner is ready for the challenge. During her first week on the job last November, she made a point of visiting all the outlying branches in the state "because I really enjoy, getting out and spending time with the employees." She recalls coming home late one night and telling her husband, "This is why, I wanted this job!"

A native of Columbus, Ga., Ms. Gardner graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in psychology. She accepted a clerical position with First Union in Charlotte in 1978 on the advice of a neighbor who worked in the bank's personnel department.

In 1981, she entered First Union's management training program. She worked as a branch manager in Raleigh and then in Cary, N.C., until 1984, when she became consumer credit sales manager in Charlotte.

Ms. Gardner was promoted to consumer banking manager of the South Carolina bank in 1986. It wasn't until moving to Rock Hill three years later that she was able to develop her commercial lending skills through internal and on-the-job training.

To improve her analytical skills further, Ms. Gardner has been attending night school at Winthrop University in Rock Hill to earn an MBA. She expects to finish in April.

Ms. Gardner's new job will require moving her family to Greenville. Her husband also works with First Union, as a special manager in the automation/operation division in Charlotte.

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