BILOXI, Miss. - Miriam Lopez has achieved her share of career milestones since entering the banking industry a quarter century ago at the suggestion of a professor.
And last week, the 49-year-old Ms. Lopez, longtime president and CEO of Transatlantic Bank in Miami, reached another when she was elected president of the Florida Bankers Association - the first woman or Hispanic person to get the post.
The Cuban-born Ms. Lopez took the helm of the 112-year-old trade group at its annual convention here, succeeding Walter Dodson. Her goals for her one-year term include educating the public about the association's value, getting the word out about privacy and data protection, and helping banks strengthen their e-business plans. She also plans to be instrumental in shaping the group's new insurance division.
"We are going to be very proactive," Ms. Lopez said, "and when we see a need for something, we are not going to wait two years to make it happen but make it happen in three months."
Alejandro Sanchez, chief executive officer of the 400-member trade group, said that judging from her past achievements and association involvement he is confident that Ms. Lopez can accomplish her goals.
"She has very decisive leadership traits and puts her soul into things and really wants to see things get done," Mr. Sanchez said.
Ms. Lopez's leadership qualities were evident when she joined the ailing Transatlantic as its president 15 years ago. The bank had opened its doors only a year before and had already had two presidents. Given six months to turn things around, she succeeded in both saving the bank and building a $275 million-asset institution with a loyal customer base.
After a short-lived teaching career, Ms. Lopez warmed to banking while taking a graduate accounting course. A professor told her that she was too interesting to be an accountant and suggested banking instead. Shortly thereafter she joined a management training program at Southeast First National Bank of Miami.
Ms. Lopez, whose first nine years were lived in Cuba, was on the community bankers council of the American Bankers Association from 1992 to 1998 and on its executive committee from 1995 to 1998. She was also the first woman in Southeast's training program, the first woman senior lender at Republic National Bank of Miami, and one of seven women CEOs in the state when she started at Transatlantic.
Despite these and her other "first-woman" credentials, Ms. Lopez said she has not found banking to be a difficult field for women to succeed in. And though the first-woman and first-Hispanic tags have already been used in connection with her newest post, Ms. Lopez would rather be known simply as a dedicated banker.
"Every day there may be a problem, but every day I come back because for me banking is the best of all worlds," Ms. Lopez said. "It combines the skills of accounting, which I like, with people skills and my original degree, which has some psychology in it. When you put them all together, you have a banker."