Harris Trust's Rahe Finds Excitement in Banking

Studying Romance languages is hardly traditional preparation for a career in private banking, but Maribeth Rahe hasn't let that stop her.

"Banking provides for lots of diversity. You can do lots of different things," she said.

"Ten years ago, I was lending to Scandinavia and loving every minute of it."

After graduating from Bowling Green State University, Ms. Rahe, now the newest department executive at Harris Trust & Savings Bank, earned a four-year graduate fellowship to study Romance languages at Ohio State University

A Different Path

But teaching did not appeal to her. She decided to study international affairs, in Arizona at the American Graduate School of International Management, known as Thunderbird.

After earning a master's degree in international management, Ms. Rahe (pronounced RAY) found a job in international banking. She joined the international department of Harris Bank, an affiliate of the Bank of Montreal holding company, Bankmont Financial Corp., in 1974.

Six years later she left for J.P. Morgan & Co., only to return to Harris in 1988 as a private banking executive.

Ms. Rahe spent three years as senior vice president in charge of the personal and private banking group.

In early August she was promoted to executive in charge of the personal financial services department, overseeing all individual banking services.

Working in one of the industry's most profitable segments appeals to Ms. Rahe, but she says too many banks may be rushing to get into the business.

"If my phone is any indication, it's a really hot area," she said. "I always get concerned when I see everybody coming into the field. That usually means an erosion in pricing."

Wearing Several Hats

Ms. Rahe, 42, has been running all of Harris' personal and private banking services since 1988, but now she also heads up trust services, sales and marketing, and new business development for individual banking services.

She is replacing Donald Hunt, who was named president of Harris Bankcorp and Harris Chicago earlier this year.

As department executive, Ms. Rahe is now one of the highest-ranking woman bankers in Chicago. Though some female employees sued the bank in the 1980s alleging sexual discrimination (the bank settled in 1989), "in my own case Harris has been very fair," Ms. Rahe said.

Private banking may not be Ms. Rahe's final posting. Having risen in international banking and earned her stripes in private banking, she says she may eventually tackle new areas.

"Who knows what things are going to look like in five years?" she said.

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