Ask any woman who has made it to the top where power ends and influence begins and she’ll likely tell you the former is meaningless without the latter. Why? Because influence is a door opener, and open doors mean the ability to effect change—within a financial institution or the communities it serves.
A distinguishing trait among women of influence in banking is the desire to redefine leadership by reinventing the rules and to give back to this world something that speaks not only to achievement, but also to accountability.
In its second annual ranking of “The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking,” U.S. Banker profiles the individuals whose professional achievements and personal integrity have made them icons of influence in the workplace, at home and within their communities.
Unlike their male counterparts, these female powerhouses are defining success on their own terms: They want inclusive, not exclusive, team relationships; they are people-centric, not just number-centric; and they see mentors as central to their lives—both seeking them out and acting as one to others internally and externally. For these women, such issues are not negotiable.
Mentoring was specifically mentioned by nearly every woman interviewed. For many, mentors were few and far between as they were climbing the ranks. Those few who were lucky enough to prosper under the watchful eye of one recognize the impact it made on their professional lives. They, in turn, are eager to share their wisdom with those—women and men alike—who are just beginning their ascension in corporate America.
Sharing their collective experience is not confined to colleagues. Many women are eager to guide teenagers and young adults toward college or to help disadvantaged women learn to dress properly for a job interview. These are not peer-to-peer exchanges; they are human-to-human encounters. And they are just as effective—and satisfying—to these female bankers as professional mentoring relationships. In the end, they realize it’s about helping people develop the confidence to believe in themselves.
Women in banking are indeed an awesome force. They are gaining more seats as board directors, comprising 13.4 percent of those at commercial banks in 2003, up from 10 percent in 2001; 14.1 percent of those at diversified financial firms, up from 9 percent; and 11.3 percent at securities’ firms, up from 8 percent, according to research by Catalyst.
The percentage of female corporate officers in commercial banks rose to 15.2 percent in 2002, up from 11.8 percent in 2000; represented 23.6 percent of those in diversified financial firms, up from 20.2 percent; but slid to 10.6 percent in the securities industry, down from 11.3 percent.
One icon for male and female bankers alike is Citigroup’s Marjorie Magner, the No. 1 MPWIB, who embodies just this kind of influence. Not only is this chairman and CEO of the global consumer group on track to become the first women to lead a top-five bank, but she’s making the world a better place by spearheading micro-credit initiatives in the Third World and offering career counseling to low-income women at Dress for Success. This is a woman who believes being a role model is “one of the most important things I do.” She’s testament to how women’s roles have changed: She remembers being accused of stealing a man’s job when she launched her career in the early 1970s.
But no more. These women are laser-focused on the bottom line, and they’re as obsessed with growth as the next banker—eager to continually raise the bar for themselves every quarter, and from one year to the next. Wheatland Bank chairman, president and CEO Susan Pittman Horton reported record earnings—a stellar 110 percent—in 2003 over the previous year. American Savings Bank president and CEO Connie Lau more than doubled commercial loan volume to $286 million in only two years. Wells Fargo consumer credit group president Doreen Woo Ho hiked her home-equity portfolio 49 percent in June over the previous year. Fifth Third Bank president and CEO Colleen Kvetko increased loan volume 36 percent year over year, deposits 36 percent and net income 26 percent. Cascade Bancorp president and CEO Patricia Moss has boasted an above 20-percent ROE for eight consistent years. Wells Fargo’s Avid Modjtabai, head of the bank’s Internet Services group, pushed Web product sales up 78 percent between March 2003 and 2004.
But what these women excel at is turning adversity into triumph. New Alliance Bancshares’ Peyton Patterson quelled townwide hostility over her acquisition strategy in New Haven, CT; and Bank of America chief risk officer Amy Brinkley rolled out enterprise risk-management policies that cut loan losses in 2003, and she also helped stave off reams of negative publicity surrounding the bank’s mutual fund scandal in 2004.
In this year’s ranking, it was apparent that age and experience had little to do with influence. Metropolitan National Bank’s Susan Smith and Wheatland Bank’s Pittman Horton, both 43, are two of the ranking’s youngest stars and fast trackers. CIBC’s Jill Denham, also 43, jumped the second greatest number of spots—up 19—from last year, when she was ranked one of 25 Women to Watch.
Other women also gaining huge ground this year are Wachovia’s Cece Sutton, up 26 spots to No. 4, Cascade Bancorp’s Moss, up 15 positions to No. 6, and NewAlliance Bancshares’ Patterson, up 12 spots to No. 2.
Three of the most experienced bankers—Kvetko, Magner and Moss—remain among the top 10 most influential this year.
As part of the research for the ranking, USB reviewed the performance numbers and personal accomplishments of more than 5,000 women of senior status (svp, evp, managing director, chief marketing officer, CIO, CFO, president, CEO and chairman) across institutions of all sizes. To qualify, candidates had to be employed by a bank or group, division, or subsidiary owned by a bank.
Trimming the list to 1,000 women, staff weighed the following quantitative and qualitative aspects of power: position and responsibility; financial performance (within specific lines of business or overall financial responsibility); length of time in banking; career path; management style; ties to the community; and influence wielded both industry- and community-wide.
Careful review and analysis of the final candidates yielded “The 25 Most Powerful,” as well as “25 Women to Watch”—consistent performers and industry mentors such as Marion Sandler, co-CEO of Golden West Financial, and rising stars like Anne Arvia, president and CEO of ShoreBank.
When looking over the final list for 2004, 15 of the 25 women that appeared on last year’s most influential list didn’t make the final cut this year. It doesn’t mean these accomplished women stumbled in their jobs and suddenly became less effective leaders or performers. Rather, in a year-over-year comparison extending beyond financial performance alone, USB also considered the complexity of each individual’s position, noting that running a multi-line operation, for example, is more difficult than operating a bank whose profits largely are derived from one business.
Wrestling with the often slippery nature of influence, especially influence powerful enough to project beyond the confines of one’s own organization to the industry and the community, these women know that the ultimate goal is not only to be a success, but an agent of change.