Katherine Andersen, Silicon Valley Bank | Most Powerful Women: Next
Head of life science and health care relationship banking
You would not know from her upbeat voice how trying the last 12 months have been for Katherine Andersen.
She was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, a few months after losing her mother-in-law to ALS. The new year brought reprieve in the form of remission, but several months later, another tragedy struck: Andersen’s father passed away unexpectedly.
“Came back from that and about five days later we entered this global pandemic and work-from-home-environment,” said Anderson, who is the mother of three children, ages seven, nine and 11. “After losing my dad, I’m kind of tired of feeling like I need to be so resilient. But the perspective that has allowed me to bring to work and to life has just been really valuable.”
Andersen has been practicing resilience since she was in grade school, where she struggled with math and reading and was made to feel like an “underdog.”
“It was with my mom’s help and probably 20,000 flash cards that I eventually caught up and then some,” she said. “But it was really that struggle, that need for resilience, that had a pretty great, lasting impact on me in my life. It created just this incredible drive and can-do attitude.”
Those qualities came to bear in January 2019 when SVB Financial Group, the parent company of Silicon Valley Bank, announced the acquisition of Leerink Partners, an investment bank focused on the health care sector. Andersen was tasked with creating the plan for integrating the with the commercial banking operations and figuring out how the newly created division would go to market.
“I’ve worked at some of those organizations that have both commercial and investment banking arms and, quite frankly, many of them have some sharp elbows,” said Andersen, one of 15 executives selected for our second annual Next list. (This extension of our Most Powerful Women in Banking program is meant to highlight high-achieving women in the leadership pipeline who are age 40 and under.)
“Investment bankers and commercial bankers don’t necessarily see the value that each team is able to bring to the table,” she added.
To foster a collaborative environment, Andersen started by having biweekly meetings with teams covering various sectors where both the investment bankers and the commercial bankers could showcase their expertise and how they could help each other. “That, I think, was the most critical step in the first few months of that acquisition close,” she said.
I have seen her take SVB’s corporate finance business from a PowerPoint presentation into a high-growth business.
Open dialogue, including “direct and candid feedback” that individuals were able to accept without taking it personally, was critical to fostering trust. “It can be really easy if you speculate as to why somebody is doing something or why somebody didn’t include you in a meeting; that can create a lot of anxiety and frustration. So always assume good intentions,” she said.
The internal communications, market strategy, revamped performance metrics, and “deep credibility” Andersen developed with the new investment banking team kept the momentum and enthusiasm going throughout the transition, said David Sabow, head of technology and health care banking for SVB in North America. “We just celebrated our one-year anniversary and the combined business has exceeded expectations.”
For Andersen, the project was yet one more opportunity to put into practice lessons learned from the many personal struggles of the past year, including approaching people with kindness and empathy.
“Now, going into conversations, whether that’s with somebody at work on my team, or on a different team, or even outside of work, the thought in the back of my mind is, I don’t know what kind of day this person is having or what kind of challenges they’re faced with,” she said. “It is an appreciation for the simple things.”
Head of technology and health care banking, North America
What he said:
“I have had a front row seat as Katherine worked with underperforming employees and has mentored and moved them into new roles where they thrived. I have seen her take SVB’s corporate finance business from a PowerPoint presentation into a high-growth business.”