‘Leap of faith’: Fifth Third’s Tanner resigning to focus on social causes

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In her 15 years at Fifth Third Bancorp in Cincinnati, Teresa Tanner has effected significant change across the $168 billion-asset company. She has spearheaded a program to get more women into leadership roles, adopted a workforce development program for teens with cognitive disabilities, and launched myriad wellness programs to improve bank employees’ daily lives.

Now the chief administrative officer is stepping away from a job she calls “the greatest joy of my professional life” to focus on creating more opportunities for people — particularly women — outside of Fifth Third. Tanner isn’t entirely sure what she will do next but says she plans to start exploring opportunities after she leaves the bank on June 7.

“It’s about taking that leap of faith and knowing time is limited. If there’s something that you’re passionate about, you just have to seize the day and do it,” Tanner said in an interview Monday. “It’s really hard when you’re in the C-suite to plan that next phase.”

Having begun her career at McDonald’s Corp., Tanner joined Fifth Third in 2003 as head of human resources in its operations and technology division. She later became chief human resources officer for the entire company, and in 2015 she was promoted to chief administrative officer.

“Fifth Third has been fortunate to have such a talented leader with so much passion for the organization and for doing what is right to serve our stakeholders,” Greg Carmichael, the bank's chairman, president and CEO, said in a press release announcing Tanner’s departure. “We simply would not be the organization we are today without Teresa’s leadership over the past 15 years.”

Fifth Third will not choose a successor for Tanner and instead will divide her responsibilities up among the management team. She will continue to serve on the boards of several Cincinnati-area nonprofits, including the Ronald McDonald House and the Health Collaborative.

Tanner has been planning her departure from Fifth Third for nearly a year, she said. After she turned 50 last summer, she took a weeklong retreat into the mountains of North Carolina to meditate and reflect on her life.

While Tanner has been able to devote significant time and resources to her passions at Fifth Third, she said daily responsibilities have also distracted her sometimes. Stepping away from her full-time job will let her focus completely on the issues she’s passionate about, such as helping women advance in the workplace and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups, including minorities and people with cognitive disabilities, she said.

“I just know thematically what I want my life to look and feel like,” she said. “It may result in me making a lot of money or making no money. I really don’t know.”

For several years now, Tanner has earned a spot among American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking, in large part because of her work helping other women to succeed in the industry.

Notably, she developed Fifth Third’s Women in Leadership program, an eight-month program designed to help high-performing female bankers carve a path to the C-suite.

She has also overseen the launch of various programs aimed at improving Fifth Third employees’ overall wellness. Its maternity concierge program gives expecting and new parents extra help juggling their day-to-day responsibilities, and its financial wellness program helps employees with budgeting and financial planning.

Shortly after she joined Fifth Third, Tanner partnered with a local hospital to adopt a workforce development program for young adults with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. Fifth Third then became the first bank to launch a Project SEARCH worksite and, more than a decade later, continues to hire graduates of the program.

“All of those things were creative innovations to change the dialogue around opportunities for people,” Tanner said. “That’s the kind of stuff that I want to do.”

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