Lifetime achievement: LeeAnne Linderman's nonstop advocacy for women in banking

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LeeAnne Linderman’s long career at Zions Bancorp. is filled with highlight-reel moments, including helping its Zions Bank grab the No. 1 deposit share in Utah, successfully managing its in-store banking strategy and guiding the holding company's first-ever enterprise retail strategy across 11 states.

But ask Linderman which accomplishment she is most proud of during her 26-year banking career and she says, unequivocally, that it was founding the Zions Bank Women’s Business Forum in 2007.

The forum was initially set up to help up-and-coming female bankers at Zions Bank receive the mentoring and training they need to reach the next levels of their careers, and was eventually rolled out to affiliated banks. The program was a clear success — more than half of the corporate officers at the $70.1 billion-asset Zions Bancorp. are women.

The forum also became a template for the creation of other affinity groups, including employees who identify as Latino, African-American and LGBTQ and ultimately spawned a companywide diversity, equality and inclusion council that advocates for the advancement of women and minorities. The Salt Lake City-based company says that 65% of the more than 1,000 employees who have gone through formal mentoring programs over the past dozen or so years are women or minorities, and many later received promotions.

“It has tentacles far beyond just women,” Linderman said.

For helping build Zions Bank into a retail force and one of the most recognizable brands in Utah, as well as shaping the retail strategy of parent Zions Bancorp. following its charter consolidation and tirelessly advocating for the advancement of women and minorities in banking, Linderman will be honored by American Banker with a Lifetime Achievement award in New York City on Thursday. She will accept the award at a gala celebration for the Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance.

From retailer to banker

Linderman, who retired from Zions in August 2018, got a late start to her banking career.

After graduating from Auburn University, Linderman joined JCPenney Co. as management trainee, then spent 15 years in management roles with the department store chain until a desire for a change prompted her to switch careers.

“I went through career testing and banking was one of the industries recommended as a good fit for my education, experience, and personality,” she said. “I was hired by Bank of America [in Southern California] for a training program and immediately loved banking. The impact on local economies and families really impressed me.”

She joined Zions in 1992, at a time when Simmons, then the CEO at Zions Bank, and Scott Anderson, then Zions Bank’s retail banking chief, were eager to bring more women into the leadership ranks to better reflect the clients Zions served. (Zions Bank is the lead subsidiary of Zions Bancorp., which until 2015 was a multibank holding company. Though the charters have since been consolidated, the former subsidiaries still operate under their own names and with their own leadership teams. Anderson is now the CEO at Zions Bank.)

“I suppose you could say I was a diversity hire,” said Linderman, who has been part of our Most Powerful Women rankings many times, most recently in 2016. “Scott was clear in my interview that if I accepted the job I was being hired for, I would also be expected to help them lead the way in attracting other women leaders to the company while modeling the way for the young women coming up through the organization.”

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Linderman’s first job at Zions was senior vice president of in-store banking. She was later promoted to senior vice president of branch banking, overseeing all of bank’s Utah branches and eventually its expansion into Idaho, where it now has about two dozen branches.

It was in that latter role that Linderman, around 2006, began to spot some troubling trends in those in-store branches she helped build. With more and more customers using online channels, foot traffic began to plummet to the point where Linderman started questioning the in-store strategy, and she brought her concerns to Simmons and Anderson.

Zions at the time was becoming more focused on developing deeper relationships with customers, particularly commercial clients, and Linderman realized early on “that a grocery store was a very tough environment to do relationship banking,” Simmons said.

“She used data to help us understand that we could be more successful exiting the grocery stores and in some cases putting a traditional branch nearby,” he said.

Over the next few years, Zions opted not to renew grocery store leases when they expired and by 2010 the bank was pretty much out of the in-store business.


'The natural choice'

Linderman went on to become head of retail and omnichannel banking at Zions and believed she would end her career in that role when Simmons dropped by her office unannounced one day in May 2015 and asked her to take on a new role at the corporate level.

Zions Bancorp. was preparing to consolidate its charters to simplify its regulatory reporting, cut costs and improve efficiency, and Simmons wanted Linderman to lead the group tasked with centralizing the retail operations and building a consistent set of products and services across the entire organization.

Simmons didn’t know at the time that Linderman was planning to give her six-month notice; she had turned 60 earlier that year and had always intended to retire before she turned 61.

But retirement could wait. Linderman viewed the opportunity as one that was too good to pass up, so with the full support of her husband, Chris — who had already relocated from Salt Lake City to their home in Sun Valley, Idaho — Linderman committed to stick with Zions for three more years.

Simmons said that Linderman was “the natural choice” for the job because of her strong record of building consensus to get things done. That was important because the changes Simmons wanted to implement were sure to rankle management at some affiliate banks.

“LeeAnne works so well in bringing people together with different objectives and frames of mind to the table and coming to an agreement quickly,” Simmons said. “I’ve never been around LeeAnne when she’s had a negative thought. She’s dealt with a lot of tough situations, but she’s relentlessly positive about what’s ahead. There’s something infectious about that.”

Under Linderman’s leadership, the retail group shrunk the number of deposit products from roughly 550 to less than 100, vastly improving efficiency and customer service. It also consolidated business loan processing centers, speeding up decision-making, and made significant upgrades to digital channels across the organization.

“What we had [before the retail overhaul] was inefficient and ineffective for a company our size,” Simmons said. “We needed to create greater consistency across the organizations and LeeAnne really helped us accomplish that.”

'Lift as you rise'

Still, for all Linderman did to help build Zions Bancorp. into the company it is today, Simmons said she will be remembered most for the impact she’s had on the careers of other women, both inside and outside of bankers.

In 2009, Linderman became the first-ever female chair of the Utah Bankers Association, and before that persuaded the trade group’s leaders to create a Women in Banking conference that continues to this day and has since been copied by banking groups in other states.

'We have an outstanding roster of women leaders here and it’s because LeeAnne set the tone,' said Zions CEO Harris Simmons.

Even as she rose through the ranks at Zions and demands on her time increased, Linderman continued to actively mentor up-and-coming female leaders, and encouraged other women in the organization to do the same. Rarely a week went by Linderman didn’t meet with one-on-one with two or three mentees.

“We have an outstanding roster of women leaders here and it’s because LeeAnne set the tone,” said Simmons. “She was selfless with her time and in her determination to help others be successful. That’s ultimately the mark of a real leader.”

One longtime mentee was Cory Gardiner, who met Linderman when she joined Zions Bank in 2004 as a branch manager.

Gardiner had been with Zions for only about 18 months when Linderman took her under her wing to begin preparing for bigger and more important roles. It started off as a mentoring relationship in which Linderman worked with Gardiner to help speak more confidently and command a room without being demanding, and then morphed into a sponsorship relationship where Linderman was actively recommending Gardiner for promotions.

Today, Gardiner is the director of retail branch banking in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming — and an active mentor herself.

“We have a saying around here — ‘Lift as you rise’ — and it was LeeAnne who coined it,” said Gardiner. “She always told us, ‘As you are ascending into the higher levels of management, you want to make sure you’re lifting those behind you as well.' ”

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Consumer banking Regional banks Branch banking Branch management C-suite LeeAnne Linderman Zions Bancorp. Women in Banking