Lifetime Achievement: TD Bank’s Linda Verba

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Linda Verba’s career in banking, you could argue, began two decades ago at an elementary-school bus stop in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Verba was waiting to pick up her daughter, Mackenzie, who was in third grade at the time. She had just left her job at PHH, the mortgage firm, and was planning to pick up consulting gigs on the side — an arrangement that offered the work-life flexibility that many busy executives crave.

On her first day out of the full-time workforce, Verba relished her daughter’s surprise in seeing her at the bus stop. “She came all bouncy in her uniform, saying ‘Oh Mom, you’re here!’ ” On the second day, it happened again.

On the third day, however, Verba asked her daughter what she would think if her mother picked her up every day.

“’But what would happen to Judy?’ the family’s after-school caregiver, Verba said in a recent interview, recalling her daughter’s reaction. “A lightbulb went off and I said, ‘My kid is well taken care of, she gets the best of my husband and me.’”

Verba knew the corporate world was where she belonged. “I decided to go back to work,” she said.

So she sent a letter — without attaching a resume — to Commerce Bank in Cherry Hill, explaining why she thought she would be a good fit for the fast-growing company. Two weeks later, she had a full-time job, one that ultimately propelled her to the top ranks of the industry. The Canadian banking giant TD Bank Group acquired Commerce in May 2008.

At the end of this year, Verba, who will turn 68 in October, plans to retire from TD, where for the past 19 years she has overseen the company’s East Coast expansion and its distinctive, service-oriented culture. She will accept a lifetime achievement award on Thursday as part of American Banker’s Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance program.

Looking back at her career, Verba said that the idea that women executives should aim to have it all is a farce. It’s not about choosing between your family and your job, which both carry their own set of demands.

“It’s about figuring out how to lead an integrated life,” she said. That means never missing important family moments — but also answering work calls when, for instance, you’re in the waiting room at your child’s doctor’s appointment.

“Your family and your children become part of who you are and what you do,” Verba said.

In her nearly two decades with the company, Verba has been instrumental in making the $268 billion-asset TD into a competitive U.S. force.

When she joined in 1999, TD — which operated as Commerce at the time — had about 75 branches mostly in around its home turf in New Jersey. TD now has more than 1,200 branches from Maine to Florida.

More recently, Verba, TD’s head of service strategy, has spearheaded several internal initiatives to improve customer satisfaction. She oversaw the launch of the TD Legendary Experience Index, which uses survey data to measure the likelihood of customers to increase their business with the company. This fall, TD will begin using a pared-down version of the index, focusing more on digital customers.

The metrics provide TD with guidance on how to improve everything from telephone greetings to the cleanliness of the branches, according to Verba.

“Every survey counts, because every survey has the opportunity to turn a customer into a raving fan,” Verba said. “That’s how we’ve used it.”

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Asked what she’s most proud of, Verba pointed to innovations such as the Penny Arcades, the famous coin-counting machines, which TD recently removed from its branches. She also pointed to the way TD instantly issues debit and credit cards to customers when they open accounts in the branches.

But Verba said she is most proud of the role she played in expanding TD from a local community bank to a “major league” company. During her tenure, she led the integrations of four bank acquisitions.

She has memorable stories to tell about the company’s growth.

Verba recalled the expansion into New York City in the fall of 2001 — the company’s first foray into a top-tier market. The company, which operated as Commerce at the time, had planned to open two branches in Manhattan on Sept. 13 and host a grand-opening celebration. Two days prior, on Sept. 11, Verba and four other executives were flying into the city on a helicopter to prepare for the event.

As the helicopter flew over the Newark, N.J., airport, approaching the Manhattan skyline, the pilot said one of the Twin Towers had been hit by an airplane.

The cause of the crash was unknown at the time. So the pilot kept flying toward the city.

“Then we actually saw the second one hit, and [the pilot] said, ‘We’ve got to take the aircraft down,' ” Verba said.

Nothing felt real in that moment. “It honestly felt like you were looking at something in a movie,” she said. “It was an out-of-body experience.”

The pilot safely landed the helicopter on the west side of Manhattan. Once the aircraft was on the ground, Verba jumped into action and began accounting for the more than 30 employees who were in the city for the grand opening.

The company ultimately delayed the opening of its New York branches until the end of September, as the city coped with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. TD now has more than 200 branches across the state.

“What do they say? If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere,” Verba said.

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Looking ahead to her retirement, Verba said she is unsure what is in store for her.

She is actively involved in fundraising at her alma mater, Penn State University, and may devote more time to that. She may also parlay her expertise in customer service into a spot on a corporate board.

Meanwhile, she will continue her battle against cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in 2015, and recently completed her participation in a clinical trial through the University of Pennsylvania. She continues to receive regular treatment.

“I’m hoping to knock it, but I’m not done yet,” she said.

More than anything, though, Verba — who recently vacationed in Portugal — said the timing just feels right to step away from full-time work.

Meanwhile, her daughter — whom she waited for at the bus stop two decades ago — got married in September.

Preparing for the celebration, and then watching her daughter and new husband smile “ear to ear” throughout the day, was one of Verba’s biggest joys. “It was one of the most fun things that my husband and I have ever done,” she said.

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