As M&T Bank's chief information officer, Michele Trolli oversees its technology and operations and is leading an overhaul of its anti-money laundering systems. She also has a sideline in finding homes for orphaned polar bears.
Last year, near the northeast coast of Alaska, a hunter rescued a polar bear cub after accidentally shooting its mother. The cub was brought to the Alaska Zoo, where it was raised for several months. But the zoo wanted to find the cub a permanent home where it would be around other bears.
The Buffalo Zoo had a polar bear cub of about the same age, which had been abandoned by its mother and hand-reared by zoo staff. Trolli, the zoo's vice chair, learned about the Alaska cub, and worked to bring the two together.
She helped arrange for M&T to pay to have the bear flown by special courier from Alaska to Buffalo. Now the two cubs, Kali and Luna, are living together at the zoo, where they're a popular attraction and have developed a friendship. "It's really special when they grow up together and they get to teach each other to be bears," Trolli says.
Trolli has sat on the zoo board for six years, and is chairing a group that's preparing a strategic plan for the 139-year-old institution. It's an appropriate role, given that strategic planning is something she does every day at M&T.
Most critically, she's working to oversee the transformation of the bank's anti-money-laundering controls and Bank Secrecy Act compliance. Regulators are requiring improvements to the programs, putting the bank's planned acquisition of Hudson City Bancorp on indefinite hold. So now M&T is investing tens of millions of dollars on systems to better analyze customer risk data and monitor transactions.
Trolli has complete oversight of the reforms. "My role is to make sure we've got the right people assigned, that we've got the right processes in place and that they're done in a quality way," she says.
She's also in charge of M&T's overall upgrade of its technology. M&T recently invested $70 million in two data centers, and released a new mobile platform in August. It also plans to roll out its new online system in November.
Trolli, whose division encompasses eight departments and more than a fifth of the bank's employees, plays a key part in all these initiatives. "It's a role that involves staffing, it's a role of vision, it's a role of influencing and then it's a role of design and execution," she says.
As the highest-ranking woman within M&T's corporate structure and the only woman on M&T's 14-member executive committee Trolli spends a lot of time mentoring and advising female coworkers.
It's an informal role, but one she relishes. She regularly holds breakfast meetings with 20 or 30 female M&T regional executives and female M&T business customers at the C-level.
"They'll ask me questions from 'Where do you see the technology vision of the bank going?' to 'Do you wear hose? Open-toed shoes?'" she says. "It's all fair game, whatever they want to talk about."
And Trolli is doing her part to bring more women into the bank's leadership ranks, recently hiring Julieta Ross, formerly with Citigroup, as M&Ts chief technology officer. Previously, all of Trolli's direct reports had been male, she says.