Jill Castilla
President and CEO, Citizens Bank of Edmond

Some might see it as a weakness, but vulnerability is more of a strength, from Jill Castilla's perspective. Having the freedom to "be a bit more vulnerable than men" gives women a competitive advantage in banking, she says. "We're just naturally that way, and we're less likely to develop an ego where we aren't willing to put ourselves out there."

It's a trait particularly suited to making calculated risks, as with technology investments. Castilla says she has experienced this firsthand at the helm of Citizens Bank of Edmond.

Although plans may not always pan out and investments might not always pay off, "we have a duty almost" to experiment and be willing to fail, she says. It's a matter of survival for community banks.

Castilla was in the military and worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City before becoming the fourth generation of her family to run Citizens. She first rotated through various management positions to learn its inner workings. Then she used the insight she gained to make decisions — and take risks — that would spur growth and turn around the once-troubled $252-million-asset bank.

"We've been around for 113 years and want the opportunity to be around for another 113 years," she says.

Although Castilla can comfortably say that now, it wasn't the case when she joined Citizens five years ago. The bank had a lot of nonperforming assets and was under regulatory scrutiny. Castilla spent her first six months working 5 a.m. to midnight every day. She scoured its business practices and balance sheet for opportunities to improve, often making tough decisions with regards to personnel and bank assets. She even sold off three of its five branches to free up capital and lower the bank's real estate expenses.

All the effort has paid off. In March 2012, regulators lifted the written agreement with the bank. And in 2013, Citizens earned its highest profit ever.

Castilla says she learned her most valuable lessons about assertiveness and risk-taking in the nine years she spent at the Kansas City Fed. Her bosses there regularly sought her input and forced her to defend her ideas, thus helping her evolve as a leader. "If you were quiet and to yourself, they would always ask for your opinion," she says. "That was such a good process for me to go through, because then I had the confidence, in a more male-dominated industry, to put myself out there."

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