EVP, Head of Small and Medium-Size Enterprise Banking, Bank of the West

Michelle Di Gangi’s decision in 2005 to leave a senior-level post at Wells Fargo to head up commercial banking at the far-smaller Greater Bay Bancorp didn’t look so great two years later when Greater Bay sold itself — to Wells Fargo, no less.

Di Gangi had joined Greater Bay for the opportunity to run a business line and its sale to her longtime employer left her at a career crossroads.

Then in 2008, she accepted an offer to oversee small and midsize business banking at Bank of the West and it all made sense.

“All the technology and support that I had taken for granted at Wells was nonexistent at Greater Bay. I had to roll up my sleeves and write my own marketing material, design policies, create and analyze incentive plans and figure out how to build a viable online banking system,” she said. “That experience was invaluable when I went to Bank of the West to build a business again.”

Build it she has. The unit Di Gangi now runs had just 75 employees in 2008 and at the time Bank of the West didn’t even rank among the nation’s top 25 small-business lenders. Today it has more than 800 employees — it added 75 last year alone — and the bank now ranks as the nation’s 12th-largest small-business lender, based on call report data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Volume in Small Business Administration lending reflects this surge. Last year Bank of the West, once an also-ran in SBA loans, was the 11th-largest lender in the SBA’s flagship 7(a) program by dollar volume

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Under Di Gangi, small and midsize business lending also has emerged as a significant driver of profits at the $86.9 billion-asset Bank of the West Her unit now accounts for roughly 20% of the bank’s loans, 22% of its deposits and 21% of its net banking income.

Di Gangi’s success at Bank of the West, which is owned by the French banking giant BNP Paribas, is validation that the best career moves are sometimes unexpected. It’s a lesson she said she wished she learned earlier and one she preaches to the many young bankers she now mentors. “You have to be willing to possibly fail or take a step back to really learn and propel yourself forward,” she said.

Read more:
Top Teams 2017: Bank of the West
Most Powerful Women 2017: Nandita Bakhshi
Women to Watch 2016: Michelle Di Gangi

Alan Kline

Alan Kline

Alan Kline is a senior editor at American Banker overseeing its consumer finance and national/regional banking coverage. He also helps direct coverage of the annual Most Powerful Women in Banking rankings.