When Kate Quinn joined U.S. Bancorp as its chief marketing officer in 2013, her immediate impression of the country’s fifth-largest bank holding company by assets was that it “was all steak and no sizzle.”

Though U.S. Bancorp had been one of the industry’s best performers, known for having strong leadership, a smart capable workforce and top-of-the-line products and services, it was far from a universally recognized brand.

Even Andy Cecere, a longtime senior executive at the company who succeeded Richard Davis as chief executive earlier this year, had referred to it as “the best bank no one’s heard of.”

People are hearing of U.S. Bancorp now, thanks largely to Quinn’s efforts.

Quinn, who has been promoted twice since joining the company and is now its chief administrative officer, has raised its profile by celebrating what she calls “a culture of people who have a spirit of getting it done and doing it right way.”

Kate Quinn, Vice Chairman and Chief Administrative Officer at U.S. Bancorp.
Kate Quinn was promoted to chief administrative officer earlier this year. Erin Patrice O'Brien

Under Quinn’s leadership, the company last year launched the “Power of Possible,” a marketing and advertising campaign centered on employees’ passion for making dreams come true for consumers and business owners.

The rebranding effort — the first for U.S. Bancorp in decades — has significantly raised awareness of the brand and, more tangibly, has helped attract scores of new customers in markets where the campaign has been rolled out.

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Quinn also gets a lot of credit for U.S. Bancorp being named as one of the world’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for three years running. In her view, the company was not getting the recognition it deserved for coming through the financial crisis better than most of its competitors — both financially and reputationally — and she wanted to find out for certain how it measured up against not just other banks, but also other types of companies around the world.

The Ethisphere Institute assesses companies in five categories: ethics and compliance; corporate citizenship and responsibility; culture of ethics; governance; and leadership, innovation and reputation. The application and review process is rigorous and time-consuming, but worth every minute of preparation that goes into it, said Quinn, who ranks as one of our Women to Watch this year.

“It’s validation that we are doing things the right way,” she said. “Being an ethical company is the No. 1 trait that every stakeholder — our customers, employees, investors — is looking for.”

Quinn is quick to point out that U.S. Bancorp had a strong culture long before she arrived. As she was settling into the job, she saw groups of people uniting for the greater good and putting the company before their own agendas in ways she had never seen in her more than two decades working in the insurance industry.

But it was Quinn, first as chief marketing officer and then as chief strategy and reputation officer, who had the vision to set U.S. Bancorp apart from its peers by emphasizing culture above all else.

Women to Watch 2017: Kate Quinn
Women to Watch 2016: Kate Quinn

This vision is realized internally, in the company purpose statement and in product development meetings, where the first question is always expected to be, “Is this doing the right thing?”

It’s realized externally, too, in the “Power of Possible” campaign and in the taglines on the website and at ATMs that tout its recognition as one of the world’s most ethical companies.

Quinn’s impact on the company has been so profound that Cecere earlier this year put her in charge of human resources to ensure that this emphasis on reputation and culture remains front and center as U.S. Bancorp recruits talent and grooms employees for more senior roles.

“The vision she is propelling us toward is equally authentic and innovative, and it will help us change banking for the better,” Cecere said.

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.