It’s so important to have a mentor. Younger people need guidance and support. Mentors serve as a support system to help mentees achieve their personal and professional goals. If we want to see more women in senior positions we need to support younger generations as they pursue their career goals.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marla Willner, Head of Corporate & Specialty Banking at TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank. As Head of Corporate and Specialty Banking, Marla is a key member of the bank’s leadership team and sits on the management committee. In this role, she is responsible for directing the U.S. strategy for Mid-Corporate Banking, Commercial Real Estate, Healthcare & Higher Education, Equipment Finance Asset Based Lending and Global Trade Finance. Marla joined TD in 2000, and was with TD Bank Financial Group for 15-years in various executive roles across multiple businesses, including Investment Banking, Capital Markets, Sales & Trading, and most recently as Head of Credit Management for Corporate Banking TD Bank, N.A. Marla rejoined TD in 2018 as Head of Corporate & Specialty Banking after two years as a partner and Head of Investments at Brightwood Capital Advisors, where she ran originations and underwriting for the firm. Marla is a graduate of Wesleyan University with a master’s degree from The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
As a young girl, I would often see homeless people on the streets of New York City and wonder why nothing was being done to help them. For me, it was impossible to ignore the poverty I saw daily while growing up, which is why I made time to volunteer as a tutor and a summer camp counselor.
Through those experiences, I became passionate about supporting the community and went on to receive my master’s in public policy from Harvard University.
I started my career in Public Finance. I thought it would be the gateway for me to interact with government officials and influence economic development in major metro markets. I quickly learned that was not the case. I spent my days advising senior bankers on financing packages and analyzing capital budgets, but I was still doing what I loved, helping people — just in a different way. Shortly after I moved into Corporate Finance because I was keen on advising clients on all financial aspects, I’ve been doing it ever since. I also still make time to volunteer.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occured to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
I have many stories that come to mind, but there’s one that stands out. A couple of years ago my firm was making a pitch to lead a transaction for a new client. The CEO of the company happened to be a woman. In the middle of the meeting the woman excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. It was a competitive situation with our peers sitting across the table from us. I knew it was my opportunity to make a stronger connection with her. So, I acted quickly, I excused myself and headed to the restroom. During our conversation both of us acknowledged that we were the only women in the room that day and it wasn’t the first time. We both laughed and thought it was exciting that we had the opportunity to take advantage of a private moment where women are less likely to have the opportunity whether the golf course, a game or yes, even the bathroom.
We need more women in executive roles at all companies. Think about how much time is spent developing relationships outside the walls of the conference room.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As the new Head of Corporate & Specialty Bank at TD Bank (CSB) and the first woman to lead a revenue-generating business, I prioritized changing the CSB brand and supporting Women in Leadership.
I knew that we needed to identify new strategies to continue down a growth path, and support from the larger organization is an important part of that equation. We needed to rethink the way we work together and with our Risk Management team. With that in mind, I put forth several new business strategies that will allow us to grow thoughtfully on a national scale within TD’s risk appetite. I made the decision to incorporate special lending capabilities with marque clients. These capabilities gave us the ability to deepen our relationships with important clients and prove our ability to identify highly profitable deals with an attractive risk profile.
I also made it a priority this year to share my career advice with Women in Leadership. When I first took this job, I wasn’t thinking in terms of “being the first woman to run a revenue generating business for the bank.” I was thinking of accepting a position outside of my comfort zone and progressing to the next level in my career. Since taking this role, it’s been extremely humbling to see the impact this has had on women, and I’m incredibly honored to be in this position. To me, this position provides the opportunity to be an ambassador for women in the Bank. We are empowering women to understand they can achieve their career goals, whatever they may be. I want to support the success of women and be a voice to continue to push opportunities and help women grow and contribute in a way that best supports their journeys. I’m working to expand leadership opportunities, and right now, the Bank is focused on that as well. I’ve had many women, inside and outside of the bank, reach out and congratulate me. I’ve also had many ask to meet for coffee, and I’ve accepted every invitation.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The commitment our leadership team gives to Diversity and Inclusion. The Management Committee for the bank also serves as the Diversity & Inclusion committee. We make decisions on the bank’s Diversity & Inclusion strategy including hiring goals, promotions, programs, mentorship, sponsorship and more. It’s not typical that the Diversity committee is also the Management Committee. One of the items that I’m most interested in influencing is ensuring we have a diverse slate of candidates for open roles.
Great talent is scarce. As business leaders, we know that talent is valuable, so you might assume we know how to find it. Recognizing that it was more difficult for us to attract talent at a junior level because of the competitive workforce environment, we believe that one way to find the best young men and women with excellent skills, grades, and relevant work and to get the attention of college students of all ages is to shake up our college recruiting strategy.
To attract diverse talent, TD Bank’s Corporate & Specialty Bank’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Working Group and I created a Sophomore Summer Internship program. With my support, the D&I Working Group partnered with and engaged an external firm, Modern Guild, to help find diverse talent sourced from a variety of colleges and universities from across the country. After identifying 50 candidates, the business conducted a “Super Day” of interviews for 15 finalists. These candidates interviewed for six positions across our east coast offices in Corporate Banking, Institutional Healthcare & Higher Education and Commercial Real Estate. We selected our six finalists from colleges such as University of Pennsylvania, Elon University, Florida A&M University and University of Notre Dame. The recruiting process was so successful we hope to convert these sophomores into our Junior Internship program and eventually roll this program out across the bank.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Companies are starting to recognize that they need to reflect the communities they live, work and play in. Having diverse perspectives around the table helps your company market and develop stronger products and services.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
1. Individuals: It’s so important to have a mentor. Younger people need guidance and support. Mentors serve as a support system to help mentees achieve their personal and professional goals. If we want to see more women in senior positions we need to support younger generations as they pursue their career goals.
2. Companies: We need to hold companies accountable for having a diverse slate of candidates for senior positions. We’re never going to see change if we don’t have diverse hiring policies in place.
3. Society: As a society we need to have an open mind to diverse opinions and thoughts.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
1. Read the news. The media provide important information about our country’s economic situation, business environment, entertainment world, commerce and more. The habit of reading the news will widen your outlook and enrich your knowledge.
2. Create a budget. Whether you’re looking to get a better grasp on your personal finances or have a line of sight into your money management a budget is the way to go. Lay out your expenses in a spreadsheet with your net income. Track your spending and set goals.
3. Open an account with a small amount of money. Starting following companies of interest. Once they start to perform well, take the money from your account and invest it into the company.
4. Talk to a mentor or parental figure about your financial situation. Listen to their advice.
5. Donate to charity. One of the positive effects of donating to charity is simply feeling good about giving.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been very lucky to have many colleagues along my career journey support me, advise me and advocate for me. My colleagues helped me take my career to new heights. I had a clear career direction and plan. For a long time, I was on the Credit Management side of the business. However, my career goal was to transition into a leadership role to run the business. I did not shy away from sharing my career goals with leaders at the bank including TD Bank’s President and CEO Greg Braca. I sat down with Greg during a 1:1 lunch meeting and shared my career development plan. He supported and endorsed my goals. When the position for the Head of Corporate & Specialty Banking became available Greg reached out to me. I think the lesson people can take away from this story is to take ownership of your career. Evaluate where you perform well and how that can position you for your next role. Connect with your manager and describe your personal vision.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” — Thomas Edison
This quote resonates with my story. I strongly believe that no matter how difficult or complex an idea may seem you should never give up. Throughout my career journey, I’ve challenged the status quo by coming up with new business strategies. For example, when I first joined TD, the corporate banking business was a part of the commercial bank. To better serve our larger corporate clients, TD wanted to take their larger loans out of the commercial bank and create a Corporate Bank. To do so, new policies, procedures and strategies needed to be created that they hadn’t had before. From 2011 to 2015, I spearheaded this transition to help position the Bank for future growth — a career challenge (and breakthrough) I had wanted my entire career. During that time, I ran into many walls, as a former colleague so lovingly put it. I heard “no” many, many times, but I still pressed on. Today the Corporate Bank functions as its own successful business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Kindness goes a long way. To achieve a kinder world, we must approach kindness with ambition and determination. We must practice it in every aspect of our lives. Kindness is that important.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
About the Author:
Tyler Gallagher is the CEO and Founder of Regal Assets, a “Bitcoin IRA” company. Regal Assets is an international alternative assets firm with offices in the United States, Canada, London and United Arab Emirates focused on helping private and institutional wealth procure alternative assets for their investment portfolios. Regal Assets is an Inc. 500 company and has been featured in many publications such as Forbes, Bloomberg, Market Watch and Reuters. With offices in multiple countries, Regal Assets is uniquely positioned as an international leader in the alternative assets industry and was awarded the first ever crypto-commodities license by the DMCC in late 2017. Regal Assets is currently the only firm in the world that holds a license to legally buy and sell cryptos within the Middle East and works closely with the DMCC to help evolve and grow the understanding and application of blockchain technology. Prior to founding Regal Assets, Tyler worked for a Microsoft startup led by legendary tech giant Karl Jacob who was an executive at Microsoft, and an original Facebook board member. Feel free to reach out to Tyler on Linkedin HERE .