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Meet The Female Leaders of Finance: “There is an ever-growing appreciation that organizations with the right level of diversity can outperform those that lack diverse representation.” with Teresa Tanner and Tyler Gallagher

I believe there is an ever-growing realization and appreciation that organizations with the right level of diversity can outperform those that lack diverse representation. Especially in finance, we appreciate that more wealth is being made and held by women and we need to have an intimate understanding of how our services, products and relationship need […]


I believe there is an ever-growing realization and appreciation that organizations with the right level of diversity can outperform those that lack diverse representation. Especially in finance, we appreciate that more wealth is being made and held by women and we need to have an intimate understanding of how our services, products and relationship need to change to capture the hearts of this important customer segment.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Teresa Tanner, former Chief Administrative Officer for Fifth Third Bancorp. Teresa served as the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Fifth Third Bancorp until leaving in June of 2019. She oversaw the bank’s central operations, marketing, corporate communications, enterprise program management, workplace services, strategic sourcing, service delivery optimization, community and economic development and corporate culture and social responsibility. Before taking on that role in 2015, she had been chief human resources officer. Before joining Fifth Third, she worked for Provident Bank and in various operations management positions for McDonalds Corp.


Tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

It was a bit of an accident — I was traveling a lot in my previous role and I heard through a friend that she had recommended me to a local position in banking. She knew I didn’t think I wanted to be a banker, but honestly, I showed up the interview as a favor to my friend. Little did I know it would result in a long career in a field I never would have targeted. My career has consistently been built on taking risks and doing things I never thought I would do.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Many of us have a when life gives you lemons story. I call this my lemonade story which as really influenced my obsessions with customers. Early in my career I had the opportunity to learn how a very simple transaction for a very basic need came to mean so much in the life of one man. Ultimately, that experience had a huge impact on how I thought about serving customers. So let me tell you about what happened.

I was a very young manager of a McDonald’s restaurant. Yep, good old Mickey D’s is how I started my career and I bet it’s how a lot of you started yours. It was a fun job. I really loved it. Believe it or not, I really loved waiting on customers and helping them have a good experience. One day in particular, we were really busy. It was a lunch rush and I was the manager of this store. I had three or four cashiers helping out at the front line. I looked over and noticed there was one gentleman in particular that was having an exchange with one of my cashiers and he was really, really angry. So, I went over to back her up, see what was going on. I asked the customer, “Hey is there anything I can help you with, what’s going on.” I came to learn that he was really, really upset that we didn’t serve lemonade. He had ordered, I still remember it to this day, a quarter pounder with cheese value meal. That was a quarter pounder with cheese, an order of fries and a drink. The drink he wanted with this meal was lemonade. The problem was, we didn’t serve lemonade. The cashier politely said, “Sorry sir, we don’t have lemonade. We have coke, diet coke, sprite, orange, iced tea, coffee, water, milk, and apple juice.” She ran through the entire gamut of what we did have. Lemonade, not on the list.

This did not make the customer happy. He was so agitated. He kept arguing with us. “Why don’t you have lemonade?” “Why don’t the people in Chicago get their act together and put lemonade on the menu?” “Why don’t you call Ray Kroc, the founder?” Now, Ray Kroc was dead at the time, so that wasn’t a possibility. Needless to say he was mad. He did not understand why he could not get lemonade if that’s what he wanted. Now, nothing we could do about it not being on the menu in that very moment, right? So, he was upset, he decided he would just get water. He was done with this conversation. A lot of other people in the lobby were looking on with interest and confusion because they didn’t really understand why this man was so mad about something we really couldn’t do anything about. He went to his table, kind of stormed off.

The interaction didn’t make me feel great. In fact, it made me feel pretty bummed. I don’t like anybody coming into the restaurant and leaving so angry. I began to think about it and thought you know maybe there is something I can do. So I ran to the back, got in my purse, got a few dollars, called a crew person over and said “Hey, will you run to the Speedway next door and grab me a Minute Maid lemonade?” He didn’t understand why I needed that but I said, “Really, go quick, and meet me in the back room when you get back.” By the time he got back, I had a McDonald’s cup filled with ice waiting for him in the back room. I opened the Minute Maid lemonade, poured it into the cup, put the lid on, grabbed a straw and headed toward the lobby. When the customer saw me coming, he began to furrow his brow and give me this weird look. He said, “Yeah, what do you need?” I put the cup down and said, “Here’s your lemonade.” He looked up and began shaking his head and said, “I thought you didn’t have lemonade?” I said, “I didn’t. I don’t, but apparently the gas station next door does have lemonade and for whatever reason, a reason I may not understand, it seems like you really need a lemonade today.”

He sat there, not saying anything and just stared at me. He then began to shake his head and said, “I really can’t believe you did that.” I said, “You know, the reason I did it is because you were noticeably angry about lemonade and again, if lemonade is that important to you, I want to make sure you get lemonade today.”

Well, he left and I went on with my day. I didn’t think about if for a while. Two or three weeks later, I got a letter in the mail and it was addressed to a manager at McDonald’s. I read it and this letter was from that customer. He began the letter with an apology and told me that I didn’t deserve the way he acted. He was embarrassed and he wanted to apologize. He then went on to explain why he was in such a foul mood that day. He had told me that he wasn’t from Cincinnati. He had flown in and he had met with a client that was unhappy about the service his firm was providing. That client ended up firing his firm that day and he was really upset about losing the business. He said that he took it out on me and a young cashier at McDonald’s simply because he was frustrated. After he saw what we did however, he began to think about how those customer service principles could be used in his own firm. He then shared with me that if his employees had the same level of customer care that he got in a McDonalds restaurant, then they probably would not have lost the business.

I can’t tell you how much this letter meant to me. In fact, I carried it around in my purse for a long, long time. Years in fact, until it eventually got all grubby and I threw it away but the lesson never left me. It was just a snap decision in one moment. I didn’t really even know if it was the right thing to do. All I knew was that I did have the power to make that customer happy. So I took a chance and I did it. I had no idea how much that would mean to him.

You know, it really just comes down to what someone else is going through. We may not understand why we get the reaction we get but sometimes it is just about caring. You know, I did care that day, I cared how he felt and I cared that he needed a lemonade. A simple need that I didn’t understand but it was true and I didn’t want him to walk away unhappy with the interaction he had with me.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At Fifth Third, we are constantly finding new and creative ways to build our communities and make decisions today that will have long lasting impact on our customers, our employees and our communities. One big way we are doing that is leading the way in terms of environmental impact. We’ve been interested in this for years and have purchases renewable energy credits as a way to get credit for a percentage of renewable power. But we wanted to make a new renewable project happen and we wanted to reach one of our goals which was to achieve 100 percent renewable power by 2022.

Last year, we signed a signed a power purchase agreement which will allow us to achieve 100 percent renewable power through a single project. It’s bold and not common. But we want to lead the way. We now are the first publicly-traded company to commit to purchase 100 percent renewable energy through solar power alone. It also allows us to sell power back, which can be additive to earnings while demonstrating our environmental leadership.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We innovate and think long term for our customers, employees, customers. We are willing to lead the way and think out of the box. We have brought innovative and new thinking to old problems. One example is our Maternity Concierge.

When talking in small groups and one-on-one with female employees at Fifth Third a few years ago, I heard an ongoing issue: While work/life balance is difficult, one of the most difficult times for women is just after the birth of a baby and the return to work. As a mom of two now grown children, I understand. I listened and thought about what Fifth Third could do to retain and attract talent to the Bank and Cincinnati.

I knew that women made up about 60 percent of Fifth Third’s workforce, but women made up only about 23 percent of top executives and senior leaders. Women who took maternity leave from the bank left during that first year at twice the rate as other women.

If banks want to retain women and increase their numbers in top leadership roles, they need to support them. Maternity leave is important, but so is that critical “transition back to work” time. The conversation must move beyond maternity leave.

With this in mind, I worked with a local company that provides general concierge services to Fifth Third employees and created the specialized Maternity Concierge program. The free program includes assistance with everything from finding child care to baby shower planning. In its first year, more than 300 women used the service. There is no program like it in the country, and early evaluations show it is working: 86 percent of women who participated in the Maternity Concierge program returned to work and remained there six months later, much higher than the 66 percent of women who did not participate in the Maternity Concierge program. Women who used the program reported that they were more likely to stay with the Bank because of its family-friendly policies, including the Maternity Concierge. As part of the program, Fifth Third also added a four-week baby-bonding leave (paid leave for birth, adoptive and foster parents) for men and women.

This program is something new for Fifth Third, but it supports our longstanding commitment to helping women excel at any point in their careers. We ask our employees to take whatever measures are necessary to do the right thing for our clients every day, so we viewed this free program as a way to do the same thing for them while they take on this exciting transition in their lives.

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?

I believe there is an ever-growing realization and appreciation that organizations with the right level of diversity can outperform those that lack diverse representation. Especially in finance, we appreciate that more wealth is being made and held by women and we need to have an intimate understanding of how our services, products and relationship need to change to capture the hearts of this important customer segment.

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)We have to address systemic issues that unintentionally hold women back such as maternity leave for women vs. paternity leave for both men and women. Having a child should result in similar career “interruptions” and leave policies so it better levels the playing field. Offering paternity leave or parental leave for both parents is a path to gender parity.

2) We need to truly measure progress just as we measure any other business initiative. We need to quit being afraid to be transparent about where we are and where we need to be. We often call diversity a “business initiative” but then some companies are afraid to measure it or set real goals. What other “business initiative” would have activity but not goals or active management/measurement?

Creating paths for women to reach top leadership positions is a responsibility all of us share. We can and should do more.

In 2017, I advocated for the public disclosure of the Bank’s gender and diversity numbers. This was important to understand the gaps better and to make changes to improve. Only 3.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies release complete data for race and gender of their employees in each job category and management level.

Whether or not sharing the figures becomes mandatory, we need to share the data and lead the way. It was her way of saying: “let’s hold ourselves accountable.”

Fifth Third disclosed its figures in 2017: The board of directors was made up of 33 percent women and 25 percent people of color. Among executive and senior managers, 24 percent were women while 10 percent are people of color.

Creating true diversity is a business priority that is critically important to us. We won’t be the best bank possible until we have the best representation around the table.

3) As individuals and leaders, we can address macro and micro-aggressions and inequalities when we see them. I still choose to believe that some of the bias that is seen in the workplace is mostly unintentional. We need to create a culture where we can share knowledge and experience with each other in a non-threatening way and change mindsets and behaviors one interaction at a time. There are still too many people that don’t take the opportunity to speak up in the right way. Each of us has the ability to drive change.

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?

Young adults should understand early that their most valuable financial asset is themselves and their individual ability to earn. For this reason, make smart decisions and invest in yourself first. Think about your education, experiences and the right jobs. All will contribute to your earning capabilities.

Get a financial tool/app that helps prompt you to make good financial decisions and other tools that help you have visibility to your credit score. Understand what drives your score and proactively manage it.

If you are with a partner that you share joint accounts, don’t let the financial management responsibility fall on just one person. Actively understand and be involved in the household budgets, etc. Don’t passively delegate all management to someone else.

Get involved in a YP charity group and actively work on fund raising, development and finances. There is a lot to learn about money and expense management by watching a cause you believe in allocate scarce resources.

Talk to family/friends/business owners about their financial lessons. What have they learned the hard way? Don’t be afraid to seek advice from others that have more experience than you, especially when it comes to making large purchases or making investments with your money.

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 had a few good mentors throughout my career, but there were a few pivotal moments. Once a leader painted a picture of the type of executive job he thought I would have one day. It made a huge impact and allowed me to see things in myself that I couldn’t yet see. Another mentor had a great way of challenging me. She was a great “truth teller” and she wasn’t afraid to give me feedback I needed.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do something every day that scares you” — Eleanor Roosevelt. I believe integrity and courage are the two most significant leadership characteristics you need to be a great leader. You have to be willing to stand alone on issues. You have to be willing to speak when it is uncomfortable for you and everyone else. You have to be willing to take risks and place bets that others won’t. Breakthrough performance can only be achieved when someone has the guts to push a little harder; think more creatively. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that scares you. You will make mistakes along the way, and that is OK. Be brave and be vulnerable.

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. :-).

I would want to create a movement that helps us get to parity in the C-Suite and the board room quicker. We simply are not making progress fast enough. As I move on to my next chapter, I hope to get the opportunity to wake up every day thinking about how I can help other women achieve their version of success.

Thank you for joining us!

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 Dubai 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. In addition to his role with Regal Assets, Tyler is a regular contributor to Forbes, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Authority Magazine. Tyler has also been featured in many news publications and has been a guest expert on “The News with Ed Shultz”. Tyler is a proud member of the Forbes Finance Council a private invite only-group of hand-selected industry leaders.

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