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“Take a risk and say something” with Tyler Gallagher & Chikako Okada Tyler

If you are a woman, take a risk and say something. Too many women are concerned with what other people think about them or how they will be perceived if they say the wrong thing. You are an intelligent, worthwhile human being and your thoughts have value. If you are a man, do your 50% […]

If you are a woman, take a risk and say something. Too many women are concerned with what other people think about them or how they will be perceived if they say the wrong thing. You are an intelligent, worthwhile human being and your thoughts have value. If you are a man, do your 50% share of life including childcare, homemaking and being a wonderful support system for your family.


As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chikako Okada Tyler. Chikako Okada Tyler is a banking and real estate finance veteran, is chief financial officer and executive vice president of California Bank & Trust. In her role, Tyler oversees financial management for CB&T. Her responsibilities include forecasting, budgeting, strategic planning and line of business financial management support. Tyler joined CB&T in May 2010 as a senior real estate analyst. Since then, she has held positions with increasing responsibility, including project risk manager, bank risk manager, credit risk manager and, most recently, senior finance and strategy manager. Tyler earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the University of California, Irvine, and an MBA from the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. She completed the International Women’s Forum’s (IWF) Executive Leadership Program, in partnership with the Harvard Business School Executive Education and INSEAD. The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Tyler attributes her success, in part, to a desire to help small businesses succeed, which is something she experienced first-hand growing up.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

AsI think is probably true with most people in banking, I fell into this industry by chance. When the real estate markets turned in 2009, CB&T had acquired an FDIC-supported portfolio with concentrations in real estate. My career thus far had been in commercial real estate as a portfolio and acquisitions analyst, so it was a good fit. I originally thought that I would go back into real estate when the markets recovered. But as I spent more time at the bank, I really started to enjoy the industry, the complexity and the depth of bank financial management and the people at CB&T. Ten years later, I still enjoy my work, the industry and most importantly, the people that I work with every day.

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?

When I was in junior high, I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. I didn’t have any idea what corporate lawyers did, but I thought that it sounded cool to say that I wanted to go to Stanford Law. That said, I may have been setting up for this career even back then. One of my favorite hobbies was to keep detailed journals of my allowance that I received from my parents. I kept logs of every dollar in and out and I knew exactly how much I had in my allowance jar, down to the penny. What is even more amusing is the fact that my older sister would borrow money out of my allowance jar and I would charge her interest and make her write handwritten notes that she would pay me back. Looking back, I think I was meant to have a career in banking. The takeaway is that even though I did not intentionally plan on becoming banker, I was lucky that ultimately, my hobby aligned with my career. If you really enjoy what you do, that is the key to success.

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

I am working on an exciting new diversity and inclusion initiative at CB&T called Banking on Women, targeted at creating a foundation for women’s career growth and success through skill-building, mentoring, sponsoring, networking and community involvement. This initiative is going to help women at different stages of their careers to have a network of other women and female allies to help them achieve their goals and allow them to give back to others.

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

My company stands out because we deeply care about our employees and about doing the right thing for the customer. Our company culture is one that is people-centric and ultimately it leads to success for the whole company. One specific example that comes to mind is when I was a very new junior manager, the CEO of our parent company, Harris Simmons, came from Salt Lake City to California for a meeting. He and I had never met in the past, but he took the time to stop into my office and introduce himself. I realized, over time, that he wanted to know everyone across his 10,000-employee organization. He cared that much about his employees and that authentic interest cascades down to our CB&T COO, president, and to everyone across the organization.

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?

There has certainly been a lot of media attention lately on this topic, which helps to initiate change but women wanting equal rights dates back almost 150 years. I think the difference between then and now is technology. The media and internet allow information to be disseminated quickly. Now, we can rattle off statistics about how many women are on boards, or how women are not paid at the same rate for equal work. We have so much access to data that it’s more difficult to dispute that there is disparity.

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. If you are a woman, take a risk and say something. Too many women are concerned with what other people think about them or how they will be perceived if they say the wrong thing. You are an intelligent, worthwhile human being and your thoughts have value.

2. If you are a man, do your 50% share of life including childcare, homemaking and being a wonderful support system for your family.

3. Companies and societies need to start signaling that both men and women can take on non-traditional roles at home and in the workplace. The more our society sees role models either through media, workplace or the home that are different, acceptable and of nontraditional gender roles, the more this will become “normal” and acceptable.

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?

My first three are very intuitive but it’s so important that I must state them:

1. Make sure that you know where all your assets and liabilities are. Many of my mother’s friends, when their spouses passed, had no idea where they had assets. It can take years to get your assets out of probate so plan well in advance of when you think you’ll need it and make sure you continue to know where you have your assets.

2. Do not assume that your spouse or significant other is “taking care of it.” If you involve yourself in making financial decisions with your partner, not only will you be more financially literate, but you will be prepared for anything.

3. Start building your credit as soon as possible and learn about different kinds of credit so that you are never taken by surprise. What I mean by that is many people were tragically affected by the mortgage crises in 2006–2008. Many borrowers were unaware that they had negative amortization loans or adjustable rates. Make sure that you know what kinds of loans are out there and never sign anything that you don’t understand or makes you feel uncomfortable.

My last two are maybe unintuitive for some:

4. Read any kind of current news. It doesn’t have to be the Wall Street Journal, although that’s my personal favorite, but reading any current news keeps you up-to-date with technology, what the world is experiencing, and what is impacting people. By staying current with your surroundings, you will start to pick up financial jargon like what a yield curve is or what the Fed is doing and how that impacts you.

5. Surround yourself with curious and interesting people. You will inevitably come across a few that will want to talk and teach about financial literacy among all the other trivia tidbits that you’ll pick up by just being in the company of a variety of folks.

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?

My father was a role model to me in terms of my career. He grew up in Japan, post-World War II. When he was in his early thirties, he gave up an executive-level position with Datsun to move to the U.S. without being able to speak the language and started his own small business with the little amount of money he had from selling his home. I watched my father persevere and grow a startup import/export company out of our living room. I grew up learning by observation that a combination of perseverance, the drive to work hard and a willingness to learn, will get you farther than just who you know or sheer intelligence. I don’t think there was just any one person helped me along the way, but the lessons learned through experiences, observing role models and watching immigrants succeed in a foreign country through hard work helped me to become who I am. I also think that watching my father build a small business is a part of why I like working for CB&T because we help small businesses like my father’s grow into successful companies.

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

I am a mathematics geek at heart so one of my favorite proofs is by a mathematician in the 1800s named Georg Cantor who wrote a very simple and eloquent solution to a seemingly complex problem. He wrote in his doctoral thesis: “In re mathematica ars proponendi quaestionem pluris facienda est quam solvendi,” which translates to “In mathematics the art of proposing a question must be held of higher value than solving it.” I love this quote because it shows that continuous thinking and learning are more important than just getting to the end goal.

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 have always thought that if you can deeply influence one individual, it would be better than superficially influencing many. I try to focus on one person at a time and try to be a role model for the next generation and certainly for my children, just as my parents did for me. It’s overwhelming to think about how you can touch a greater number of people, so I approach it from the angle that if I pay it forward for a few, they will pay it forward and it will ultimately reach an exponential number of people.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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