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Building future bank leaders by sending them away

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Like other businesses, banks and credit unions always have to be on guard against organizational inertia.

Sandra Quince, an executive at Bank of America, talks about the its executive-on-loan program that brings in new ways of thinking while developing future bank leaders.

A few takeaways from the conversation:.

  • BoA’s innovative Leader on Loan program started out for late-career executives, but now it’s a career accelerator for up-and-coming talents in the organization.
  • That change of focus is BoA recognizing value in future leaders seeking insights outside the bank and bringing what they’ve learned back to share with colleagues.
  • Quince says she has learned how to be a better leader overall by placing greater trust in her decision-making and leveraging her position to help get things done.

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There’s an old adage, “If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.” While typically directed toward individuals, it certainly applies to businesses and other organizations as well. With us on the podcast this week is Sandra Quince, a diversity and inclusion executive at Bank of America. We’ll be talking about an innovative program at the bank that brings in new ideas and ways of doing things while further building out the skill sets of future leaders. Sandra, it’s great to have you with us on the BAI Banking Strategies podcast …

Thank you, Terry. It is such a pleasure to be here with you today. I appreciate you having me.

Sandra, I just introduced you as being at Bank of America, and you are, but it’s a little complicated these days because you’re also involved in the bank’s Leader on Loan program. So could you kick off our conversation by giving us a little background on what the Leader on Loan program is all about?

At Bank of America, our Leader on Loan program is really where we take executives and midlevel leaders within the company, and we loan them out to strategic partners in the community. It aligns with the expertise of that leader, with the strategic need of that community partners, so that individual, although working fully for Bank of America, allows them to also be fully engaged and full-time facing to that organization.

I’m not familiar with any other financial institution running this kind of a program on this scale. Where did the idea for Leader on Loan come from, and what does Bank of America get out of lending its executives to other organizations?

For us, it’s about aligning community need with strategic objectives and so we’d always had a very strong volunteerism program. But what we also found is sometimes our partners would come back to us and ask us if we had resources or people we could lend to them to help support some of the work that they were leading and driving. In our chief administrative office, the idea was really born. Why don’t we start thinking about lending executives on a more full-time basis beyond the board work that we do that many of us also do, to really start to help to support the need of these organizations? Bank of America not only saw the need of leveraging the expertise of these leaders, but also how do we exponentially begin to impact and accelerate the growth of employees internally by giving them more exposure and experience, but also then accelerate the programs in the community that are impactful, whether it impacts youth or impacts disproportionately impacted segments of community or those that are less fortunate or in need or differently abled. So really being able to holistically see a win-win for the company, whether we are providing experience and exposure to employees, and then also where we’re accelerating the progress of programs for broader impact in the communities in which we serve.

Tell us about the organization that you’re currently on loan to and the role that you have there.

I am currently on loan to Paradigm for Parity and I am the CEO. Paradigm for Parity, our vision really is to achieve gender parity, including racial equity and corporate leadership. We do this by partnering with companies to develop and promote strategies that drive systemic culture change. We support and partner with many companies. We have about 144 companies that are part of our coalition. The CEO signs a pledge that basically states that he or she and their organization are committed to driving gender parity, including racial equity, within 15 years of joining the coalition. When they join the coalition, they have the opportunity to have the support and partnership of our organization to build their strategy, or to help support and enable and accelerate their strategy towards gender parity. We do this by supporting the organization as a whole, whether we’re providing resources that are off the shelf programming that they can support within their organizations and/or we do this by supporting their C-suite executives, by helping them to understand their role in organizations from a cultural change perspective. And then for individuals. how do we help to continue their career growth and management within companies?

You’re a DEI executive at a major bank now serving as CEO of an organization focused on achieving gender parity in corporate leadership roles. So, certainly there’s a fair bit of overlap between your two professional identities, but at the same time, yours is not a typical CEO path.

How did you land on that top position at Paradigm for Parity? Is that a typical step for those participating in the Leader on Loan program?

Let me say this, it is not a typical step to step out of a role that you have in our company into a CEO role. Typically, our Leader on Loan participants are driving a specific aspect or a specific program within an organization. My path was a little bit different. Bank of America has been a coalition member of Paradigm for Parity for about four years. Paradigm for Parity was going into their fifth year, and they were in the process of really elevating the way that they ran the organization. They had just hired on a full-time executive director and were looking to expand the organization, and was actually in process of searching for a chief executive officer at the time. They were in a meeting with our head of HR and my chief diversity officer, Cynthia Bowman, and one idea led to another as the conversation continued, and I received a phone call asking if I’d be interested in going over to Paradigm for Parity as their CEO. So, it has been truly an unconventional path, if you want to call it that, but it has been just such a perfect opportunity for me as I was looking quite honestly, and have been very open about my desire to expand my career opportunities with Bank of America. It was a perfect match at a great time.

Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills. What is Bank of America looking for in the employees that are chosen to take part in Leader on Loan and how does the selection process work?

At Bank of America, anytime you’re considered for anything, you have to be performing. That goes without saying. But if you take a look at what is it that the organization is looking for, what’s the need of the organization and does this employee have a demonstrated expertise in that area? That’s one of the primary drivers for that. The other thing is, can the assignment be supported by that individual’s business? Then is the individual available and supportive and passionate about a long term assignment? Whether that assignment is 12 months, six months, or 24 months, which has been the case for me – I’m going into my second year. Then their willingness to take on that new leadership opportunity, those are what they’re looking for in the leader, but also thinking about the organization that they’re going into and making sure that it’s truly a good fit.

So, this is a career accelerator then. People are performing, they’re chosen for this assignment. It sounds to me like that’s a good way to position yourself bigger and better things down the road at B of A.

Absolutely. It’s a career accelerator, and certainly it is something that is seen as such, but there are different ways that Leader on Loan can be done in a company. For us, it hasn’t always been this career accelerator. That’s just over the last few years that the reputation of this program has really emerged and that the bank has really started to see the value in providing those broader experiences and exposure to its employees and then bringing them back and leveraging those experiences back into the company. So, giving but also being able to get on the back end as well. It’s also been leveraged as an opportunity for those that are later in their careers and they are looking for a way to really continue to stay connected to the company, but while they are looking towards retirement, but then wanting the opportunity to still engage with the company while providing broader impact in the community. It’s an opportunity for us to leverage on that end as well, but more so looked at these days as that accelerator of talent within the organization.

Now you’ve been a CEO for more than a year. I’d imagine you’ve brought a lot of what you’ve learned at Bank of America during your time there in terms of structuring an organization, in terms of setting goals, shaping strategy. You’ve probably also faced situations that you have never run into before. You’ve had to make different kinds of decisions. How has that part gone? What are some of the big things that you’ve learned in the corner office that are making you a better executive that you might not have learned otherwise?

I have to tell you, when this opportunity came up, I was scared. I was scared to death because I felt like “A CEO, are you kidding me?” Like D&I yeah, I get that, I can do that. I’ve had over 15 years of HR experience. I’ve led teams, and I felt very good about that. I’ve built strategy. I’ve done all those things. But CEO, really, I’m so grateful that Bank of America and its leadership and my leader, Cynthia Bowman, really believed in me and provided that additional “Sandra, we know you can do this, and we’re here to support you, and really feel that this will be a great opportunity.” So, I think, first of all, you need that. I think one of the things that I’ve learned in this role, especially being a CEO, is how important it is to have the right support around you and to understand that you don’t necessarily have to know everything, and to trust those around you to help support and guide and lead you and to build that community of trust so that you can go to them with questions and lean into their areas of expertise. So, that has been a huge learning for me. I also had the great pleasure of going through CEO training and that training really taught me around how to really think about developing strategy in a very different way and how research and understanding just the broader context of what’s happening, not only locally where you are, but nationally and internationally and how that impacts and supports your strategic direction was critical, along with really building the right team and ensuring that team had the support that they needed to be successful. The other thing is I did learn to embrace and trust my decisions more. I think that’s important because you have to have that confidence and leading. Also, you have to embrace this notion around power and how to leverage it in the right way to really help lead your organization successfully. That has been probably one of my greatest lessons in this because I wasn’t always comfortable with that word or that term coming into this role.

Sounds like you’ve really gone to school here. Let me turn the question, the angle of the question a little bit here. What have you learned that you’ll be able to take back to Bank of America that may benefit colleagues there?

So, there are a couple of things, I think even coming into this role that’s been so important for me. And I always knew this, but one of the things I’ve been sharing with my colleagues is speaking up and speaking out about your own career, what you’re looking for, is so critically important because I would not honestly be in this role had I not had that opportunity, and felt empowered to have those conversations, and trusting that the company would embrace the fact that I am ready for something bigger and broader, and was looking for that. Then honestly trusting that they admittedly didn’t have anything for me at that time, but found that this opportunity was a great way for me to continue to grow and develop and get that bigger, broader experience and then be able to come back into the company. So that’s one thing that I think is critically important that I’ve already started sharing. I think the other thing too is, and I’ve said this, I’m not the same person that I was when I first took this role. I wasn’t as confident in my ability to perform at a high level consistently and do it in a way where now I feel so much more confident in being able to take on any role within the company. I’ll give an example. If someone had told me, “Hey Sandra do you want to run a line of business within Bank of America or would you rather stay more of a support role function?” I probably would have said, “No, I’m better in a support role function” because I would have been afraid of failure had I taken on a line role. I am no longer that way. I think this experience has really helped me to feel more confident, again, in my own abilities and skills because I’ve now had a really great experience that’s proven that I can really do this, but also understanding and seeing that in a CEO role, being a CEO, I’m not going to say that it’s easy, because Lord knows it is not, but I’m also seeing that it’s really about the people around you and the support that you have in meaning and bringing those that have that expertise to help guide and lead you through that. The CEOs don’t do it alone. That has been probably another great lesson that I’ve learned that I’ll definitely take back with me and also hopefully be able to port to my colleagues.

In a recent survey, your DEI peers around the country were asked which diversity and inclusion leader inspires you the most, and you were among those who were named. So, congratulations on that. That’s really meaningful recognition. Tells me that you’re already obviously well respected. So how is what you’re doing now running a young, but ambitious organization, how is that going to specifically help you as a D&I executive when you return to Bank of America?

Of course, when you work for a company, everything you do revolves around that company, its partners, and so you have a very siloed view. It’s not bad, it’s just the way it is because you’re working for that company. What’s been really fascinating and interesting to me in this role is I work with a plethora of companies across multiple industries that are around the world, and we impact 6.5 million employees. So, my perspective has shifted in what’s happening around the diversity equity and inclusion space. I’ll definitely be able to take back a much broader and international perspective when I go back into Bank of America.

I just realized that I may have made a big assumption. Being a CEO is, no doubt, a pretty heady experience, and there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes with building an organization essentially from the ground up. It might be a letdown to slot back into an org chart after spending some years on top. Sandra, how much temptation is there to turn Leader on Loan into leader for good at Paradigm for Parity? No doubt you won’t have accomplished everything that you want to in just a couple of years.

Terry, oh my God, you’re trying to get me in trouble.

You’re on the spot now.

I’m on the spot. What I’ll say is number one, I’ll say that I am absolutely thrilled and excited about what I am doing now and loving it. I’ll end with this: “Stay tuned.”

A cliffhanger. So, Sandra Quince, CEO at Paradigm for Parity and global DEI executive at Bank of America. Many thanks again for this great conversation on the BAI Banking Strategies podcast.

Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Terry Badger, CFA, is the managing editor at BAI.