Relationships and Reaping Life’s Rewards
BY JENNIFER BARTLETT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELIZABETH WARBURTON
The executives I met for this story have “leaned in,” Sheryl Sandberg- style, in a big way.
All of them are mothers and work tirelessly to balance family and career. After taking risks, asking a lot of questions and working from the ground up, they have achieved positions of leadership in the fast-paced banking industry. And what they love most about their jobs is the relationships they have forged with their clients. Banking is a money business, but the inner workings of the industry revolve around relationships.
Broadway Bank’s Patricia Houston started in the oil and gas industry in the 1970s; Texas Capital Bank’s Annalese Smolik, in investment banking; Plains Capital Bank’s Rose Mary Slagle, as a secretary to a lending officer in Harlingen; and Lone Star National Bank‘s Maggie Ortiz, as a bank teller. Today these bankers are considered leaders, and they share with us some unique life experiences and anecdotes that define their careers in banking.
Patricia Houston, Broadway Bank
Houston’s 30-year career in the banking industry makes her something of a grande dame in this group of young up-and-comers. She is one of the women in the banking industry who paved the way for these bright young minds that have come after her. She did so in an era when she would find few of her kind to lean on. Houston began her career as one of very few women to enter the oil and gas industry as a certified professional landman and is now senior vice president and mineral manager in the Broadway National Bank wealth management division. Her brilliance as a banker is obvious on first meeting, but what is most impressive about her is her warmth and humility. She puts on no airs. For a woman who has made her way as a “landman” in the oilfield, Houston is charming, down to earth, and what we would have called in the old days, “a real lady.”
Houston’s toughness, her ability to adapt and her can-do attitude come directly from her background. She was raised in a military family that exposed her to a variety of countries and cultures and, more importantly, taught her something crucial: Never be afraid to open the next door. According to Houston, it is a good thing to take risks. She has done so her whole life.
In the 1950s and ’60s Houston lived in Okinawa and Germany and then in Greece. She went to the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and then entered the workforce. She earned her degree in medical records and administration, but wasn’t able to find a job. So she went to night school, took accounting courses and started working for an oil and gas company. That was in the late ’70s, and she never looked back. Houston says tenacity is the key to her success. She has had to engage in some tough negotiations in her line of work, but she is clear-headed when she reflects on what it takes to get a deal done. “Do your homework and just stay in there,” is her advice.
Houston loves the research-oriented focus of the oil and gas industry. She is a lifelong learner and approaches her job as an academic. She gains all the knowledge she can before going into any negotiation, thriving on understanding the details and meeting the challenges of a deal. “Give me a puzzle, and I’m ready — I will find the answer.” This goes back to her tenacity.
Houston advises young women seeking to enter the field to ”always be prepared, to do your homework, and to have complete knowledge when you enter any room.” When asked to describe the differences between men and women in her field, she smiles before answering: “Women are armed with knowledge and focus on the critical details. It’s an advantage we have whether we’re negotiating or collaborating.” She explains that when you go into any situation, you want them to look at you and think, “She knows what she’s talking about.” She sees knowledge as her best and most potent weapon. ”Arm yourself with knowledge and fair dealing,” she advises.
Houston echoes what other female executives in the field say: Building relationships is crucial to success in the industry.
“Once you build these relationships, it helps you with any bumps in the road. Women are much more into the personal relationships than men are. This gives women in the field a distinct advantage. Relationship building is particularly important when it comes to delivering hard news to clients,” she says.
Houston says that whenever you have to say “no” to clients or tell them you can’t do something for them, you need to offer them something else. She explains, ”I think about how I can offer an alternative or pitch the news and then talk about what the future can bring and how that future might look brighter than the present does.”
Working with a lot of legacy families who seek to maintain and grow what their father or father’s fathers built, Houston is often focused on maintaining and sustaining wealth for future generations. To this end, she underscores that it is always important to tell clients “the absolute truth. You have to let a client make the final financial decision, but you have to give them the whole picture, and always tell the truth.”
Houston advises young women seeking a career in the banking industry to ask lots of questions. She also explains the importance of collaboration and sharing knowledge. “Two heads are always better than one,” she notes.
Houston’s main job at Broadway Bank is to expand its oil and gas business beyond the South Texas market. To that end, she is sanguine on future prospects. “Our client base is increasing. Broadway‘s president, Pam Parish, is very progressive. She knows the oil and gas industry is a huge opportunity for growth,” she says. Houston takes seriously Broadway Bank’s motto, We’re here for good, and by all accounts, so is Patricia Houston.
ANNALESE SMOLIK, TEXAS CAPITAL BANK
Annalese Smolik is vice president of Texas Capital Bank, serving corporate clients across industries including manufacturing, retail, insurance and oil and gas. She oversees large accounts — anything over $25 million in revenue. She made her way to Texas Capital Bank by way of a New York investment bank where she worked as an analyst. She brings a New York sensibility to her role at Texas Capital and credits her strong work ethic to her upbringing: “My father always taught me by example that nothing comes to you for free. You have to be willing to work hard to get where you want to be.”
Smolik immigrated to the U.S. from the U.K. in 1983 with her family. Her father was a chemical engineer, and her family came to Houston for his job. They also came to find the best care for Annalese’s sister, who had cerebral palsy.
Smolik initially attended Honors College at the University of Georgia and then continued her studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She started on the medical school track, majoring in biology with a minor in Spanish. But then she decided to flip-flop, choosing Spanish as her major. It was the first of many risks she would take on the way to her current profession.
Smolik has always felt that if there was something she needed to learn in order to succeed, she could figure it out. Nothing proved her can-do attitude more than her study abroad in Venezuela during her senior year. It was a dangerous time to be there, but she immersed herself in the language, learned a lot and gained unique life skills that, strangely enough, would serve her very well in the banking industry.
She tells of a perilous climbing trip that she and friends took up Pico Es
pejo in Venezuela. The group got lost. They had provisions and felt they had some decent survival skills, but the truth was they didn’t know where they were. They found an old cable line in the middle of nowhere, and as they followed that line on foot, they came across an old house with a chimney coughing up a thin line of smoke. An older man living there offered them a place to stay. The group was saved.
“You can do a lot of things when you are put in a tough situation — when you are truly worried about your survival. Failure is not an option. The mountain taught me when there is no defined path, the path you carve yields even greater rewards,” she says.
The Venezuela trip also taught her another important lesson about survival, one that launched her career. As her group camped out in Los Llanos, or, as she puts it, “the middle of nowhere,” the camp tracker instructed them to “go get their dinner.” She and her friends assisted in wrestling a crocodile from a swamp, harnessing its snout, skinning it and frying it up for dinner.
When applying for jobs in New York, Smolik found a way to make her applications stand out by including her crocodile story in her cover letter. In it she wrote, “If I can figure out how to survive in Venezuela and catch a crocodile to cook for dinner, I can probably figure out how to navigate a career in investment banking.” It opened the door for her to get several interviews with investment banks wanting to meet the crocodile hunter. She got a job at J.P. Morgan and immediately hit the ground running.
Smolik was young, new to the industry, and admits times were tough. Her personal life took a backseat. “I had friends in PR or in the fashion industry, and part of their job was going out to networking functions. I didn’t have free time, and it was a little bit lonely,” she recalls. Her friendship circle was limited to the people with whom she worked. She also had a long-distance relationship with the man who is now her husband. She explains, “I didn’t fit in with the single crowd because I had a boyfriend, but I didn’t fit in with the married crowd either because I was in a long-distance relationship.”
Though it was a transitional time with many challenges, Smolik’s resilience and her laser focus on her career saw her through. Moving to San Antonio in 2004 set her career on another trajectory. She found herself married, with three kids, and working at Texas Capital Bank.
As far as challenges women in banking face, Smolik doesn’t see any disadvantages to being a woman in the industry. She underscores the importance of sustaining a high level of integrity and maintaining professional boundaries. She is candid on the issue of pay and gender: “If there is a candidate who is better for the position than I am, hire him. I want to be compensated based on my merit.”
Smolik also places a high value on time — hers and that of her clients, explaining, “I try not to go to a meeting unless I add value. I think people have to know their client‘s time is valuable. If you ask a CEO to sit down for an hour, that’s an hour they are not working on their business or spending time with their family. When I set a meeting, I have a purpose for being there.”
Perhaps the best advice Smolik offers young women (and men) looking to enter the banking industry is “Roll your sleeves up and work hard. Earn it. Don’t expect it.”
Smolik has succeeded in balancing a successful career with a vibrant family life. She notes her job at Texas Capital allows her the flexibility to be there for her kids as much as possible. Tenacity, hard work, integrity and a distinct ability to forge her own path make Annalese Smolik an executive who is clearly still on the way up.
ROSE MARY SLAGLE, PLAINS CAPITAL BANK
Rose Mary Slagle of Plains Capital Bank is originally from Harlingen and attended UT Pan American. Eager to make her way in the workforce, she left college prior to graduation to work in banking. She was offered a position as a secretary for a lending officer at a bank. That started her banking career. In those years she took a role “in pretty much every position there is in the banking industry except for being a teller.” She was surprised at how much she liked the work.
In 1987 Slagle took a detour from the finance industry to work for Southwest Airlines. It was something she had always wanted to do. She was with Southwest for approximately 10 years, working as a ticket agent and then in operations dealing with the landing and taking off of the aircraft. With Southwest she had to be weather certified, and so she went to a weather school. She did the weather observation for the FedEx planes that were taking off and landing at Harlingen Airport.
There were five people in that role at the time, and she was only the second female to work in that position with Southwest Airlines at that airport. She shouldered the burden of one of the most stressful jobs in the industry: dictating to pilots the weight and balance of the aircraft for safe take-offs and landings.
Slagle then moved to San Antonio and stayed home to raise her family. As her children grew, she knew she wanted to go back to work. Because of her love of numbers, she decided to go back into banking when her second child entered middle school. In 2011, she returned to the industry after landing a job with First National Bank. She admits that at first it was intimidating to think about going back to work.
“The way that people apply for a job is not personal anymore,” she says. “It is all through the Internet. Because of online applications, I could only submit what was on my résumé. That’s the only thing I had to play on. You couldn’t even call and reflect your personality through a phone call.”
Slagle was shocked by how much had changed since she had left the industry. Everything had become computerized. “Calculations used to be done with a calculator,” she says. “Now you just put things into a program, and the program spits out the calculations.” She applied to several institutions, and didn’t get any response except from First National Bank. They needed a lending assistant for the president of one of the branches on the West Side. She took the job.
Two years ago, Plains Capital acquired First National Bank. Slagle’s experience with the culture of Southwest Airlines was something she had really missed, and the acquisition of First National by Plains Capital allowed her to return to that feeling of a family culture in a business organization. “When Plains Capital acquired First National, I knew I was home. I felt it immediately. Especially with the support of Mike Molak, San Antonio regional chairman, and Sarah Pendley, San Antonio regional operations manager. Plains Capital is a family-friendly, customer-oriented institution.”
Soon after the acquisition, she was invited with a group of employees to go to Dallas to have lunch with the executives and CEO Alan White to learn about the culture at the bank. She was selected to be one of the leaders to bring the culture back to their particular branches, and she was excited to be part of something bigger than just banking. Plains Capital had a mission, and the mission drove the whole enterprise. Slagle knew this is where she wanted to be for the long haul.
Slagle is unapologetic about her love of numbers, but she also admits that it is her love of the people she works with that keeps her going. She says, “If you’re not happy with who you are working with, it makes it really difficult for you to enjoy where you are. There hasn’t been a day that I get up in the morning and say, ‘Ugh, I have to go to work today.’ Every day is a new day, and I am inspired by our CEO, Alan White, who sends an email to all employees every morning of inspiration, motivation, urgency, reminding us why we are here.”
At Plains Capital she has found her purpose and her place. In thinking about women in the workplace, Slagle remarks that women have an “intuition or an upbringing that revolves around family. It really is who you work with. You have to think to yourself, ‘Do you care about how you take care of your customer?’ Because everybody that walks through the door is a person that we need to make feel as though they are valued. I think a lot of people disregard that, and think our job is all about numbers. It really isn’t. It is about how to take care of your customers for their benefit. Women are uniquely suited to do that kind of caretaking and to sustain those vital relationships.”
Slagle is excited about the future. She talks about the challenge that all banks now face in dealing with cybersecurity. She also notes that the physical activity of banking has changed. Though people may not be coming into the lobby as much, relationships are built and sustained online, and that means verifying the identity of our customers. “We have to make sure that the technology is taken care of. We may not see our customers all the time, but we are talking to them through online transactions or on the phone. What sets us apart is that we send personal notes that are hand-written and signed. Just because we don’t see them in the lobby doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking of them. And despite the technology, we know that personal relationships are important. That is key to our business. That’s part of the mission,” she says. Every day since she’s been with Plains Capital, Slagle has felt that feeling of mission, and she’s proud to be “leaning in” at her home away from home.
MAGGIE ORTIZ, LONE STAR NATIONAL Bank
Maggie Ortiz is senior vice president of commercial lending at Lone Star National Bank. She is a straight-up dynamo lit from within by a passion for her work. She juggles her demanding job at the bank with caring for a family of four, including two young children under the age of 7. Her work/life balance is centered around the two families she cares for: her work family and her family at home. She aims to do right by both every single day.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Ortiz grew up in a single-family household and went to St. Mary’s University. She has been in the banking industry for 17 years and credits her work ethic as the key to her success.
“As an only child, I didn’t come home and spend time with brothers and sisters. I looked for things to get involved in,” she says, emphasizing, “All my mom’s attention was focused on me, and it kept me out of trouble. She grew up in a household of two women. We were very independent. If something was broken down or needed fixing, we had to do it ourselves.” It is this can-do attitude that she carries over into her professional life.One of Ortiz’s legacies from her mother is the attitude: “Just figure it out.” In her junior and senior years at St. Mary’s, Ortiz worked as a teller on the weekends while still maintaining a full load of course work at school.
As soon as she started working at a bank, she knew she had found her career path. She was drawn to the numbers right away. She loved that she could “figure it out” by digging, doing research and finding answers.
When she graduated, Ortiz got a position as a credit analyst for IBC Bank and then moved to commercial lending. She was drawn to IBC for the people there. “A lot of women in leadership roles in corporate industries want to be there not simply because of the content of the work, but because of the culture of the workplace,” she says.
Ortiz illustrates why this is particularly important for women: “You spend more time at work than you do with your family. You want to enjoy those experiences. You want to have an interest in what the people around you are doing in their lives.” It is that culture that keeps her going.
Ortiz drew on her “no-fear” attitude when she moved from IBC to new ventures, first at Cadence and now at Lone Star National Bank. She reflects, “When you are dealing with any type of change, whether it is in professional or personal realms, it is scary. But if you think it is the right decision for you, you have to mine that confidence. If, at the end of the day, you don’t succeed, you know that you took that risk and gave it a try. For women this is particularly important. Women sometimes are afraid to make a move because they worry about leaving a comfortable spot. I encourage young women to be confident and to consider moving beyond the known path.”
Today, Ortiz services existing customers and helps the bank grow the market. Lone Star National opened in 1983 and has over 600 employees and 33 locations across South Texas, with five branches in San Antonio. Ortiz hopes to help Lone Star National continue its growth throughout Texas.
As for her clients, she talks of them as friends and family. She takes her relationships very seriously, feeling an intense responsibility to care for a client that she has come to know. She says, “You get to hear stories about their children and their grandchildren. And you get to know them. Your clients trust that you are going to make decisions that will help them grow and offer security to their families. As long as you are honest with your customers, I think you can help them through tough transitions.” Ortiz emphasizes that you can’t always be a “yes” person, but you can be honest, and you can give them alternatives.
Ortiz’s advice for young women? Take risks. She says, “Early on, I was afraid to ask questions, but then I learned that if I don’t ask questions, I’m never going to progress. This profession is an ongoing education, so learn from an early age that the more you ask, the more you know. Accept failure because if you fail, at least you took the risk. How cool is that? ”