Women in Banking: Getting the Most from their Investment

Getting the most from their investment

These bankers have a lot in common besides their profession. Interestingly enough, all five of these women are mothers of two children — that includes one who refers to her two doggies as her “children.” They were all taught independence at a young age. They are outgoing and people-oriented. These women are also committed to personal fitness, keeping their strength up to pursue their active lifestyles. Most started their careers in banking literally at the ground floor as bank tellers (usually during college) and worked their way up.
They have similar advice to give other women who are just starting out, especially when it comes to mentoring. Forget about thinking you are supposed to tackle life on your own. Mentors are essential, according to these five very successful businesswomen, and, conversely, they are now able to be mentors themselves. They have years of experience and are generous with offering their guidance and encouragement.
All five of these women enjoy helping others. Each loves her job and is passionate about it because it offers the opportunity to help other people and their businesses.
They learned what their strengths are early on. They know what their limits are and just how far to push them. They have a strong work ethic and set goals. They have a strong sense of self and take on challenges. They are the initiators who serve in leadership roles. Outstanding in their respective fields, they are recognized by their many organizations. They are award winners!

Sara Brouillard –
Broadway Bank

“Family-run businesses are a bit different from sole entrepreneurships or corporations in that they have a legacy to pass along to the next generation,” says Sara Brouillard, family business resource manager of the Broadway Bank’s Family Business Resource Center (FBRC). “Sometimes it isn’t that simple. The business owner may find that the children who seem best suited for the job may not be interested. Then what?” Sara Gouge Brouillard (pronounced “googe brew-lard”) came to work for her family’s business with a background in marketing. She soon developed a natural passion for helping other family businesses and welcomed the opportunity to take over the FBRC, which is dedicated to providing advisory services helping other family-run businesses.
Brouillard knows a lot about family businesses. She is the great-granddaughter of Col. Charles Cheever, who founded the Broadway National Bank in 1941, and granddaughter of Charlie Cheever, her mother’s father, who took over the family business in the 1950s. Her father, Jim Gouge, became chairman and CEO in 2001.
Sara is the eldest of Jim Gouge’s four offspring. It is expected that all members of her family, including siblings and cousins, will at some time work at the Broadway Bank, perhaps in summer jobs or internships, even though they may be pursuing other interests. This family is committed to the banking business for the long haul.
Brouillard learned how to create change in a positive and progressive way while studying human and organizational development at Vanderbilt and has applied that to business banking. Two years ago, the bank launched the FBRC website, giving registered members access to hand-selected articles. “This provides much-needed extra help, though not necessarily in banking, but in subjects of peripheral interest to the family business owners, such as succession planning,” she explains. “I started a seminars program for business owners and bring in outside professionals, such as lawyers speaking about limited partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs) and a panel of CPAs addressing the new tax laws. They also learn marketing techniques, including the pros and cons of promoting a business as family-owned or projecting a mom-and-pop operation in certain communities.”
In 2013 the Broadway Bank won the Baylor University-sponsored Family Business of the Year Family Values Award. Brouillard has been a speaker at North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce luncheons and at a Texas Bankers Association conference. She was a participant in the 38th class of Leadership San Antonio and serves as a board member for the Children’s Shelter. She is a founding member of the United Way‘s Emerging Leaders Council and a member of the Junior League of San Antonio.
This banking lady is the mother of two boys, an infant and a toddler, and she is the chief chef in residence at Chéz Brouillard, using quiet time to research new recipes. It doesn’t matter if last week’s dish was a home run with husband, Jeff; this week it will be something different!
Brouillard has a message to relay to young women starting college: “Don’t be afraid of what banking sounds like; don’t be intimidated. The banking world needs more women. Women know and understand how kids affect finances. Don’t give up a career to be a parent, and don’t think you have to be perfect. You can have it all.”

Suzanne Peterson –
Frost Bank

“In 1983, women were beginning to make their mark,” says Suzanne Peterson. “When I first started at Frost Bank, women were dressing more masculinely, in a dark suit and button-down shirt. I love that women now feel more latitude to dress more femininely and yet project a professional posture.” Her entire 31-year career has been with Frost Bank, where she has worked her way up to being named sales manager in 2014. “Frost has a very supportive and encouraging culture. More challenging for women early on was gaining acceptance from customers and prospects. I think we have made great progress in societal attitudes since the early ‘80s. Ultimately, what customers want is a knowledgeable banker who will provide top-quality service,” states Peterson. Growing up in Tulsa, Peterson lived with her grandmother and mentor, Flora. who from the eighth grade on put her to work at her small oil and gas business. Flora advised her, “Don’t just get a job; get a profession.” Peterson listened well and passes that good advice along to young women starting out in school or business: “Take the most challenging disciplines in college, and then pick a profession that plays to your strengths. It will be more enjoyable, and you will probably be more successful.”
She also encourages seeking an internship with a company to get a closer perspective on various positions and to get to know the culture of an organization. “I interned at a bank in high school and then worked there summers and holidays afterward. In college, I had an accounting concentration but discovered pretty quickly that I did not want to have a job that was primarily technically focused. Corporate banking calls for a great balance of technical expertise and people skills.” she explains.
Peterson highly recommends seeking a mentor as early as possible in life. “Uncle Rupert has been coaching my kids since they were in elementary school to think about what they would like to do in life. People are usually flattered and more than willing to be a mentor,” she says. Peterson came to San Antonio to attend Trinity University. She earned a BS in business administration, with a concentration in accounting, and is a licensed CPA. She was an avid varsity soccer player and after college continued playing in the metro league into her 30s until a neck injury slowed her down. While at Trinity, she fell in love in and with San Antonio.
Peterson has always been actively engaged in the community and currently serves on the boards of the SAISD Foundation and the Business Advisory Council for Trinity University’s School of Business. She is a sustaining member of the Junior League of San Antonio and has provided volunteer support to the United Way of San Antonio.
She was a member of the 1996 class of Leadership San Antonio and served as board chair for Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas. She has also served on the boards of the Rotary Club of San Antonio, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Japan America Society of San Antonio. Peterson says, “I’ve heard life’s comfort zone described as a bubble. The more you push against the boundary, the bigger it becomes. I make it a goal to push myself to the edge of my comfort zone every day and then go one step further.”

Sally Sohn –
Jefferson Bank

When comparing the atmosphere for women in banking during her early years and now, Sally Sohn, senior vice president of mortgage lending at Jefferson Bank, recalls, “When I was starting out in my 20s, I was too young to recognize how difficult it was, and I have always been treated well. The banking industry is more inviting to women than many other industries.” She continues, “I worked at a local bank in my 20s, picking up valuable experience in a variety of roles, and ‘retired’ when my first daughter was born until she got her driver’s license at 16. Then I was ready to get back into the job market and was encouraged by a friend to try my hand at mortgage lending at Jefferson Bank. I hesitated but took the challenge, and here I am 14 years later.” Sohn tells women striving for the executive level in banking to “stay in the field or in business. Don’t take years off while others stay and gain years’ more experience.” She also advises, “Don’t be abrasive, but don’t be timid about what you do. Earn your credit and make sure you get and take credit where credit is due.”
Sohn grew up in Fort Worth and earned a BA from Austin College in Sherman. She moved to San Antonio when she was 20 and worked as a bank teller while she was working toward her MBA at Trinity University. The same friend who encouraged her to try mortgage lending also introduced her to her husband, Bob. They have two daughters – Christina, who is a landscape architect in Boston, and Katherine, who is a manager at Central Market and mother of Mason, who is almost 3. Sohn says she loves spending time with Mason. As senior mortgage lender, Sohn is manager of eight people in her division at Jefferson Bank (not including processors or closers). Her strong work ethic has paved the way for steady advancement. “I love the balance of working with people and the analysis. I enjoy getting to know people and get along with all sorts of people in general,“ she says. She continues, “I help them through the qualifying and through the whole process to closing. You have to work long hours and make sure you have your time available when the homebuyers and their realtors are ready for you. Sometimes there may be as many as 10 loans that all beckon for my attention at once, and I’m keeping a lot of balls in the air, which takes focus.”
In addition to her work, Sohn is serving on the boards and finance committees for Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas and Landa Gardens Conservancy.
She runs four days a week and does weight classes at the gym twice a week. She loves her workouts and says that self-discipline and fitness help keep her fit for a strenuous business schedule. All that work pays off, as she was recognized last year in the San Antonio Business Journal, listed as No.11 out of 25 top residential mortgage producers.
This successful banker has a few insights to pass along: “It’s more fun when I’m not afraid of embarrassing myself and just learn to laugh at myself. Be discriminating, but don’t judge. Always remember to be grateful.”

Novie Allen –
Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union

There were three women assistant vice presidents in banking who were mentors to Novie Allen, business lending development officer for Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union, when she started her career in 1989. “They even wrote out a career path for me,” she says. “I was a part-time teller while attending college to pursue a criminal justice career. I quickly realized that helping clients at the bank had become a passion for me. So I continued that path, working my way up and increasing responsibility during the next 10 years. “Then last spring,” she continues, “I got the call from RBFCU that hired me away and led to my current position, which I love. I feel blessed by the job and the opportunity to do what I love and apply my passion to helping people. RBFCU allows me to work in an environment that aligns with my philosophy of ‘[business] member first.’”
Allen is a San Antonian and graduate of Clark High School. Her closest friend and influence has been her mother, who taught her to be strong and independent. “I am very close to my family, including my brother and sister-in-law and 9-year-old niece, aunts, uncles and cousins. We all live within a few blocks, and we usually have about two dozen at family gatherings.” Even though Allen likes to cook, she will never again attempt to grill 24 steaks for the group. “While everyone else was socializing, I was out tending the grill,” she recalls. She keeps her energy level up by working out at a nearby fitness center. Allen is an active member of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and was honored recently as their fourth quarter’s “Outstanding Ambassador” and “Miss Congeniality” for 2014. Her position at the bank enables her to meet decision makers at various other chambers of commerce events. She explains, “My role in the business community is to encourage and empower small business owners, matching them with resources that allow them to thrive.” She believes it is important to give back in the way of referrals and make connections: “I keep others on my mind so that when the opportunity arises, I can make that connection. Then others will do the same in return.”
Allen would like to share some sage advice for young women starting a career. “Don’t compare yourself with other women. Every woman has her own best asset. Appreciate what you have. Truly believe, and continually have the attitude of OK, I can do that and do it. Keep up with your education and technology, and read books.”
Some other policies she has learned and hopes might help others: “Be easy to talk to and treat everyone with respect; say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and do what you say you will do. Stand up for yourself and speak up if you see something inappropriate or disruptive in your office. Count to 10, invite that person into your office, and calmly tell him/her your thoughts.” Allen quotes late business author and speaker Jim Rohn, who said, “We become the combined average of the five people we associate with most.” She adds, “It’s the people you receive assistance from, and the ones you give assistance to, that will influence and shape your thoughts, your feelings, your actions and results.”

Elva Adams –
Wells Fargo Bank

“It was education that brought me to the U.S.,” explains Elva Adams, whose financial career has centered around Wells Fargo Bank since 1996. ”It was around 1990 when I took years of earnings awarded by the Chinese government and moved to the U.S. alone to seek my American dream. I enrolled at UTSA, learned English and earned my BBA in accounting. I was on the dance squad, then became a member of the original San Antonio Spurs Silver Dancers.” Elva was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and became a world-class martial arts champion representing Chinese Taipei under the name Pai Yun-Yao. Among her many awards there is an Olympic bronze medal from Seoul, Korea, for tae kwon do. She represented the United States in all of her subsequent competitions, winning mostly gold medals at the national level. Then she took time off to have a family. “I am now a single mom. My son is at Texas Tech and my daughter is at O’Connor High. They are my life,” she says.
Elva‘s career evolved into her current position as a senior business relationship banker for the past 10 years. She says, “My main source of motivation has been about setting goals and having the passion and drive to attain them.” She advises that having mentors is essential to success and also stresses, “The discipline of my involvement in martial arts has helped me excel in all areas of life. My years of training in tae kwon do have taught me to be fearless, yet I know my boundaries.” Eventually, her sports awards shifted to national and international refereeing, including “best referee” titles. This woman has the heart of a winner. Now she is a participant again, this time in the master and senior competitions. Her medal count is still growing. Elva says, “I am currently training for the U.S. Open in Orlando at the end of January. I plan to go for the gold in the women’s senior individual and team poomsae (a martial arts form) at the 2015 World Championship. Once I accomplish that, I will be the first athlete to receive gold in both sparring and poomsae events.”
In addition to Adams’ athletics, she has causes dear to her that have crossed over into her professional life: “I am able to use my position to help and promote Asian small business owners.” She is a strong advocate of maximizing the use of government loan-guaranteed programs as a way to provide financial assistance to small and minority- owned businesses that need that extra boost to start or expand their business and achieve “their American dream.” Adams says she values Wells Fargo’s vision and its policy on diversity and inclusion. She quotes their CEO, who states, “By 2020, we should be serving diverse markets, recognizing that diverse customers often have unique financial requirements, and more of our purchasing power should be dedicated to diverse suppliers.” Adams has been able to form and serve in leadership roles in various organizations dedicated to developing and assisting the Asian, Taiwanese and Chinese communities in San Antonio. Her influence extends through her board positions, speaking engagements and participation in a mentorship program, where she shares her small business expertise to help bridge businesses between the United States and Asia and raise the awareness and importance of small businesses in the Asian community.

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