Maria Tedesco is Group Executive Vice President & Director of Retail and Business Banking at Citizens Financial Group, Inc., one of the 10 largest commercial banking holding companies in the US ranked by assets. We had the opportunity to meet her at the 2011 MA Conference for Women Small Business Boot Camp when she spoke on behalf of the event’s sponsor, Citizens Bank. Tedesco is responsible for the performance of the retail and business banking businesses. She oversees more than 1,450 traditional and in-store branches and over 500 Business Banking colleagues across the 12-state Citizens Bank/Charter One footprint. We’ve asked her to weigh in on a few questions about being an inspiring woman leader.
What advancements have you seen women make in your industry in the last few years?
There are more women than ever before in executive leadership positions in leading financial institutions. I am proud to say that my CEO is a woman. Not only does she lead the 10th largest bank in the country, but in 2011 she was recognized by American Banker as the fifth most powerful woman in banking. It is very inspiring to have more role models in the senior ranks of financial institutions and not just in traditional female disciplines. In the last few years I have seen more opportunities for women in the financial industry to be recognized than ever before. Like the American Banker ranking, there are events to highlight women’s achievements and leadership forums to give successful women a platform to share their voice and perspective. Women in the financial industry are making tremendous strides and I am confident the momentum will continue.
What do you see as the greatest challenge to women in your field?
The financial industry is in the midst of continued revenue pressure following the financial crisis in 2008 and the strict regulatory environment. This is causing the industry to undergo unprecedented change. Financial institutions have enormous pressure to reinvent themselves. They must determine their market relevance and value to their customers in order to return to strong, continuous revenue growth. Colleague engagement is critical to a company’s success and today’s workforce wants to feel valued and engage with their employer. This challenge is a clear opportunity for women to shine. Why? These institutions will need strong talented individuals to help reshape strategy, to think differently about their customer value proposition and lastly, to reengage their workforce. Who better to help companies get the job done but strong, knowledgeable, creative women? Women have a natural EQ (emotional intelligence) and can lead and motivate employees through unprecedented times of change. Let’s take advantage of this talent and seize the moment!
What is your favorite forum for networking and making authentic connections with other professional women?
There are many opportunities to network these days. I pursue events as avenues to meet interesting people who enjoy the world of business and talking shop. At the start of the year I set goals I want to accomplish and determine what forums will help attain those goals. For example, I wanted to learn to be better at strategic thinking and improving my ability to present ideas strategically. Therefore I chose the right conferences to enhance my skills and at the same time look for good networking opportunities. Before attending events I make a list of people I want to connect with. Then I set a goal to seek them out and introduce myself. LinkedIn is a handy tool to log my contacts and keep track of their whereabouts.
What advice do you give to young women just starting their careers?
1. Keep your eye on the prize – stay focused on what you want to achieve.
2. Set Goals: Write your goals down and the milestones you need to accomplish to reach those goals. Something I once read and have come to live by is not to share your goals with anyone! Keep them to yourself. You’ll find when you share your goals, people will tell you why you cannot achieve them or attempt to derail your focus.
3. Ask for help and advice. People love to be asked for advice.
4. Always Be Selling Yourself – before you talk with an executive or network at an event, think about the few headlines you want that person to know about you or your business. What is it that you want that person to remember about you when they walk away. Have a goal or outcome in mind you want to achieve during the interaction.