From part-time teller to CEO, Nandita Bakhshi shares her inspiring story of leadership, saying 'yes' to opportunities and not being afraid to move laterally.
Can you walk us through your career path to becoming CEO of Bank of the West?As CEO leading the transformation of Bank of the West, I can say my journey has been filled with many conscious decisions, unexpected turns, and inspiring words of wisdom. I've taken calculated risks in my career, not been afraid to move laterally, and sought guidance from knowledgeable mentors along the way. I'll admit, however, when I started out in banking almost 30 years ago as a part-time teller, I did not imagine someday being CEO of a major US bank.
With a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Jadavpur University in Calcutta, I moved to the US with my husband hoping to work at an international organization. But, my husband's pursuit of a PhD took us far from the UN and World Bank.
Wanting to work, I found a teller job at a bank close to our home. I spent several years on the frontline in retail banking, and learned the importance of customer experience and the value of customer-facing employees.
"I am proud that today, one-third of my Executive Management Committee are women; one-third of our executive vice presidents are women; and one-third of my bank's top 400 leaders are women. And, of course, we're not done."
These lessons stayed with me, as I went to corporate and worked at several different medium-sized and large banks. While, I took on increasing responsibility, I also took opportunities to move laterally to gain a broader understanding of financial services.
That broad experience – including payments, digital innovation, and consumer banking – gave me a wealth of knowledge, and it taught me the importance of having a broad organizational perspective no matter what role you are in.
During my career, I've developed a collaborative leadership style. An early experience helped shape my views of how to be a leader. When I was a junior product manager in Columbus, Ohio, the CEO of the bank gave me a major project. It required working with three different affiliates to roll out a new card product to hundreds of branches.
Recognizing that I needed diverse expertise, I brought together a topnotch team to design our strategy and roll out the product, which ended up being one of that company's most successful product launches in those days. That experience taught me the importance of building strong teams and making sure everyone is fully engaged and invested in our shared success.
At Bank of the West, I feel fortunate to have an incredibly talented and diverse executive leadership team today that is helping drive our transformation.
Did you have mentors along the way?Throughout my career, I have sought guides and mentors both within the financial services world and outside my industry. These people have shown me how to deal with all types of challenges – from rebounding from setbacks, to finding the opportunity in even the most difficult situations, to remaining humble amidst the euphoria of success.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I ever received came 10 years ago, when the bank I was working at collapsed during the US financial crisis. Not surprising, I was feeling a bit lost. The advice I received was inspiring: "When you are knocked down, remember to catch your breath; you still have to the count of 10 to get back in the fight." What sage advice! I decided to take a break and travel to India to spend time working with NGOs engaged in micro-lending to women entrepreneurs. That time taught me so much about micro-finance, empowering women entrepreneurs, and about myself.
Do you actively seek out a more diverse leadership team? Why?We've all seen the research. Companies with more diverse teams tend to be more innovative, better places to work, attract better talent, and simply perform better financially. Just to cite one example, McKinsey's Diversity Matters report finds that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to have financial returns above their industry median.
Diversity doesn't just happen. You need leadership's commitment and a strategy to actively recruit, retain and promote a more diverse team at all levels.
"Our world is changing. Consumers everywhere are demanding more of businesses and more of corporate leaders. I am leading a major transformation at Bank of the West. This involves a commitment to all of our stakeholders. We are becoming more customer-centric, using technology and ideas from Silicon Valley to serve customers faster and be more convenient. At the same time we are focusing on employees, cultivating a culture of innovation and promoting diversity and inclusion"
That's why in the course of transforming our company, I made cultivating diversity an integral part of the change. I am proud that today, one-third of my Executive Management Committee are women; one-third of our executive vice presidents are women; and one-third of my bank's top 400 leaders are women. And, of course, we're not done. We are building our bench strength so that we have a strong pool of women to draw from for future senior leadership roles.
What is your vision for the future?Our world is changing. Consumers everywhere are demanding more of businesses and more of corporate leaders. I am leading a major transformation at Bank of the West. This involves a commitment to all of our stakeholders. We are becoming more customer-centric, using technology and ideas from Silicon Valley to serve customers faster and be more convenient. At the same time we are focusing on employees, cultivating a culture of innovation and promoting diversity and inclusion. And, I want to ensure my bank makes a positive impact on society through our actions and in collaboration with BNP Paribas.
We're taking actions to help improve our world. This means investing in women entrepreneurs, micro-finance and the energy transition that is vital to our future. Last month, I spent a morning in one of San Francisco's neighborhoods talking with women entrepreneurs to learn what challenges they face trying to grow their businesses. It was amazing to see these entrepreneurs' passion, creativity and resilience. And, we know there are opportunities to support women entrepreneurs. From 2011 to 2013, 97% of all US venture capital went to male chief executives. Yet, recent research from Boston Consulting Group found that women founders deliver 10% higher revenue over five years compared to male-founded companies.
Consumers and businesses are demanding more from companies, and as CEO, I've committed to all our stakeholders – employees, customers, communities and society as a whole. We are committed to taking action to support sustainable finance and contribute to a better future.