| |

I spent five years at Forbes writing about business and leadership, attracting nearly one million unique visitors to Forbes.com each month. While here, I assistant edited the annual World’s 100 Most Powerful Women package and helped launch and grow ForbesWoman.com. I've appeared on CBS, CNBC, MSNBC and E Entertainment and speak often at conferences and events on women's leadership topics. I graduated summa cum laude from New York University with degrees in journalism and sociology and was honored with a best in business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) in 2012. My work has appeared in Businessweek, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Aesthete and Acura Style. I live in New York City with my husband and can be found on Twitter @Jenna_Goudreau, Facebook, and Google+.

Contact Jenna Goudreau

From Secretary To CEO: Beth Mooney Makes Banking History

The newest CEO and Chairman of Cleveland, Ohio-based bank KeyCorp, Beth Mooney, 56, got an unlikely start. After graduating with a history degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1977, interviewers asked only if she could type. Mooney worked as a bank secretary making $10,000 a year before realizing she had bigger aspirations. (“I wasn’t very good at it,” she says. “I’m a bit of a whirling dervish.”) So in 1979, she took downtown Dallas “by storm,” knocking on the door of every big bank to demand acceptance into their management training programs. At the Republic Bank of Dallas, she refused to leave the manager’s office until he offered her a job. Three hours later, he acquiesced, provided she earned an MBA from Southern Methodist University by night.

Mooney never refused a new challenge and moved nine times in 16 years, working in every banking role from commercial and real estate lending to chief financial officer. Five years ago she came to Key as a vice chair, charged with planning and executing a new community banking strategy. It was so successful that the board tapped her as CEO, making her the first female chief of a top-20 U.S. bank and this year debuting at No. 96 on the Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women.

Overseeing 15,000 employees and approximately $90 billion in assets, Mooney will need to steer the bank past one of its darker eras. After hemorrhaging money in 2008 and 2009 and a precipitous drop in stock value, it returned to profitability last year and repaid its $2.5 billion of TARP funds in March. But this isn’t a survival mission. Mooney plans to be the chief that takes Key “to the next level,” and she’s not the type to back down.

Jenna Goudreau: When you stepped into the role of KeyCorp’s chairman and CEO in May, you became the first female chief of a top-20 U.S. bank. How does it feel to be the first?

Beth Mooney: It garners more attention than I expected. Although one analyst said, ‘It’s a non-event that she’s a woman because the only thing that will matter to investors is the performance of the company.’ I think that’s right but also wrong. To women, it is a big deal. When I got promoted, I got hundreds of emails from women in the bank saying, ‘I hope it’s okay to say to the new CEO, you go girl!’ One even said, ‘I’ll walk a little taller and feel a little prouder because I work for a company with a female CEO.’ To be able to look up and see a woman at the helm is important to women. I take it as an opportunity and a responsibly to do this well.

Key suffered some dark years during the recession and in March became one of the last banks to repay its $2.5 billion in bailout funds. Is this still a turnaround mission?

The TARP money was not a bailout. It was originally given to banks that were deemed financially stable and viable. We were patient in deciding when to repay TARP because part of the requirement was that you needed to raise new equity—you had to issue stock. By waiting until our financial performance was stronger, we diluted our shareholders less. We are proud to have that chapter behind us. We’ve been profitable for five quarters and are building momentum for the future. I truly believe Key is past the inflection point.

How do you plan to restore investor confidence in a stock that’s lost almost 80% of its value since mid-2007?

One of the first planks of my 100-day plan was to go meet our investors. I spent 30 days on the road meeting the top third of our shareholders. In every single meeting, I said: ‘You are an owner of Key. Why do you own our stock, and what are your expectations?’ They were taken aback that someone would ask what they expected. Well, I learned a lot. They wanted to understand our strategy, how we would differentiate ourselves, and to ensure that we’d be disciplined. I’ve also been out meeting with our employees, making sure they hear from the new CEO that our future is bright.

Post Your Comment

Please or sign up to comment.

Forbes writers have the ability to call out member comments they find particularly interesting. Called-out comments are highlighted across the Forbes network. You'll be notified if your comment is called out.