I am a reluctant “leaper”. Most opportunities came to me and slapped me in the face. I was forced to say yes because I knew I could contribute to the challenge. My goal has never been to get promoted or become the boss. My goal has always been to contribute to an organization and make a difference. Sometimes that contribution has led to a promotion. Sometimes it has led me to work behind the scenes to help someone or something flourish.
One of the most important skills I’ve gained is the ability to gather and synthesize information in such a way that I’m able to see opportunities and challenges before others do. That helps me stay one step ahead of the competition and the risk. I have also learned the importance of having multiple opportunities to succeed, since even the best laid plans can fail.
The challenge of building a great senior management team surprised me the most. It took 15 years to put the right people in the right jobs, so that we could move the organization forward at a fast pace. Now, I just have to retain them!
On Getting People to Know Who You Are and What You Can Do
The biggest thing I have done to stand out is to recognize that I have something to learn from everyone I meet or work with…so I ask a lot of questions. I grew up in neighborhoods with few resources and encountered brilliant people, including my dad. I attended Brown University and Harvard Business School, as well as corporate training classes, and saw a similar brilliance there. I know that every experience and all people may have something to teach me.
To me, people who stand out have a genuine interest in learning, ask good questions (that others have, but don’t ask) and use the answers to move the organization forward.
On the Importance of Doing the Inner Work
The inner work that I have done resulted in the following insights:
1. I recognized very early that I wanted a career and a family—neither was optional. Once I committed to being a successful business woman, wife, and parent, I worked hard to have it all.
2. I left corporate America to follow my passion (using my financial knowledge and expertise to help low- to moderate-income communities). I had to let go of my “corporate identity” to build the bank.
3. I embraced the fact that how OneUnited Bank “does banking” is different from a traditional bank. At one point, we wanted to be the “Black Bank of America.” Now we embrace the culture of our community—such as our engagement using social media and social/cultural events, and our need for financial literacy—to better serve urban communities.
4. I gained better work/life balance by taking my ego out of parenting! My kids (two teenagers) are living their lives. I am embracing their spirit and letting go of my desire to control. I now have more time and energy for me!
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
Embrace change, technology, and cultural change, as minorities become the new majority. Banking is being transformed from in-branch banking to mobile banking. More outreach and financial literacy is needed to serve minority communities.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
Kenneth Chenault was my mentor at American Express. He encouraged me to find opportunities in “tough jobs.” At American Express, I also learned the importance of combining a focus on customer service and data to develop and implement new solutions.
On Facing Challenges
Building and retaining a team of professionals who are passionate and embrace our mission has taken 15 years, which is longer than I expected, but worth the effort.
Teri’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Learn from every assignment and from your coworkers and friends, because, ultimately, it will take everything you’ve learned—and more—to guide an organization through good and bad times.