Bank of America executive Andrea Smith on Wednesday praised her company for embracing points of view from women and others, but also contrasted it with the environment she said she encountered at the first bank she went to work for in the 1980s.
Smith, chief administrative officer for the Charlotte-based bank, described her early career experiences with the Observer after accepting the 2016 Charlotte BusinessWoman of the Year award at Queens University of Charlotte. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and other top executives for the company also attended the luncheon for the award, now in its 31st year.
Smith said she entered banking right out of college by going to work as a computer programmer for Dallas-based First RepublicBank Corp. Bank of America predecessor NCNB would swoop in to buy First Republic later that year when it failed.
“If you go back to when I started, in 1988, really it was I would call it a good ol’ boy club actually at FirstRepublic,” Smith said. “Many voices weren’t heard, because that just wasn’t part of the culture.”
“When I started ... there were no women at the top anywhere. It just didn’t exist,” she said.
Today, Smith is one of the highest-ranking leaders at Bank of America. In her current role, her responsibilities include overseeing submission to the Federal Reserve of the bank’s “stress tests,” annual exams meant to determine how financial institutions would fare in a hypothetical downturn.
Smith joked Wednesday that the bid to acquire First Republic, made when Hugh McColl Jr. was NCNB’s chief executive, was the “best deal” he’d ever made because it gave him Smith and Cathy Bessant, now the bank’s head of technology and operations. Bessant was given the Queens award in 2009.
“Thank goodness NCNB had the most creative deal and the most driven leader,” Smith said, referring to McColl, who was also in the audience. “Here I am almost 30 years later.”
Queens said the annual award honors achievements of exceptional businesswoman who have made significant contributions to Charlotte’s business community.
Smith is chair this year of the Charlotte Chamber. She also serves on the board of directors for Charlotte Ballet and Charlotte Sports Foundation, and on the board of trustees for Discovery Place.
At Bank of America, she is one of five of the bank’s 15 top leaders, a group made of 10 men including Moynihan. Smith credited the bank with being a place where “diverse points of view are sought.”
“Leaders are accountable to create environments where everyone can be heard and bring their whole self to work,” she said. “You just make better business decisions. It is a business imperative to have that kind of diversity of thought and perspectives at the table.”