CLT Alliance Talks

CLT Alliance Talks: Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith

December 02, 2021 Charlotte Regional Business Alliance Season 2 Episode 46
CLT Alliance Talks
CLT Alliance Talks: Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith
Show Notes Transcript

The CLT Alliance’s 2021 Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer at Bank of America, shares the pivotal moments in her trailblazing career. In this podcast, she shares tangible things all businesses can do to better workplace culture and gives advice to the next generation of leaders.  Plus, hear what drives her to never stop improving the community and her hopes for the Charlotte Region as she moves on to her next chapter.

You can learn more about Smith's career and impact on the Charlotte Region here

CLT Alliance  0:00  
Welcome to CLT Alliance Talks, a podcast on business topics, information and tools focused on building an economy for all in Charlotte Region.

Janet LaBar, President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance  0:12  
Welcome, everyone. We are so thrilled today to have Andrea Smith, our Charlotte Regional Business Alliance 2021 Citizen of the Carolinas with us today. We're going to have a fantastic conversation, and we're going to get right to it. Andrea, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America  0:29  
Thank you for having me. It's a real honor to be with you today.

Janet LaBar, President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance  0:33  
Fantastic. All right. So my first question for you is, you have started your first job in a male dominated industry and to now you are being one of the highest ranked executives in Charlotte, named one of the most powerful women in banking for years. Tell us, are there any moments that you can pinpoint as pivotal in your career?

Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America  0:56  
Oh, gosh, Janet, how long do we have? So many pivotal moments in my life, but, you know, I think a couple really come to mind. The first one being my very first day of work. I worked at a small bank starting in eighth grade. And I would go down on the weekends, and stuff statements and count them and do it with pencil, and it was really cool. So I went from that to actually working at a small bank all through college. And the reason the story is important is because that small bank offered me a job. And when I say small, I'm talking extremely small, there may be 20 employees of this little bank. And I got to do every single job; it was amazing. But I got an offer from the big bank in town called First Republic. And I thought I would try that. So I accepted the role. And I reported for duty on my very first day. And I showed up at 8am. And I asked for my supervisor just like I was told to do and this person came out and I said 'Hi, I'm Andrea Bradley. I'm here for the project analyst role.' And this person looked at me and said, 'Oh, well, I'm glad you're here. Your job has been eliminated.' I said, 'Excuse me,' and they said 'yes, we've eliminated that entire department. However, we have another job for you. We'd like you to be a computer programmer.' And I said, 'Okay, well, do you have to have any experience?' Because I only had one computer class in college. And they said, 'Oh, no, no, it's fine. Here's a book.' And they gave me a big book. And they showed me to a cube. So sitting there and thinking, wow, what? This is very interesting. And this book was, you know, 4 GL. So then I started digging into that fourth generation language programming. I would start flipping through the book. And I mean, how do you even know what kind of programs to write? So I called a couple people that they'd put on this list of paper, and I said, 'Hey, you know, I'm this new person. I'm a computer programmer now. Do you know how to write a program?' And they said, 'Oh, sure. We need to write these kinds of programs.' And I remember going home that night, it was a real inflection point. Do I keep this job as a computer programmer, which is not the job I accepted? Or do I go back to the little bank, remember where I had the first offer? So I decided to keep the job. And here I am, almost 34 years later, getting ready to retire. And the point of that story is one about resilience. It's about taking risks, trying something new, putting yourself in an uncomfortable position. And I would say those are themes that I have embarked upon throughout my career. And one more story that I think, you know, your question was pivotal moments. So that was a pivotal one right out of the chute. And the second one that just I always remember is when I was in HR, and I was new in HR, and I was really coming up the ladder. And I got invited to a big meeting. And I was the youngest person in there by many, many, many years. And I was the only woman. And I listened to this conversation, and I knew that I had the right answer. I knew that I knew what we needed to do. I was convinced of it. So all these people were talking and I just found an opening. And I said this is what we need to do. Probably pretty much just like that. This is what we need to do. And I barely I don't even know half the people. And so after I finished speaking, there was dead silence in the room. And then they just resumed talking like I hadn't even spoken. I thought, oh my gosh, what is going on here? So I went back to my office and I was devastated because I again, I knew that I knew what we need to do. And my boss's boss came into my office and closed the door. And he said, 'Andrea, that was absolutely what we needed to do.' And I said 'I knew that. Why didn't we do it?' He said 'because of how you presented your idea. You didn't bring anyone along with you. You didn't acknowledge anyone else in the room. You didn't acknowledge that these people had a lot more tenure than you. You didn't acknowledge, there could have been a good part of any of their idea. You were just so focused on your own idea.' It's all about how you present in the room and how you bring other people along with you. And I will, I never have forgotten that. And I so appreciated him taking the time to come share that with me. I mean, it felt like a dagger through the heart when he was telling me. But, how important right to learn that at such a young age. And I just, those are just two lessons that I think have been really important for me that I share with a lot of people, men and women. And if I can help people not to, you know, make the same mistakes that I did, by any lesson that I learned, then I want to impart that and help people grow. But it's just it's always important to know your audience and not worry about your idea winning but worrying about the best idea coming out of the room and taking the company or the nonprofit, or whatever it is that you're working for, forward.

Janet LaBar, President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance  5:59  
I love that so much. And you know, what you just described in both of the stories are, I think, so characteristic of you. And so it's really interesting that from your first story, you talked about resilience and risk, and just your appetite to want to learn something that's new. To your second story just around, you know, the lesson from your boss's boss, and how that has stuck with you through all this time and how I've personally benefited from how giving you are of, you know, bringing people with you in the room when it comes to ideas. And I love that. Thank you for sharing those, those stories. And it tees us up perfectly for this next question that I have, which is about your work to change workplace culture, which you have been such a leader in doing. Tell us a little bit more about how you've advocated for women and diverse leaders and talent at Bank of America and in the community. And I don't know, share some insight on what some of those tangible things that others can do in that line of thought there.

Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America  6:59  
It's a really great question, and it's something that I'm really proud of. In fact, Brian Moynihan, my boss, and I, we hearken back to when he became CEO in 2010. And he named me the head of HR. And one of our main objectives was to create a culture of being the best place to work, and inclusive in being the best place to work is having a diverse workforce. It's having an environment where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work. And so we started looking at all a very programmatic approach at the beginning, which is all now embedded in our DNA. And these programs, Janet, are things like ensuring there's a diverse slate of candidates in the hiring process for every single job that's open, making sure that we have programs and employee networks for women and for working parents and for different generations. And for all the things that a worker may need along the spectrum of starting work and building a savings account to possibly starting a family and childcare or to taking care of aging parents, so elder care, to getting kids through college to, you know, doing volunteering to building up a retirement. So we tried to look at the entire spectrum of activities. So that meant we also started employee networks. I was the executive sponsor of the very first Black Executive Leadership Council more than 12 years ago. And that created other diverse leadership councils. The most recently I've been the executive sponsor of the LGBTQ plus Council. And these are all things that you know, groups that we create around the world, that allow our employees to engage in, find an affinity, engage in a group.  I was the chair of the Black Executive Leadership Council. I'm not black, but leading that gave me a whole new perspective and a real understanding of what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes. And that's always what we were trying to do. Any company can start those kinds of groups. We also became very deliberate and purposeful, around what we were measuring. You need to measure representation. You need to measure your representation versus what's available in the workforce. You need to look at your women, your Black representation, your Hispanic, Latino, Asian, etc. All through the ranks, because that's telling you if you're representing the communities in your workforce. Beyond that, it's more than just representation though. It's about the environment that you are creating. And that was something that was really important to us. So as part of everyone's quarterly scorecard, yes, we had the representation metrics, but we also had everyone put two things that they did individually to either sponsor or mentor, recruit, or do something in their personal life, to change the environment to make it better. And to me, that's really been the hallmark of creating this inclusive culture we have at the company and we say all the time, we want people to be able to bring and feel encouraged that they can bring their whole self to work and not check part of themselves at the door. And that's something that I think, again, every company can do, every nonprofit can do, big or small. These do not, these efforts do not cost money. And that's part of the beauty of it. And I try to share these best practices with everybody. We've had seminars with our clients on many of our diversity and inclusion efforts, so that we can kind of give these ideas out and people can take them because the more diverse and inclusive everyone is, the more success we're going to have in our society. And that's why it's so important to me. And, you know, along the way, you keep bringing other people to the table, and I've seen you to this, I've seen other leaders do this, you bring people to the table, you share your best practices, and you see that this continues to build. And success builds on success. And I think that's part of what I want to impart with people when I leave.

Janet LaBar, President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance  11:14  
Wow, that is deeply impactful. And you know, when you think about the separation of home from work, and personal life, which is, you know, has been done for a really long time, right? That was very taboo to not talk about what you've got going on personally in the workplace. And yet, as you just mentioned, and demonstrated, you know, you can start small, and by opening yourself up to being your best self that work will only mean better things for you professionally, hopefully, personally, and then as a company wide. So thank you for doing that. And for pioneering and trailblazing in those areas and for Bank of America for doing the same and creating that culture of openness and inclusivity.

Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America  11:57  
Can I get one thing? Yeah, I just really think another thing that is really important, and you just said it, but I want to double down on it. Which is bringing your whole self to work. You know, we all have a lot of things going on. And one of the things I've tried to do throughout the years is really focus on work-life integration. Work-life balance was never something that I felt I could do. Because when I think of balance, I think of that old timey scale that are always looking equal. And my life was never equal in anything, whether it was in school, with sports, or other interests outside of work, or whatever. None of those trays never equaled, so I always focused on integration. And I always, you know, was very open about where I was what I was doing, whether it was, you know, going to a school play, or going to an event or one of the kids sporting things, or to, you know, something that I was doing. And I think being human about that knowing we all have other things going on that make us who we are, it's not just our job, allows you to be able to connect with people in a different way. And certainly, through the last two years of COVID, I've been very intentional about sharing my own struggles and anxiety that I have felt through the pandemic. And, you know, I sometimes think that people believe that if you're at a certain level at a company, you maybe don't have the same kind of fears and anxiety, and that's just not true at all. I, you know, when we had to all start working from home, I had a lot of anxiety. My kids were home, my husband was home, I was home, the animals were home and in I felt like I was going and starting work in my pajamas and ending in my pajamas. And you know, there was just no space or time. And so I did these mindfulness vignettes and through some of the mental health and wellness apps that we have online, and I found a few things that worked for me that I just, I shared with people. But it's to me, you know, we are all human and giving grace and empathy and an understanding that we all are going through different things at different times. It's something that I think is really important as leaders and as people.

Janet LaBar, President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance  14:17  
Right, and I think that vulnerability, Andrea, that you have shown them to your teammates and others in the community during the last few years of COVID, you know, again, as a leader, you know, you set the tone and a lot of the different rooms even in the Zoom room, right. We've all been virtual but doing that gives people the sense of it's okay, you know, and to your point,  there's grace to be given and there's grace to be had. And, you know, I think you made a choice to do that for folks you work with and I'm sure that they all really appreciate it. So thank you for leading by example. All right, so we're gonna get to a little bit of what what drives you here. So you are being recognized as the Citizen of the Carolinas because of all the fantastic work In the impact that you've made in the Charlotte community. And it is our organization's most prestigious award. And really, it's a tribute to someone who goes above and beyond to make our community better. So tell us what really drives you to make a difference?

Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America  15:18  
Well, first of all, I just, I'm so humbled to receive this award. And as you know, when you surprised me, Janet, it was not something that I had ever thought of or remotely expected. So I thank you for that. I guess, I would say, you know, I goes back to my childhood, really, that how giving back was always part of what we did as a family. We didn't have a lot. My grandfather, I'll never forget, my grandfather was a doctor and a doctor in a very small town population of 2000 people. And that's the town where my parents met in high school. And I would go on house calls with my grandfather, and he would get paid literally, with a chicken or with a bunch of vegetables, or with eggs, whatever people had, they would just give him instead of money. And that was good and great and fine. And he had no other expectation, because he was the doctor for the town. He deliver babies in the middle of the night. I mean, I just, I loved going with him, which is why I was pre-med for the first two years in college, but then realized, I didn't have it in me to go to school for 10 years so I switch to an econ degree. So we did that. But, and then my mom was a social worker. And so, you know, we always had, you know, kids that were from battered and abused, or neglected homes, or, you know, over to our house, and, you know, or pick them up and take more clothes or any sort of things. And, you know, when I did, I was always a big math wizard, and I did our taxes, my mom's taxes when I was 12. And we qualified for food stamps. And I said, 'this is so exciting. Look at this thing, we're getting on our taxes, we can get these.' And she's like, 'we're not getting those; we don't need that. That is for people in need.' I'm like, 'Well, seems like we might be in me based on what the government saying here.' And she's like, 'No, we're not in need.' And I said, 'okay,' but so that we always gave our time. And we were never, we didn't need for anything. And so I think that's how it all started. And giving back is just part of how we grew up and what we did. And then I've just been so fortunate to work for a company whose values are aligned to mine. And I've been able to sit in this seat and have the luxury of giving back on behalf of Bank of America, into the communities where we live in work and make a huge difference whether that's in philanthropic giving, whether that's in through the pandemic, we gave out over 25 million masks and hand sanitizer, and gloves and meals and, or whether it's through our billion point two, five commitment after the George Floyd killing, and to really advance racial equality and economic opportunity. All these things have been integral into my beliefs and what I do. So I feel so lucky in that regard. And then the leaders that I've had an opportunity to work with, for and around, I mean, when I look at this list of past recipients, you know, I know most of them. And most of them have had some sort of leadership attribute that I've picked up on and added to my own and wanted to emulate and be like, and, you know, Hugh McColl has been such a fabulous mentor to me over the years. Fred Whitfield and I partnered together on many different things throughout the years. And, of course, last year's recipient, Dr. Ophelia, Garmon-Brown, who, you know, was one of the people that I adored, that I've gotten to work with over the last seven years on the leading on opportunity work. And, you know, I think she just really was such an inspiration to so many in our community from everything that she did, I think, you know, it's an honor for me to be able to carry on her memory on the work that we're going to continue to do around making a difference in creating equal opportunity for all. And that's what we're trying to do here, and I'm going to continue to do that work. And so, you know, it's I think it started early, Janet, but it's continued throughout my career. And I just I just so lucky to have been able to continue to do it from the seat at Bank of America and have such an impact on so many lives.

Janet LaBar, President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance  19:44  
Right. I mean, Andrea, it's amazing to know I already answered my next question, but to look around and in your, you know, I won't disclose your age here, but in your very young life, the amount of lives that you have touched And Dr. OGV, as well through your work with leading on opportunities is really incredible. And you are gift to the community. And I think to your earlier comment around looking at past Citizen of the Carolinas, you know, so many of those people that you do know, and have left some sort of imprint, you know, on your life and how it shaped you and how you do things. And you're doing the same for others. So, you know, we just really appreciate you, we're so glad to honor you and celebrate you later on in December with that, but thanks for sharing, you know, where you're going to continue to focus on that work and carry that forward, certainly in honor of her, but also because it's the right thing to do for so many of our neighbors who have not really benefited from, from the growth that Charlotte has seen. So let's shift gears for just a second. Give us  some advice here. Many folks across the business community here in Charlotte speak so highly of your leadership skills. And I want to know, what advice do you have for the next generation of leaders?

Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America  21:03  
Well, I think, Janet, I think a few things come to mind. First, be intellectually curious. Ask a lot of questions. Make sure you understand how, whatever your job is, how it fits into the broader ecosystem of your company. Make sure you understand how the pieces fit together, and what role you're playing in that process. I think, as I said at the beginning, be willing to take risks and put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You know, find your passion and use your voice. It's really, if you're not passionate in the job you're in, there's so many opportunities in the community where you can find your passion, I am confident in that. And it can be a combo effort. You know, your job is what you're going to do in the day. And you're going to do this volunteer work in the community where your passion is, and maybe over time, you'll be lucky enough to be able to do a job where your passion and it's all aligned. But you're not going to be able to find your passion if you don't try new things and get into that uncomfortable position. I think bring others along with you. I just, it's so important that you bring others along, that you communicate with people, that you share the context of your decision making and let people understand why something is important and make a lot of time for people to ask questions. And then I say, back to the first point where I started to give people feedback. Be a mentor; be a sponsor. One of the things that I have done, you know, really made a point of doing is taking a meeting with anybody that sends me a note or ask for a meeting, because my view is if they have the courage to take the time to send me a note to ask a question, then I'm going to take the time to answer it. And that might mean a five minute call and might mean a 30 minute call, it might be the start of a three year a 10 year relationship. And you know those things, it's all about connecting people, and it doesn't take a lot of time. If someone's calling to ask me a question because they're interested in something, I may not know anything about it. But I may know in person that I can connect them to. If everyone does that, we are really imparting our social capital and bringing everyone along with us, which I think will only make all of us better.

Janet LaBar, President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance  23:25  
That's awesome. I'm taking some notes here, so I can put some of those things into practice. That's great. You've known now for a little bit, tiny bit, that you are going to move on to your next chapter. And again,  you're gonna have a moment at the podium and we'll have a big celebration and party honoring you. But parting words, what final advice or goals or hopes you have for the business community here in the Charlotte Region that you can share with us today?

Citizen of the Carolinas, Andrea Smith, Chief Administrative Officer, Bank of America  23:52  
Well, first of all, thank you again. I'm just I feel like it's such an honor to receive this recognition and to have this time with you today and really appreciate it. My hope is that we will continue all these efforts that we have made in the last couple of years in Charlotte together. And think about all the people that are working together. You have companies, you have local government, state government, nonprofits, individual leaders, foundations. If you if you just look at the great success that we've had recently with the mayor's racial equality work, that you've been leading, Janet, I think people are stunned by how much progress we're making. But we have to continue. We have to, as Dr. O would say, have the will to continue this work. And it's going to take years. I worry that if people think that we're going to be done with this in six or 12 months and then they go off to something else we'll lose the momentum. We need to sustain the momentum; we need to sustain the focus. We are on the the right path. And it's really a movement, not a moment. So I would just say we've made a lot of progress thanks to you and your organization and all the people that I've named. But we still have work to do. And so just we've got to keep going. We've got to have the will to keep going from the heart, as Dr. O would say. And I just let's not underestimate the impact we can each have in this work, and continuing to bring others along with us.

Unknown Speaker  25:31  
Perfect. Thank you so much for that, Andrea. And thank you for, again, all of your leadership in Charlotte and the surrounding community. Again, you are a trailblazer. You have guided us well. And I know that you're not going to go too far because I know your heart is here. I know your home is here and we look forward to seeing so many great things from you still. So thank you again.

CLT Alliance  25:56  
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