the Girl Banker Series | Women In Banking: the Influencers
Every fall, the American Banker, the official publication of the American Bankers Association, releases their list of the Most Powerful Women In Banking. I find this list inspiring as it is a reminder that there are women making a difference every day in this industry. It also made me think about the women who have influenced me at different points in my banking career. My list includes women that stand out to me not only as influential women in banking but influential bankers in general. No “woman” tag needed. This series is dedicated to a variety of women who have been influential to me: all at different times within my career and in different ways, but all in their own special way.
Erica Preston | COO | Chambers Bank
Erica and I met as a fluke, or better yet, by fate. We both were NWA residents with long careers in banking but our paths never crossed until the summer of 2013 when we attended Graduate School of Banking in Boulder, CO. Being the planners that we are, we both had offered to plan the Arkansas State Dinner at GSBC. Upon realizing that we lived in the same corner of the state, we arranged to meet for lunch to plan the dinner and the rest is history. We forged an immediate bond and became the best of friends. Not only were we both boy moms with sons very close in age, but we shared a love for philanthropy, our careers, and shopping.
Erica got her start in banking in 1997 as a teller for First Financial Bank, whose branches were later purchased by Simmons First Bank in 2000. After the acquisition by Simmons, she started her climb up the ladder the old-fashioned way. By 2008 she had advanced from teller to Operations Manager and SVP, overseeing 10 Northwest Arkansas branches and supervising accounting and human resources. In 2014, Simmons was in full on growth mode and so was Erica’s career. She was then promoted to Regional Operations Manager/SVP where she oversaw 39 branches in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.
In 2015, Erica had an opportunity. She had been at Simmons Bank for 18 years where she had built a career from the ground up and was recognized as a leader. But the opportunity in question would give Erica hands-on decision-making abilities in the everyday workings of a smaller community bank. She could have an immediate impact on the company as a whole and put everything she had learned at a larger, regional bank to use. She took advantage of the opportunity and was named Chief Operating Officer of Chambers Bank, a $750 million community bank in June of 2015.
Erica the Influencer
Erica is one of my very best friends, but she is also a mentor. She is fiercely professional, uber-intelligent and knows how to do her job better than any Chief Operating Officer I have ever met. Her small, petite frame commands a presence even in the largest of rooms and she can put any OWD in their place before they know what hit them. (OWD = Old White Dudes… sorry not sorry, there are a ton of them in the banking industry!). Not only can she put them in their place, but she can do it in an incredibly well-versed, very professional way. I truly think it’s an art form that she has perfected! Erica has served as the chair of the NWA Business Women’s Conference which brings 1400 business women together for a day of leadership, empowerment, and encouragement. She landed on the NWA Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 list in 2015 and on their C-Suite list in 2017.
She is easily the most loyal friend I have ever known and has my back no matter what. I experienced this trait of hers almost immediately. During our first year of banking school in Colorado, a “gentlemen” made a lewd remark to me. She chased him down and let him have it. I was stunned that someone I had just become friends with would put herself out there like that for me! Needless to say, the “gentleman” didn’t return for his second year of banking school.
I love her wit, passion for Mexican food and ability to carry on a conversation with literally anyone. She is an avid concert attendee and before the night is over, she will be friends with everyone seated or standing around her. Even though we work for competing banks, she continues to offer advice and support to me in everything I do. I’m forever thankful that our paths crossed in 2013 as her influence has helped shape my own career. Not long after I met her, I found myself transitioning from working at a bank in my hometown where I knew everyone to a new bank in a much larger community where my contacts were limited. She didn’t hesitate to get me involved and introduce me to new people. I am always trying to emulate the professionalism she exhibits and hope that I can be half the Girl Banker she is. I have no doubt she has influenced other women in this industry and likely a few men too.
BANK ON IT | “Volunteer for projects and additional responsibility. Speak up and make sure your opinions are heard. Make sure you are the persona that makes your boss’s job easier, not harder. Have high expectations for yourself and those that work for you, but stand up for and stand behind those people. Keep your word and treat others with respect. Your title doesn’t earn you respect, your behavior does.” -Erica Preston