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Powerful Woman in Banking: Wells Fargo’s Lucia Gibbons

Wells Fargo’s northern New Jersey regional president, Lucia DiNapoli Gibbons, is responsible for retail operations in 11 counties, which includes 157 retail branches and nearly 1,600 team members. She spoke to DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti about her experience working in the banking industry and how diversity-management initiatives have made her branches more competitive.

Wells Fargo is No. 40 in The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity

Luke Visconti: Lucia, you’re a senior executive woman in a very powerful business role in a very high-powered area of our country. What do you think has made you successful as a woman executive in an organization like this?

Lucia DiNapoli Gibbons: The core of it is building great relationships with people … I don’t think you can accomplish anything without connecting to people and understanding them and building relationships. That’s something I’ve been good at from the very beginning of my career as a relationship manager—building relationships with businesses. I’ve carried that through every aspect of my career.

Visconti: Less than 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, yet if you look at the same age cohort, more than half the people who have four-year degrees are women. What do you attribute the gap to?

Gibbons: In part, Luke, it’s time, and I think with a little bit more time—and I even see this in my own company—the ranks of middle to senior management are starting to swell. I’m really confident that over the next five years, we’ll see some pretty significant change at the senior-most positions in organizations.

Visconti: What career advice can you share with women who desire a senior position?

Gibbons: Sometimes, as females, we can get very focused on the task at hand, and that’s great because that helps you drive performance. You’ve got to demonstrate performance in order to move ahead, but we cannot lose sight of networking—networking with each other, networking with people throughout our organization. We have to take care of ourselves in that way. 

So if you have an eye on moving forward and moving up, you not only need to be focused on performance, you need to be focused on networking and building those connections through the organization—managing your brand, essentially, very proactively managing your brand. 

Visconti: That’s a great point. I’ve heard it described this way: If a man and a woman are sitting in two different offices and they’re both equally busy, and the senior vice president comes down the hall and says “Hey, would you like to go to lunch?” the woman will say “No, I’ve got to get this done,” and the man will drop what he’s doing and go to lunch.

Gibbons: I’ve been guilty of that so I completely agree.

Reaching Multicultural Customers

Visconti: You operate 157 retail stores in [northern New Jersey], which covers an amazing breadth of diversity, and you described how you adapt your store management and how customers are handled based on the diversity that you have in those retail areas. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Gibbons: We operate in one of the most diverse communities in the United States. So we’re pretty deliberate about looking store by store, understanding the diversity around that store, and then making sure that we hire people that represent that community.

We started, with a lot of gusto, our Hispanic strategy last year. It is not simply understanding the communities that have Hispanic populations; it’s about understanding the breakdown of that Hispanic population. Are they Puerto Rican? Are they Portuguese? Are they Colombian? There are certain customs within various heritages that only the people that are part of that heritage understand. If you can connect on that level and build a relationship because you have an appreciation for who those customers are, that’s going to help us build trust, and that’s going to help us build business.

Visconti: Can you tell us about a store where you applied that strategy?

Gibbons: Yes. We have a store on Linden Wood Avenue [in Linden, N.J.], and it’s a Hispanic community [and] it’s a Polish community. So we have Spanish-speaking store members and we have Polish-speaking store members. Now if we weren’t deliberate about “OK, it’s a white population; what’s the diversity of that white population?” to really understand that it was Polish, we might make the mistake of simply focusing on the Hispanic piece because that really pops in the numbers. That’s why it’s so important to get so granular, down to the store level, as to what the diversity of the market looks like.

Visconti: Do you think you have better market share than your competitors because of this?

Gibbons: We’re growing our market share in diverse segments better than our competitors are. Ultimately, it’s going to help us overtake those who are ahead of us currently as it relates to total market share in New Jersey. At the end of the day, this is what their strategy is all about. It’s about winning against our competition and building business. 

Tips for Success

Visconti: You’ve had a lot of board experience and done a lot of philanthropic work. I know how personally engaged you are with this. Has that helped you with business?  Why are you doing all this?

Gibbons: First, I should share that I did grow up in a household where my father modeled that behavior. He thought it was really important to give back to others. So I saw him do that, and I always aspired to do the same myself.

The second piece of it is: I used it as a business-development tool. Early on in my career when I was a relationship manager, I would ask certain significant centers of influence, “How do I get to know the people in Bergen County?” “How do I get to know the people here?” And they advised me of certain boards that had certain people that I wanted to meet. So I was able to marry the two: my strong desire to make a difference coupled with my desire to make relationships with people who were going to help me from a business perspective.

I was able to give back and feel great about myself; at the same time, I was able to meet people that I was able to do business with. And that still carries through to today. 

We were building a store in Somerset County, and I had an issue. I was able to pick up the phone and call [utility company] PSE&G so we could get our store opened on time because I had a relationship at the time with Ralph LaRossa [president and chief operating officer of PSE&G]. So that was a business issue that I was able to handle because I had a relationship with the right person.

So I think in my heart of hearts it’s absolutely the right thing to do, and the outcome is that you get to develop wonderful business relationships that help you grow your business as well.

Visconti: You have an MBA. You went to the Stern School at NYU and you’re an undergraduate from Rutgers. Do you have career suggestions for younger women?

Gibbons: It’s important to do your best every day. I think that you need to set very high goals, set high standards, and excel every day, especially as it relates to people and caring about people, because I happen to be one of those individuals that thinks you can set the bar really high. And engage in an environment where you have a win-win scenario. 

And that even comes to engaging in conflict. Sometimes you have to have tough conversations with people, but if you do it with care and with a desire to maintain that person’s integrity, I think you can do the tough things.

The last piece of advice I would add is to really continually learn from those people around you. Whatever your discipline is, make sure that you’re up to date on the most current things that are occurring in your discipline. Never stop learning. 

Visconti: This clearly can’t be a part-time job for you. You’ve got to juggle a lot of things in a family. What advice can you give to other women, and other men, in terms of work/life balance and how you manage all of that?

Gibbons: It doesn’t happen without a support system. My husband doesn’t work. As my career was taking off, he started to back off of what he was doing, and Luke, I don’t have young children at home, but I am the primary caregiver for my mom, and we do have other family members that we support, so there’s no way that I’m going to work all the hours that I’m working and be able to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish if my husband’s schedule was just like mine.

Now if he did go down that path and he had a high-powered career as well, we would have to figure out support in a different way … It takes a very proactive thought process around what does the support network need to look like, whether it’s hired help, family members and friends—you need to have a game plan. This is my game plan. You need to have a game plan around that.

11 Comments

  • It’s great to see women be successful and married. Few men choose the option to stay home while the woman is the primarry caregiver because society tends to look down on this. Stories, like Gibbon’s, need to continue to be told as younger women choose to pursue careers in business.

  • All I can say is WOW; what an inspiration!!!

  • Anonymous

    I am very inspired by this article. It was very powerful and moving. It will continue to help me in my career, networking, learning and caring about people and my community. Thanks Lucia.

  • Anonymous

    As a young professional woman it’s nice to hear another woman say out loud that she’s the bread winner in the marriage. This article has provided some one liners I can use when my peers give me the side eye when stated my SO does not work. His job is to support the family in ways that I cannot, and he’s happy with his postion. It’s a win-win contract, that works wonderfully.

  • Anonymous

    It’s very striking that Gibbons made it to the top at Wells Fargo, a retail bank, as opposed to an investment bank. I hear (second hand) that the culture at investment banks is still unfriendly in a lot of ways to women.

  • Thanks to DiversityInc for continuing to be a leader in promoting real life examples of diversity at work, in our corporations, in government and even in our family life styles.

  • Anonymous

    Great article, she is right on with the relationship development aspect of her business. I previously worked at WF in a capacity where the relationships were everything….from beginning to end.

  • Great article with solid options for women to break through this still often impenetrable glass ceiling. My hope is that even more senior men will lead by example to support women in navigating their careers, particularly in male dominated organizations. Still, I experience many senior men either unconscious about the relevance of gender influences in career mobility and/or just scared to support a woman out of concern about how other men might perceive the relationship. These perceptions can be sexually motivated and/or just not willing to make a work environment female friendly out of fear of being perceived as too “soft.” Hopefully, the male Generation X’ers and Y’ers will put more energy into what’s needed to create and sustain gender equity in the workplace.

  • Anonymous

    What a wonderful reminder that women “CAN” be successful just being who they are and that for those awesome men who embrace and invest in such relationships, the power and honor that goes to them for their beautiful partnership and for going against the “norm” to change our culture. Thank you so much for sharing this and for putting yourself “out there” to encourage others. Much more opportunities to you and all those you bring up with you…Signed: One of your new fan members.

  • Anonymous

    Enjoyed this one. Being 100% Italian myself and have dual citizenship American and Italian, it is nice to see that Italians are intelligent and successful individuals that have contributed to the US. I am so tired of these reality shows that demean the Italian culture and what we stand for! Cudos for Lucia and many other women who are professionals and intelligent individuals who are beautiful inside and out.

  • Anonymous

    Good article, however, Portuguese people are not hispanic.

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