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.
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.