“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Women leaders in business are more common today and much more common in our community. When we were introduced to the women sharing their journeys in our fall cover feature, we took a look back (and not that far back) at the obstacles women faced when independently striving for more for themselves, their careers, and their families.
It wasn’t until 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed, when it was deemed illegal to discriminate against someone applying for credit based on their gender, race, religion, national origin, marital status, or age. Even more recent was the passing of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988.
This act aimed at aiding the success of women business entrepreneurs and put an end to state laws that required women to have male relatives sign business loans on their behalf. This pivotal legislation provided a basis for policies, programs, and public/private sector initiatives supporting women’s business endeavors. In this issue, we’re proud to feature female leaders in their fields that, not only shine on their own, but empower other women to do the same.
Making Change One Conversation at a Time with Courage and Faith
Independence. Opportunity. A strong, structural foundation. Those are just some of the attributes that Sue Zazon, President of Huntington Bank Central Ohio Region, uses to describe how she grew up. Being raised by a single mom, Sue describes her mother as a strong, structural force in her life. That is how Sue and her husband, Mike, have raised their family and how she leads one of the top financial institutions in the area.
When she was growing up, understanding how her family survived was important. On Friday nights, Sue’s brother would collect cans to redeem for cash so they could have pizza for dinner. They all understood that living on a budget and within their means was very important. Sue’s mother was a schoolteacher, and while they had enough money to get by, there wasn’t a lot extra. Her mother always felt empowered and filled with pride to support herself and her family on her own and taught her kids the importance of budgeting.
When Sue was a teenager, she worked hard at her first job as an ice cream scooper, to save up money to buy her first car. Her first car cost $995 and she had saved $250 from her job. To make up the difference, Sue asked her mother for a loan. “My mom wanted a detailed plan on how I was going to pay her back,” says Sue. “I created a coupon system to pay her back the set amount every two weeks!” This plan gave Sue so much pride in owning her first car and working hard to pay off her loan. The types of lessons that she learned while growing up are what ultimately lead Sue to a career in financial services.
After high school, Sue attended Miami University where she graduated with a double major in finance and international business. Shortly after graduating, Sue headed right into the banking world. She began working at Huntington Bank as a teller. She was quickly promoted and excelled in the areas of car repossession and loans. She joined the management training program and later moved from business banking to commercial banking. The opportunity to participate in the credit analysis training program allowed Sue to gain the skills that would position her for early success. Credit underwriting also provided an opportunity for Sue in a male-dominated area of the industry. “It’s all about helping people – families and companies,” says Sue. “A business loan isn’t just about the business; it has an impact on families and communities and it is so rewarding to see it come to life.”
Having gained valuable experience at Huntington Bank, Sue pursued an opportunity at KeyBank. She began her journey at KeyBank as a business banker and later moved into the roles as manager of commercial relations and manager of the commercial banking team. With an extensive amount of experience under her belt, Sue was asked to take on the role of President of KeyBank Central Ohio Region. “I was 35 the first time I realized that I was taking a big leap,” adds Sue. “I was the dark horse for this position. There were many qualified candidates. I brought everything about myself into the process in order to be successful.”
During this time, Sue was also raising a blended family with her husband Mike. Sue recalls, “It was a rewarding and hard experience.” When interviewing for the position of president of KeyBank Central Ohio Region, Sue compared raising a blended family to how to manage an organization.
“You are responsible, but don’t always have direct control!” Sue talked about how managing through the family and moving forward is an art and a passion that you love unconditionally. The same can be applied to leading the bank.
It is important to create trusting relationships to forge ahead. Bringing her whole self into the interview process ultimately lead her to taking on the role of bank president.
Following her leadership at KeyBank, the time came for Sue to tackle a new position. This move took her to FirstMerit Bank. Sue started at FirstMerit running the commercial group and then accepted the role of president. “There was a lot of unrest in the banking industry during my time at FirstMerit,” adds Sue. “I worked to put a team together that could help with growth.” When FirstMerit was acquired
by Huntington Bank, Sue found herself back where she had first started her career as a bank teller 30 years prior.
Under the mentorship of Huntington Bank president Jim Kunk, Sue’s transition back to Huntington was met with unpredictability. At this time running a team and a region was filled with lots of uncertainty. “I promised my team that I would have weekly calls to share what I knew so that we could get through this uncertainty together.” Being transparent and consistent with communication was key. Sue wanted to help customers and colleagues navigate through this change. While Mr. Kunk was in the process of transitioning to retirement, he advocated strongly for Sue to be his successor. Now four years into her role as president of Huntington Bank Central Ohio Region, Sue couldn’t be happier. “I am committed to Columbus,” adds Sue. “All of my children are here. We have five grandchildren. Columbus is part of our lives and the community is important to me.”
In addition to her vast experience in the banking industry, Sue is passionate about continuing to learn and grow within her role and within her community. “I am doing what I love. I am a champion for revenue, the community, and the Columbus market at Huntington Bank.” Sue leads the diverse team of financial services professionals who are committed to serving consumers and businesses across central Ohio. She also oversees the bank’s philanthropic investments for central Ohio, along with all community involvement and Community Reinvestment Act priorities.
While her position at Huntington Bank keeps her very busy, Sue still manages to be a force in our community. She is a member of the board of trustees for the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, The Center for Family Safety and Healing, Ohio Bankers League, One Columbus, Rev1 Ventures and The Wexner Center Foundation. She is a member of the young Presidents’ Organization Gold Columbus. She has also served on several other boards in our community.
Earlier this year, Sue was asked to get together with a group of female leaders in Columbus to discuss creating a movement where conversation leads to “changing people’s hearts and minds.” This group of friends joked about being called “The Edge Sisters,” and that name stuck. Meeting once a week, via zoom calls, The Edge Sisters discuss topics where the community can learn and grow via a purposefully uncomfortable conversation. Their first virtual event was hosted on August 19, 2020, and featured Robin DiAngelo, author of best-selling book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. This group of friends, which includes Francie Henry, President of Fifth Third Central Ohio and the other women that we are fortunate to feature in this issue, will continue to meet and bring forth conversations that spark important dialogue in our community.
It comes as no surprise that in 2019, Sue received the “Women of Achievement” award from the YWCA Columbus. This award honors Columbus women who have made extraordinary contributions to their families, workplaces, and communities. During her speech at the “Women of Achievement” luncheon, Sue candidly shared her daughter’s experience in an abusive relationship, and she hoped that her passion about her daughter’s situation could help others. “As a parent, you are scared,” adds Sue. “Talking openly about this situation lets other people know there is help.” Sue is grateful that her role at Huntington Bank allows her opportunities to be a voice in the community and provide resources and guidance on issues such as those that have touched her personally.
Sue has her own purpose statement that she lives by every single day. “Making change one conversation at a time with courage and faith.” She believes that being in a position of leadership in her role at the bank and within the community, allows her to share a conversation with one person or one hundred people, and that could change someone’s life. A car loan from her mother paved the way to Sue’s successful career, so she is mindful that helping others get loans can change their lives as well. Sue is also mindful of how important conversations can change lives. She and her daughter regularly speak on the topic of domestic abuse and have been trained on how to help others in abusive situations.
Sue beams with pride for her family. Each year, they plan a trip to Northern Michigan where they spend one week together enjoying each other’s company. “There are lots of logistics to go through to make this happen, but it is so important to have this time together.” Spending quality time with her children and grandchildren makes Sue so happy and also helps her focus on downtime for herself to enjoy hobbies such as tennis. Sue gleams with satisfaction, “I love to smash the ball!”
When Sue’s family and career can come together, that is a win-win for her. Huntington has a long-standing partnership with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Sue’s family has hosted six players (+ an emotional support dog!) with the Ohio AAA program over the last six years. The experience has been very rewarding to Sue and her family. Sue explains, “The young men and women come to play for AAA OBJ and we have guardianship of them and they live with us for the year…they go to school and play hockey with the goal of furthering their hockey career in college.”
Her partnership with Huntington and the Blue Jackets has also been a personal one. Sue, a breast cancer survivor of 14 years, has helped raise money and awareness by speaking at various hockey charity events. As a cancer survivor who was treated at The James, Sue and her husband joined the Huntington Pelotonia team. To date, the team has raised more than $30,000,000 for cancer research!
Creating strong relationships through trust and communication is very important to Sue in both her professional and personal life. “Life is hard. It is important to spend time with family and doing things that you enjoy.” Sue adds, “Using all of my life experience, even those that are hard to share, make me who I am and allow me to do a better job every day.”
Here for Today, While Leading for Tomorrow
When you think about a leader in banking, the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” might not be what comes to mind. Francie Henry, Regional President of Fifth Third Bank in Central Ohio, is the daughter of Greek immigrants and that is the essence of her life. In the 1950’s Francie’s father immigrated from Greece to Mount Vernon, Ohio and her mother from Greece to Mobile, Alabama. The families knew each other, and her parents were re-introduced and married within 30 days.
They decided to settle in Mount Vernon. Their primary language was Greek, which was very different from those in the community. Armed with a strong work ethic and a compassion for treating others fairly, they often reached out and helped others. While trying to learn a new culture, her family built a successful Greek restaurant and grew their family focusing on values, faith and the community. “Anything I have overcome pales in comparison to what my family had to go through to build a life,” recalls Francie.
Unaware at the time, there was something in her childhood that prepared her for her path in the banking industry. The family restaurant was located next to a bank and the branch manager, Shirley Lamb became a family friend. Her father often asked her for advice and mentoring. After graduating from high school, Francie had planned to go to Greece, but the Chernobyl disaster occurred and forced her to stay in Mount Vernon and work the family business.
She began each morning at 7 a.m. and wasn’t thrilled about it. Shirley often saw the tension in the family as she was preparing for her day at First Federal Savings and Loan just next door. This bank was in need of summer help and Shirely encouraged Francie’s Dad to discuss the opportunity with the Bank’s President, so he ran down the street to see if he could get Francie hired! Much to all of their delight, she became the first summer helper at the First Federal Savings and Loan in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
Francie studied business at Miami University. She continued as a bank teller all four summers, over holidays and on occasional weekends when the bank was short-handed. In 1986, Francie graduated from Miami University with a Bachelor of Business degree. Directly after graduating from college, Francie was offered a position in the management training program at the Fifth Third Bank office in Cincinnati, Ohio. The management training program let her experience many different areas in the banking world. Francie was in the management training program for a year and was then hired into the marketing department.
In 1988, Fifth Third Bank entered into an agreement with Kroger to start grocery store banks. Jim Gaunt, who was starting the in-store banks, looked within the company for a leader with a marketing and sales background. Francie was the perfect candidate and was asked to manage the BankMarts in Kroger grocery stores.
Jim liked how she approached things. “Our Bank is great because when they see something in you that they like and recognize as a strength, they are willing to teach you the technical aspect of the job,” says Francie. Her team started with eight Kroger grocery store banks and grew it to over 100 Bancorp-wide. Francie recalls, “It was a great experience working with Kroger so closely. They are great business people. Working with people at the bank and Kroger gave me the opportunity to learn a solid approach to running a successful business.”
In 1998, while expecting her first child, Francie moved to the Westside in the Cincinnati market where she accepted a position in regional management. “My approach became the model for integrating our traditional branches with our in-store branches,” said Francie. “Learning how to leverage what they both had as advantages.” The region had a mixture of traditional banks and grocery store banks. “It was a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding.”
Then, in 2003, this daughter of a very close-knit Greek family was faced with her father becoming ill with dementia. As luck would have it, the Head of Retail position opened in Columbus. Francie had an opportunity to run all of retail banking in the area. This was a really big opportunity and allowed her to be near her dad and help the family. Her children were still very young, and it was a huge benefit to be close to home.
Also, upon her return to Columbus, Francie met Sue Zazon (our other featured Leader in Banking) for lunch. The women talked about their background and found that, not only did they attend Miami University at the exact same time, they lived in the same dorm building their freshman year!
Already well into a successful and highly admired 20-year career with Fifth Third Bank, Francie was asked to run their wealth group. “We take professional development very seriously at the bank and fortunately my mentor Jordan Miller had faith in my ability to learn the business while adding a unique perspective from my time in the Consumer Bank,” says Francie. “I was encouraged to expand my horizons by running a division a bit out of my comfort zone and fortunately for me, he had the courage to make it happen.” That is exactly what Francie did for an additional eight years.
What was likely part of his plan all along, Francie’s mentor, Jordan announced his retirement in 2017 and Francie was asked to be the Market President. “I have had great leaders and mentors in my life. Jordan had a vision and plan for his retirement and worked tirelessly to ensure I was prepared when the time was right,” adds Francie. One of the reasons Fifth Third Bank felt confident in her taking on this role was because she had a lot of experience. Francie recalls, “Jordan was always there to help. He did a great job positioning me to be a leader by always encouraging me stay true to who I am and to always be my authentic self.” She asked him to be a part of the Bank’s advisory board and still leans on him to this day.
With more than 30 years of banking experience, in 2018 Francie accepted the position of Regional President, Fifth Third Bank of Central Ohio.
“I have always seen myself as a passionate, caring and enthusiastic leader. I have a vision for the Fifth Third brand and strive to bring it to life,” says Francie. At Fifth Third Bank, they believe that trust is the most important thing they can give to their clients. Clients trust them with financial affairs. Francie believes in that trust with clients, with the community and with the people she has on her teams.
“This isn’t just a job, it’s personal and I’m grateful to represent Fifth Third.” Like her mentor, Francie has passion as a leader and sets out to find the best talent. “Our talent is our greatest asset. It is important to push them to reach higher. My obligation is to raise the bar and have the best teams, operating rhythms and brand. My job is to make it better, functionally, to leave to the next president.” Francie has set out to build a brand unique to her caring, curious and enthusiastic leadership by developing talent and growing the business in Central Ohio.
Being an active member of the community has always been important to Francie. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. Francie was recently named as a 2020 YWCA Women of Achievement honoree. She is a two-time Most Admired Executive from Columbus Business First in 2019 and 2020. Francie received a 2018 Ohio Diversity Award for Leadership Excellence and a 2017 Women “WELDing the Way” calendar honoree. Her community involvement is very diverse and includes initiatives such as education, financial wellness, literacy, and equal rights.
Among being elected to many state and local banking initiatives, Francie also serves on the boards of Flying Horse Farms, Ohio Foundation of Independent Colleges and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. She is on the Ohio State University STAR Advisory Committee, served as the 2019 American Heart Association Heart Ball Chair, was elected to serve on the United Way Philanthropy Advisory Team. She was appointed by Mayor Ginther to the Columbus Women’s Commission and serves on the Equality in the Workplace Committee.
Francie has been married to her husband, Jim for 28 years. They have two college-aged children, Charlie and Alexandra. “I am so proud of them. What I do every day continues the legacy of my parents, as I set examples for them,” says Francie. “As a working mom, I want them to be proud of what I do in my life and the community and hope that is what they strive for in their own lives.” As a big Greek family, they love to cook and share meals together and are members of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. In her spare time, Francie loves playing golf and reading.
Francie considers herself lucky to be surrounded by her team and the people in her life that really make a difference. “She is a very motivational leader. Leading through COVID and the changes that occurred so quickly, she stayed motivated and kept our team up to date with daily communications. We are lucky to have her and her positive leadership style,” explains Elizabeth Boyuk, VP of Regional Marketing.
For Francie, the future is now. She stays in the moment. Her plan is to continue to serve as a positive role model and create a better community for our children. She wakes up every day grateful to represent Fifth Third, her colleagues and the community. She is adamant about leaving her thumbprint and paying it forward, while positioning Columbus as the community everyone wants to come to.