Three decades into her banking career, Melissa Ingwersen has held C-suite offices on three corners of Capitol Square—first with National City Bank, then JPMorgan Chase & Co. and finally with KeyBank. The Central Ohio market president of KeyBank says she fell into banking as a “fluke” after graduating with a communications degree from Northwestern University in 1982.
“I’d never been in a business or started a business or any of those kinds of things,” says Ingwersen, who turns 53 in early October. The Bexley native interviewed for a BancOhio credit analyst training program at her parents’ behest; she landed the job and never looked back.
“I found out I really liked it. And, you know, one day you wake up and you’ve done it for 10 years, and then 20 years, and then 30 years,” says Ingwersen. When National City (later acquired by PNC) acquired BancOhio in 1984, Ingwersen stayed on as a middle-market banker. She later took a middle-market banking position with Bank One, which was bought by JPMorgan Chase, where she served as Central Ohio market president from 2001 to 2011.
Chase added more than 1,000 new jobs locally over the course of Ingwersen’s tenure. During her final year with Chase, the bank employed 16,400 Central Ohioans and increased small business lending by 133 percent to become the No. 2 U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) lender in Columbus. Small wonder then that Cleveland-based KeyBank recruited her to lead its push for market growth in Central Ohio.
FDIC reports for June 2012, the most recent available, show KeyBank claiming 3.47 percent of the market share for the Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area, with $1.65 billion in deposits. Ingwersen oversees roughly 210 employees in 28 Central Ohio locations. Year-to-date, Key ranks fifth in the Columbus district for SBA lending with $6.64 million in 7(A) loans in fiscal year 2013.
Ingwersen says she goes to work every day eager to learn from her business clients, many of whom she’s worked with for decades. She devotes herself to improving the community through service on a number of local boards. Lately, Ingwersen has been spending her free time practicing driver maneuverability with her teenage twins and housebreaking her family’s new golden retriever puppy.
Q: Describe your work as the Central Ohio market president for KeyBank.
A: Put simply, it’s my role to really oversee the operations of the bank here in Central Ohio. So on any given day, that’s our branches, our private banking, business banking or what we call middle market, which would be commercial banking.
Q: What are your short- and long-term goals?
A: The most important thing we can do both short and long term is delight our clients every single day. When you wake up in the morning and you go to bed at night, no matter what year it is, that’s our primary purpose really. Beyond that, I mean you can look at any number of things. Certainly we want to continue to grow, as does every bank across the country. We want to be relevant to the community and continue to be actively engaged with the community. But it’s pretty straightforward stuff: Be a great banking partner.
Q: You were recruited from Chase to grow the Central Ohio market for KeyBank. How’s your progress been?
A: Every day we feel like we’re getting at it. I’ve been here almost three years, and our balance sheet is between 20 percent and 25 percent larger than when I got here. So I feel pretty good about that, but there’s always work to be done. If you talk to the market leader, they’ll say, ‘We want to continue to grow.’ So it’s just a function of wanting to be relevant to the community and to our clients.
Q: Do you think Columbus has always been a strong player in the financial services industry?
A: Look at the history. … Bank One was headquartered here and founded here. Huntington, obviously, founded here. The insurance companies have been so strong, and really when we think about financial service, insurance companies are certainly related to that as well. The old Ohio Company—there’s a long history of smart people choosing to live and work here, and a lot of them are in the financial industry.
Q: Do you think the city will keep growing as a hub for the financial services industry?
A: I think that there is such a strong employment base, again, with diversity. So it’s not just Chase or not just Nationwide. And so what I think you have, you have to look at it almost as concentric circles. I think you have those big employers—and they may or may not retain the same levels of employment, that’s anybody’s guess as the economy continues to evolve—but that’s sort of the core. Then you go out a couple circles and you think about the people who supply them, the people who used to work for them, who started their own business. … If you think of financial services much more broadly than the definition, I think it incorporates a huge slice of employment here in Central Ohio.
Q: Where do you see KeyBank growing in Central Ohio over the next five years?
A: I think banking continues to change, so I’m not sure it’s responsible for anybody in the industry to talk about growth in terms of physical bricks-and-mortar. We will constantly evaluate our branches and whether they’re in the right neighborhoods. You know, neighborhoods continue to grow and change. We are in the midst right now of remodeling a number of our branches in Central Ohio. Where we’ll grow is really with clients. So what we hope to do is bring more clients to the fold. Whether they’re an individual who’s getting a credit card or a mortgage or a home loan from us, or whether it’s small businesses just starting out, individuals with wealth, those kinds of things.
Q: What are some of the products you’ve introduced since the recession to help your small business and middle-market clients?
A: Key has historically been a very strong small business lending partner with the SBA, Small Business Administration. Two years ago, we were the SBA lender of the year, 7(A) lender of the year. So we really have a very strong focus in that area.
Another area that we’ve been focused on for a number of years is a program call[ed] Key4Women. [That’s] focused on … not just lending, but providing, really, access to capital, access to education and access to networking for women-owned businesses. Often, not always but often, those tend to be in the small business space as well.
Q: How do women play a role in shaping the financial industry in particular?
A: I’ve never really scientifically looked at it. It’s a great field. What I would say is you see more women business owners. I think, and I don’t know the statistic off the top of my head, but there is some statistic that women start businesses at something like twice the rate nationally as men do. And so, if you believe in people choosing to bank with people that have similar value systems or whatever, there may be that. But I don’t know the exact numbers in terms of women in financial services around Central Ohio.
Q: In what ways do you get out and network with the business community?
A: I grew up here, and so I’ve been blessed to make my career here in Central Ohio. So for me, it’s a part of just kind of who I am in terms of my core values being around giving back to the community as well. So I want to be a great business partner. I also want to be a great community partner. And that affords me the opportunity to meet with people, to be with people in any number of ways.
Right now I’m finishing the second year of being the chair of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s board of trustees. So certainly I’m interacting with businesspeople from all walks of life, but thinking about what’s good for the business community here.
Q: What other boards do you sit on?
A: Currently I’m the chair of the chamber board. I’m on the board of the Ohio Bankers League. I’m on the board of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. I’m on COSI’s community advisory board. I’m on the board of the Ohio State University Health Plan, and I’m on the Columbus Partnership.
Q: What do you enjoy about giving back to the community through board service?
A: I learn something every single day. I get to meet great people and I get to learn about … businesses or activities, the arts. I’ve served on arts boards in the past, served on social services boards. It connects the community. It connects the dots for me in so many ways that I just thoroughly enjoy it. Again, I feel like I have a responsibility, because this community’s been great to me and to my family and I really value that.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: Collaborative, enthusiastic (laughs). I think that I look for ways to develop people.
Q: Since the recession and banking reform, Key has implemented its own internal regulations. How has that affected your work, and why are those internal controls important?
A: Let me take those in reverse. We are a regulated industry, so again, speaking broadly from a financial services perspective, we need to uphold all the rules and regulations of our industry. But more important, we need to be good stewards of our clients’ money and of our publicly traded organizations. So how’s it changed what I do? On a day-to-day basis not at all, and they would have been the same things that I would have encountered at Chase.
In fact, everybody interprets rules somewhat differently, so some things I had to do at Chase, I don’t have to do here, and vice versa. And I’m sure that’s the same no matter what bank you go to. It just is the nature of the beast now in the financial world.
Q: What mentors have really made a difference in your professional development?
A: There’ve been any number—some of them aren’t even identifiable. There have just been moments in time where somebody has either asked me to work on a project or invited me onto a board or even just allowed me an opportunity or kind of validated something I said, that gives you that moment where you think, ‘Oh, maybe I can do this. Maybe that was right thinking.’
Q: Is there any professional advice that you live by or has served you well?
A: Some of it’s the simplest stuff, like just taking the time to be a good listener and to be kind and nice to people. If you’re interested in people, it’s amazing what you learn. That’s just a life lesson I think I probably learned in second grade or third grade, but it’s often the life lessons you learn that are really the good business lessons.
Q: How do you balance work and family life?
A: You get that question asked a lot as a working mother, and there’s obviously the books out now, the Lean In and some other thinking and so forth. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten it just right. I hope to get the majority of it right. So on any given day, on any given week, I’m probably out of balance one side or the other. I might be really needing to be engaged with my children, wanting—not needing—wanting to be engaged with something with my family, or with parents or whatever. Then on another week, it’s all in and traveling and doing whatever at work. … You just hope in the great scheme of things it all comes out in some semblance of balance.
Q: What invigorates you about your work?
A: I love being with our clients. … If you enjoy business and you enjoy learning, the opportunity every single day to go out and be with clients and hear what’s going on in their industry is like getting this liberal arts education every single day. One day you learn about plastics and the next day you might learn about software development or technology. That—for somebody who kind of thinks of themselves as a student of business—it’s terrific. I love the people I work with. I’ve had great experiences at all the banks I’ve been with. But it’s really being with our clients and learning and seeing what the impacts to them are on various economic moves. That’s really important.
Q: You can walk right down to the ground floor and visit with customers.
A: I do walk through. Every morning.
Q: What do you learn from that client interaction?
A: You want to learn what are the economic drivers that are impacting them? What’s on their mind? Obviously health care’s been a huge topic with our clients over the last year, year and a half and will continue to be. What do they think? Where do they think the economy’s going? Because I certainly don’t have a crystal ball.
What do they see? What keeps them up at night? So again, what are they thinking about? Because a great banker then tries to think about, ‘How can I help them with that thing that keeps them up at night? How can I help them be more successful?’
I’ve known some clients for 20 or more years. So I’ve known them in their first location and then their next bigger one and then their third one. You’ve seen them through ups and downs, and maybe watched a child come into the business. That’s pretty neat stuff, really.
Q: You’ve also been in this business through a number of technological advances. Do you develop any new technologies here in Central Ohio?
A: Really, we rely on the efficiencies that are driven [in] central product development, so mobile apps, that kind of stuff, really come out of a very dedicated team. That’s not to say that if someone around here had a great idea and sent it up to our product folks that it wouldn’t get adopted, but generally there’s centralized product development.
Q: Do you use the KeyBank mobile app? Are you plugged in to all of these?
A: I am. You can’t be out there without doing all those things.
Q: How do you unplug and unwind when you’re out of the office?
A: I love spending time with my family. With my husband, with the kids to the extent they let me now they’re 16 (laughs). … We’ve been blessed to take some great vacations, and we have fun together doing that. Sometimes it’s just as simple as walking my dog, getting out, doing needlepoint, whatever, nothing spectacular.
Q: What breed of dog do you have?
A: He’s a golden retriever. … We’ve always had dogs, and our dog died over the holidays. She was 13. I am the architect of our own problem, because I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m going to wait.’ And I was the one who a week and a half later was online looking at dogs. He’s great; he’s delightful. It’s just, it would be like bringing an infant into my house.
Q: Have all of your dogs been goldens?
A: No, the last one was a Lab mix, a black Lab mix. Before that, it was a mutt.
Q: Do you spend much time outdoors?
A: We do. As a family we ski, we like to do any number of activities. …On one vacation: zip lines, horseback rode, surfed. With 16-year-old twins and an active husband, there’s always something going on.
Q: What did you study exactly?
A: Communications studies.
Q: How did you end up in banking?
A: A fluke. As I said, I grew up here. My relevant summer job was lifeguard and swimming teacher for, like, seven years at the Bexley pool. I graduated in 1982, had a notion that I wanted to work in business. In 1982, the country was in a recession, and so I was interviewing wildly—I went to Northwestern—so in Chicago, on the East Coast. … I had no intention of coming back to Columbus, Ohio. And to appease my parents they said, ‘Well, you know there [are] these training programs. Why don’t you just see if you could get an interview?’ And I got one.
As I learned about what we called then a credit analyst training program at BancOhio, I was like, ‘Wow, this would be great grounding in business.’ Because at that point, all I could do was kind of talk about it, but not really. I’d never been in a business or started a business or any of those kinds of things. It was one of those things, I was lucky enough they took a flyer on me. And I found out I really liked it. And, you know, one day you wake up and you’ve done it for 10 years, and then 20 years, and then 30 years.
Q: If you had it to do over?
A: I would! I tell lots of young people that banking is a great place to be. It is a great way to learn about business. Banking is selling, and so it’s a great way to hone your professional selling skills. So it’s not just analytics and numbers, because sometimes people are like, ‘I don’t want to be stuck inside.’ There are places in banks—just like there are places in any business—where your job is to do nothing but analytics and metrics and quantitative analysis. But there are also places where you’re very—in our branches, talk about being people-centric. Every single day you’re greeting people who walk through your front door, and every transaction’s different.
Kitty McConnell is a reporter for Columbus CEO.