KeyBank's market president Lara DeLeone on the bank's opportunities, growth market
KeyBank’s new market president Lara DeLeone is investing in the Columbus region.
Lara DeLeone’s interests may have made her a unique child—even her mom thought so.
Her day looked the same as what most expect for a kid, but if the TV was on, she preferred it to be playing the news, and when the paper came, she enjoyed giving it a look-through. She craved all the details of what was going on in her hometown of Lima, a neighborhood over or even in a different state.
“[My mom] always thought that was unusual, and I figured out that it kind of was when I went to college or talked to my friends in high school and said ‘Let’s put on the news, see what’s coming,’ but they didn’t want to talk about that,” she says.
But DeLeone’s childhood was full of opportunities to learn why those things were important.
She grew up in a tight-knit Italian American family. She was the youngest of four—two girls and two boys—and the smallest age gap was around eight years, between her and her brother. The family’s love for golf was timeless, and it’s what cemented her relationship to her brothers and father, she says.
DeLeone’s dad, John, was the owner of Woodlawn Pharmacy from 1958 to 1982. Her mom, Gena, had an office in the back for bookkeeping. It was the classic mom-and-pop shop, DeLeone says, and she put in many hours there herself.
“I was with my father many times, especially if there was an elderly person who was sick. I’d hop in the car with him and he’d go over and deliver the medicine himself and take their blood pressure to see if maybe they ought to head to the hospital,” she says. “He was a very caring person in that way… just concerned about people. There were many times when he knew damn well he wasn’t ever gonna get paid for the medicine that he gave out, but he did it.”
DeLeone’s mom was also fundamental to the creation of the Lima Samaritan House in 1987, an emergency shelter for women and children. DeLeone was a student at Lima Central Catholic high school at the time, she says, and would travel with her mom to board meetings or to check and see how things were going—there wasn’t a day it wasn’t on her mind.
“I remember every time we’d stay at a hotel or something, and you get those little samples of shampoo, or when you buy makeup and get little samples and she would yank it out of my hand and say, ‘I think the women [at the Samaritan House] need this more, they’d love to have that.’”
Since its founding, Lima Samaritan House has served over 250 women and their children per year, according to its website.
“I spent a lot of time there,” DeLeone, 52, says. “I was very proud of the work my mom did. She really did a lot to help out there.”
DeLeone stayed community-centered through the years. She went to Wittenberg University to study English, with a minor in journalism, during which she completed two internships. The first, her freshman year, was a corporate communications role in Cincinnati, and the second, her junior year, was at a public relations firm in London as part of a study abroad program through Boston University.
In 1992 she earned a master’s in communications. Her next stop was Columbus, and like many new grads often do, she found herself wondering if she chose the right career path—she wasn’t sure journalism would feed her love for current events the way she thought it would.
While faced with that decision and an economy recovering from a recession, she chose to play it safe by applying to jobs she was undoubtedly interested in.
For DeLeone, that meant working at the Ohio House of Representatives as a legislative aide. And she was good at it—soon she was hired as a special projects coordinator in the office of Gov. George Voinovich in 1995.
“It was really fun to be honest,” she says. ”I loved it. I loved the action. I loved watching the politics of it. I love watching the government.”
In 1998 she was promoted to assistant communication director for Voinovich at the Ohio Treasurer of State, and in 2000, still working for Voinovich, she accepted a job with the U.S. Senate. The same year, she also served as an adjunct professor in the communications department for Columbus State Community College.
So when DeLeone found what she believed would be her forever job, she definitely wasn’t thinking that she should switch it up and go into banking. She wasn’t great at math or even keeping order of her own finances, she says, so when a friend and member of KeyBank’s legal team approached her at the governor’s office, she wasn’t expecting the conversation to change her life.
“She said, ‘I have a client who needs someone that understands government and they can’t find the right person, and I think you’re the right person,’” DeLeone says. “I thought, ‘Why on Earth would a bank want to talk with me?’”
Something told DeLeone to meet with the client. She was told KeyBank needed someone who understood how and why government does business with certain entities, she says, and shocked herself (and her parents) when she started imagining herself being that person. In 2002, she was offered a position as relationship manager of the public sector. Her gut told her to accept it.
It turns out, taking the job was a good call, DeLeone says. She’s now been with KeyBank for two decades and has moved up the ranks within the public sector, being granted new territories across the Midwest to oversee relationships with state governments, municipalities, counties and more.
For the last decade or so, she has served as the senior vice president and managing director of the public sector.
“The people at Key were from day one just so nice to me,” DeLeone says. “It could have been very easy for them to not hire me, or not give me a shot, and they did. I’m forever grateful to a lot of people, some are long retired, and some are still here.”
KeyBank is a regional bank founded nearly 200 years ago in Albany, New York. Today it is headquartered in Cleveland and has around 1,000 full-service branches stretching across 15 states. As of March, KeyBank has approximately $181 billion in assets.
In August 2021, DeLeone also earned the role of central Ohio market president, tasking her to grow KeyBank’s local presence. She succeeds Melissa Ingwersen, who held the role for 10 years.
Tim Burke, KeyBank’s regional sales executive for Great Lakes East, was fundamental in the hiring process for the central Ohio market president and remembers being urged to reach out to DeLeone by a Columbus attorney.
“Lara has a real presence to her, very polished, very professional,” he says. “I sat down with her and knew within five minutes that it was the exact right person. She’s direct, she’s got her own opinions, and she’s very connected. She knows the bank extremely well and is extremely likable. She’s also a hell of a golfer.”
It’s not common for someone with DeLeone’s background to become a market president, Burke says—about 80 percent of market presidents are commercial banking leaders. But her work ethic was impossible to turn away.
“You’ve got to be an extrovert—a person that really likes being in the market, being on boards, likes to help in the community,” Burke says. “It’s really important for us that we deliver the bank into all aspects of the community and she has a real passion and zest for getting involved.”
One major responsibility for DeLeone is finding ways to give back to the community. Namely, that is to organizations that check KeyBank’s pillars for supporting healthy, safe neighborhoods and feeding the growing workforce.
Most recently, DeLeone was fundamental to KeyBank’s $150,000 donation to Move to Prosper, a nonprofit dedicated to creating residential and financial opportunities for women. Specifically, the donation will support the nonprofit’s Empower 100 program, an initiative meant to improve the lives of single mothers with low-wage jobs through education and expanded opportunities. The most recent donation follows Key’s initial grant in 2018 and will span over three years.
The donation can change the lives of several families, says Shiloh Todorov, development director for the nonprofit. It costs $6,200 to put one person through the program.
“I was so impressed by how articulate [KeyBank] was about what we do, why it’s important, how it aligns with what the bank wants to invest in,” Todorov says. “[Lara] is authentically, it seems, invested in women and in change.”
Todorov also envisions KeyBank taking part in a monthly educational program or providing mentorship to participants like how to open a savings account or save money for college.
While DeLeone’s “to-do” list is long (and growing), she hopes to make mentorship opportunities a top priority, specifically to small businesses and women-owned businesses—a desire that stems from watching her mom and dad. She also hopes to provide more loan opportunities to those groups, she says.
Because of her background—which puzzles many, she says—she enjoys talking with the younger workforce, who may still be wondering if they’re making the right choice or if they should switch their career path. Coincidentally, that has also meant being an advisor to family, specifically a few who have gone into banking themselves.
“I have nieces and nephews that are in their 20s and 30s and I’m very close with them, especially my nieces,” DeLeone says. “Three of them work in this industry, which didn’t happen when I was young.”
One of her nieces, Abby Mongelluzzo, is a senior fund accountant at Columbus-based Rockbridge Capital. Though she wasn’t always sure of what she would do—she was torn between a finance career or pharmacy, like her grandpa—when it comes to decision making, she knows she can count on her aunt and feels confident that it translates in the workplace.
“As an aunt, she is always so concerned and wanting to help any way she can. Whether that be advice or being a resource for how it is to be a woman in business… I can only imagine that makes her an incredible boss,” Mongelluzzo says. “She cares so much—She’s just like my grandpa.”
What’s to come
All of DeLeone’s responsibilities—community involvement, mentorship and providing new opportunities—circle back to increasing KeyBank’s local visibility.
KeyBank’s market share currently ranks seventh behind big names like Huntington National Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Fifth Third Bank and holds a 2.39 percent market share, according to an FDIC Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area report for the period ending on June 30, 2021.
“It’s not where I want it to be, but in my opinion, that’s a good place to start,” DeLeone says. “Especially with where I see us going in the next couple of years, I think we can get there.”
There are a few things she has planned to hopefully grow KeyBank’s share of the market. One opportunity may be increasing visibility at colleges and universities.
“What I see Columbus doing really, really well is combining the higher ed with the state government, with the business community,” DeLeone says. “... me and my team need to capitalize on that.”
She also hopes to engage KeyBank’s CEO at the local level to share some of the efforts being made. “There are numerous things we need to talk about more to increase our visibility.”
Bruce Clapp, financial expert and president of Ohio-based bank and credit union marketing company MarketMatch, says KeyBank is primarily on the right track to growing its share in the market—a growth point for many banks, though, is to be even more consumer centered, including more ATMs and increased financial technology activity.
“KeyBank is a very strong organization,” Clapp says. “...If they want to grow in commercial banking, they’re doing a lot of the right things. If they want to grow it organically, then they’re going to have to be a much stronger retail bank with a stronger retail presence that is built around some technology applications, in my opinion.”
There’s also one huge opportunity coming that could change the game at KeyBank: Intel.
Since Intel made its announcement that it would be expanding to Licking County with a $20 billion investment and projected 3,000 workers, DeLeone has started imagining the opportunities in store.
From new home builders coming to town, new salons, car dealerships, growing school districts—the possibilities are endless, she says. “It’s almost like we’ll be watching a new city being built for the next 20 years.”
Already, she has engaged the highest levels of personnel at KeyBank in discussions about how to be a major player in that growth. “How do we increase our brick and mortar in that area? Who do we hire? What is our long-term plan? This is an example of how we can really shine in the long term.”
DeLeone has been given the opportunity some people dream of, she says, and now she’s going to run with it.
“I feel very fortunate to have been given the resources of a growth market, just at the same time Intel announced how they’re going to change Ohio,” DeLeone says. “I couldn’t have been given a better gift, now I have to figure out how to go out and make it happen.”
Central Ohio market president and senior vice president, managing director of the public sector, KeyBank
In position since: August 2021
Previous: Legislative aide, Ohio House of Representatives, 1993-1995; special projects coordinator, office of Gov. George Voinovich, 1995-1998; assistant communication director, office of George Voinovich, Ohio Treasurer of State, 1998-2000; office of George Voinovich, United States Senate, 2000-2002; multiple roles within the public sector, KeyBank, 2002-present, most recently as senior vice president and managing director of public sector and Central Ohio market president.
Education: Bachelor of liberal arts, Wittenberg University, master’s in communications, Miami University
Resides: DeLeone lives in Upper Arlington with her husband and two children.