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Here's the legacy this bank exec wants to leave

Bank of America’s Jodi Rolland believes women need to champion other women


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With Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America’s expanded presence in Colorado’s Front Range communities came Market President Jodi Rolland, BoA’s local enterprise leader, head of corporate social responsibility and market executive for Global Commercial Banking in the Colorado market.

Rolland’s positivity radiates. Nearing 50, she’s spent more than half her lifetime climbing the corporate ladder at Merrill Lynch with quiet confidence and sticking it out when Bank of America absorbed the company she grew up in.

CB: Upon completing the requisite LinkedIn stalker session, I noted you went to the University of North Dakota. Is that where you’re from?

JR: I actually drove five hours every day to go to college. Two and a half hours each way. I grew up in northern Minnesota. My mother died when I was a little girl and my sisters raised me, so college was on my own dime. And that was the closest good college with a decent business program.

So you knew business was your calling all along?

I did, because when I was 19, right out of high school, I went to work full-time, because I had to make money to go to school. I made a $5,000 bonus at Christmas, and invested it. And it turned out they lied to me. Two weeks later it was gone. The mutual fund they told me to put it in was mysteriously turned into soybean options and expired worthless. I lost every penny.

So , altruistically, the reason I came into this business, I said there had to be honest people out there who would help people with their money. So I started at the University of North Dakota with a major in finance. Almost the moment I was done with college, I was told that Merrill Lynch had the best training program of any firm in the industry and that if I could get hired there, that’s where I should go.

Fast-forward and talk about the period when Bank of America and Merrill Lynch merged and how that affected you.

2008 was just a crazy year. We were living here in Denver. At the time I was running a sixth of the U.S. And I can tell you exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing. Texas was under me, and I remember leaving on a Friday afternoon and we weren’t sure what the fate of Lehman Brothers was going to be over the weekend. At the same time, there was a hurricane hitting Galveston, Texas, and the mayor came out and said anyone who does not evacuate, it’s sure death. So I’m leaving Friday and I find out we have an assistant who didn’t evacuate. She found the highest ground she could, which happened to be at the top of the Merrill Lynch building. I had conference calls all weekend about the woman – who ended up being fine – and then Saturday afternoon I got the call saying, ‘We’re going to announce later that Bank of America is buying us,’ and there was a piece of me that was so relieved.

What about the other piece?

The other piece went, ‘Oh God, am I going to have a job?’

So how did it shake out?

A month later, I’m pregnant with our second child – and it turned out by January, the day after New Year’s, I was called in to run a third of the country instead of a sixth. So we decided to reorganize, streamline a little more.  At that point, I had more than 3,500 under me.

Did you feel like you had to spin it to make the merger sound like a good thing?

I knew in my heart it was a good thing, because I knew what it ultimately could have been, and I tend to be a person where the glass is half-full. All of the sudden, all our Merrill Lynch clients are going to have access to the No. 1 commercial bank, the No. 1 consumer bank. So I bought in hook, line and sinker right away.

At that point and now still, big banks were viewed harshly, demonized, even. What do you say to that?

You’re right. At that period a lot of big banks did have an evil mission. What I did was I really talked to the employees about their clients and what their clients want and need. And in fact, at that time period, when banks weren’t so beloved, it was a little bit easier to bring Merrill in to boost that.

Your entire career has been with Merrill Lynch and now Bank of America. How did you arrive in Denver?

I first moved to Denver in 1999. I was running Colorado for Merrill Lynch and due to promotions got pulled away a few times. I moved to the East Coast twice. I worked in New York City twice. I worked in Southern California once. But I always ended up coming back to Denver. And one of the reasons I accepted the market president role three years ago was so I could stay put. Both of our children were actually born in Colorado, on different stints, so they’re natives.

What does your role as market president entail?

My job is to help our employees in the state deliver the full capabilities of the company, no matter what line of business, to each and every client. So that’s consumer banking, that’s Merrill Lynch, that’s U.S. Trust, it’s commercial banking. Also for the last six-seven months, I took over running the commercial bank. So I no longer run Merrill Lynch … where we want to build is the Bank of America brand. So that meant building a commercial banking capability. And then we added our consumer bank. We already had 600,000 customers in the state.

On the consumer side, we have our Cherry Creek, our Highlands Ranch, and our Boulder branches. We are building out another 17 to 20 branches. Union Station will be the next to open. In addition, our goal is to build another 80 ATMs … a good share of which we call ATM with teller assist. So you can walk up and a person comes up live in the U.S. and can get you what you need.

What have been the biggest shifts in your industry?

The industry has changed dramatically. Today, people go into the bank branch, for the most part, for a life event. We built these branches so you can go in and meet with an expert on mortgages; meet with a Merrill Lynch Edge expert, which can help them on the investing side; meet with a small business banker who can help them get their business up and running.

There’s a technology bar. Our tech strategy is cutting edge. There are a number of cardless experiences; you can operate through your phone. And we spend billions of dollars every year in security.

Why is Bank of America betting on Colorado?

It was funny, I was with a finance professor at University of Colorado Boulder – great guy who came from Goldman Sachs. He said one of our top guys at Bank of America called him and said, ‘Hey, we need you to come work at Bank of America.’  Our guy texted him a picture of the lake behind his house and his new bicycle and he said I’m not leaving.

I think it’s a lifestyle play. I think people want to be somewhere they can have that balance.

The number of companies that want to move here, I think that’s a huge sign of growth for our city. Our economy has really diversified. We mentioned lifestyle companies; you see what’s happening with tech, with health care, with aerospace, and 25 years ago it would have just been oil and gas.

I just see Denver as a nothing but net story.

I understand you also have a personal attachment to diversity and women’s advocacy in your role and organization. Can you elaborate?

Growing up the way I did, with no mother, my sisters raised me, I can tell you right now I wouldn’t be sitting here without them. Growing up in an industry that’s traditionally male-dominated, I always felt the bench would be wider and deeper with both sexes on it. We need women to champion other women, not just mentor, but when somebody’s talking about you at comp time, you want somebody to say, this is why I believe in her.

As you gaze ahead, what are you most looking forward to?

For me right now, at this stage in my life – I’m turning 50 this year – it’s about building my legacy. I don’t want to wait until I’m dead to say this was her legacy. I want to build it. So the mentoring and raising up of women and girls is critical. Teaching financial literacy and changing the cycle of poverty is important to me. As a professional, as a philanthropist and as a mom, I want to make an impact.

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Gigi Sukin

Gigi Sukin is digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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