Brenda Ross-Dulan Cut and sharpened her teeth as a vice president in the real estate division of construction lending at First Interstate in Los Angeles, when, in 1996, the company merged with Wells Fargo. Shortly after, the head of Wells Fargo’s community development asked Boss-Dulan to join the group. She agreed, looking forward to a new challenge; it was more than she bargained for.
"I think they selected me because I had the technical background in financing for that niche group [of moderate-to low-income housing]," recalls Ross-Dulan. "What I didn’t realize is that housing is a very small piece of a broader area of community development, which includes small business lending, investments, and an array of activities specifically focused on building economic infrastructure in disadvantaged communities."
When Ross-Dulan arrived in Los Angeles, the two people previously running the office–as a result of the merger–were removed, and she was put in charge of the largest office in a 23-state territory for Wells Fargo. "I found myself trying to learn about community development," she says, "and taking my background in commercial lending and affordable housing to develop a strategy for how to effectively lend and invest in underserved communities."
As Ross-Dulan explains, community development for many banks often speaks to community affairs or public relations. "But being a fairly analytical person, I approached it from what I understood about bringing business to the bank" she says. Ross-Dulan repositioned community development at Wells Fargo away from photo opportunities at foundation endowment ceremonies to generating $100 million in new business.
"I was able to demonstrate that in every community, and particularly in a community where people had not realized that there was a business to be involved in, there really, in fact, was. I broadened the focus of what people within Wells Fargo saw as community development."
At the senior levels of management in corporate America, the only option is to perform–exceptionally well. And the players understand it’s an all-or-nothing game, where strategy is as important as smarts as they position themselves for advancement. It’s like a game of chess, where each move is calculated particularly in risky endeavors or uncharted waters. Nothing is left to chance.
Originally studying patent law at Stanford University, LeRoy Davis, now vice president of Global Treasury for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in New York City, began his career on Wall Street as a research analyst, but quickly zeroed in on becoming part of the trading team. It would be a position that would groom him to eventually make executive decisions. "Had I stayed in research, I would have become a person whose advice would have been respected," says Davis. "But I would never have the ability to make the decisions to put the firm’s capital at risk. I intentionally chose this area, because I knew I would do well if all I had to do was perform well. If there was going to be a formula [for advancement], I would want my success to be highly