Redefining Leadership: Q&A with Bank of America’s Colleen Gouveia

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Colleen Gouveia, Senior Vice President, Senior Commercial Client Manager at Bank of America, at a Women in Leadership Nexus event in the fall of 2016. I immediately liked her.

Colleen has a special spirit. She has had such an impressive career in the banking industry, yet is incredibly humble. She is the bubbly individual who makes those in her company feel at home immediately, yet she also makes the time to have quieter moments and observe. After spending just one morning with her, I knew she would be the perfect fit for this series.

I sat down with Colleen at Bank of America’s Providence, Rhode Island, location and chatted about everything from the importance of finding your passion to knowing when to make a move. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation…

Me: Colleen, I was so happy when Susan Keller—a fellow Women in Leadership Nexus member—brought you to our October event. To begin, how do you and Susan know each other?

Colleen: Susan is my power woman!

Me: I can see that; I feel the same way!

Colleen: I met Susan about 15 years ago through a network of high level executives at the law firm she was working at. Since then, we have formed a close personal and professional relationship. I look to her for advice. I feel as if I can be candid and open with her and not everyone creates that space. She has been a wonderful mentor, friend and powerhouse.

Me: You have worked in banking for almost three decades. What made you want to get into the financial services industry?

Colleen: This is a fun story because I always wanted to be a nurse or a surgeon! I worked in a nursing home before attending Rhode Island College where I started in the nursing program. I went through a semester and realized it wasn’t for me. While I had the compassion, I did not have the ability to care for people on that level. All the biology and chemistry classes… they ended up not being for me. So I stepped back, took a semester off and took a job as a bank teller and I loved it.

Me: Quite the change!

Colleen: It was! But I immediately loved how banking seemed to combine my love of money, math and people. So that summer, I took an accounting class at CCRI and it was a great fit. I ended up going back to college and changing my major to accounting. I knew it was important to chase happiness and to follow my passion.

Earning my accounting degree was incredibly rewarding as I was working full-time at Old Stone Bank, attending school at night and brought two young children into the world—one right before my math final!

Me: That final must have been memorable!

Colleen: It certainly was. I ended up earning my degree, however Old Stone Bank was taken over by the RTC the spring I graduated and it was a tough pill to swallow because the acquisition meant I could no longer go into Old Stone’s commercial banking program. 

I was fortunate that some people I knew at the Bank moved over to Fleet Bank and submitted my resume for their commercial training program, and I was immediately hired. At same the time, I was also looking at a career in public accounting. I had interviewed with some firms and I remember meeting with one gentleman who looked at my resume and said: “You have five years in commercial banking experience and a great personality. Why would you go into public accounting?” He said: “My advice? Stay in banking.” I still run into him on the street from time-to-time and say “thank you.”

Me: Something I find really inspiring is that you saw your career vision and found a way to go to school, work fulltime and still have your family. I absolutely hate asking the question “how do you balance it all?,” so instead I’ll ask… what skill sets or belief systems did you tap into to achieve what you wanted both personally and professionally?

Colleen: I kept my vision on the goal, and the goal was to do what I am doing now. I found a way to balance it all mentally. I’m able to tap into two distinct parts of my brain—one that allows me to focus on kids and my family, and the other on work.

The other thing that has always driven me is my self-belief. I remember when I was a bank teller—and attending college part time for my accounting degree—I interviewed with someone for a commercial banking administrative role. He asked: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I said, “I want to be a junior loan officer.” He looked at me, laughed and said, “You need a college degree to do that.” That helped crystalize and reinforce my vision. It almost took someone challenging me and putting me down to build the momentum. Ironically, 10 years following that interview, he and I found ourselves working for the same company at the same level!  

Me: I love that story. It really speaks to the importance of brushing off negativity and instead using it for fuel. Fast forward to today, you have been at the Bank of America for 11 years and currently function as the Senior Vice President, Senior Client Manager Global Commercial Bank – Northeast. What do the day-to-day responsibilities entail?

Colleen: My day involves a lot of juggling. I spend a lot of time providing banking services to commercial clients primarily in the Rhode Island market. The companies that I work with are generally middle market companies, with revenues between $25 million and $250 million.  I like to think of myself as the quarterback of the relationship and I bring in my specialized partners as needed. It’s my job to get to know my clients personally and their businesses, bring the right banking needs to them, and introduce them to the expertise of the appropriate partners. It’s important to make sure our clients are receiving integrated banking solutions, whether that be cash management solutions, corporate finance and investment banking, risk solutions, global growth strategies or wealth management.

Me: What’s one of your favorite parts about the job?

Colleen: I am responsible for bringing in new relationships to the bank, and I love making the connections. Some of the clients I have now I’ve had for over 10 years and we have formed such great relationships.  For example one of my client’s children have been known to refer to me as “Auntie Colleen.” That’s what I love. Seeing how business, finances and relationships come together.

Me: On the flip side, what’s a challenge you have faced along the way and what has it taught you about leadership?

Colleen: Sometimes internal politics can blindside you. Several years ago, I was at in a place in my career where I kept asking for more and more responsibility but didn’t get it. It got to a point where I was frustrated. Fortunately, a great opportunity opened up that I was able to seize and that new position ended up being a great fit for me. But that period taught me that instead of always asking to take on more, it’s a great idea to just do more. Since then, I have taken everything in and focused on being vocal about doing what I want to do. I learned that I need to be more direct and vocalize what I need with my managers.

Me: I think that advice is so applicable especially as women still battle the double bind in business, being punished for being either too assertive or too feminine. We have to be confident enough to speak up, perfect the art of the ask and show the way for others.

Colleen: Exactly. I am so excited to do that even more. I recently was accepted into the Cherie Blair Foundation For Women’s Mentoring Program where I will have the opportunity to mentor and empower a woman entrepreneur in a developing country with an emerging economy.  For two hours each month I will get to help someone else find her own unique path.  The Bank has developed a partnership with this organization so that we can make a difference to the lives of these women. 

Me: That sounds like a wonderful program. As we welcome more and more executives and entrepreneurs into the world, what leadership qualities do you hope to see more of at the executive level?

Colleen: I hope to see leadership teams become more communicative on an ongoing basis with all members of their team—making time to spend with employees atdifferent levels because those employees are your future. I find that sometimes management only goes to a certain level and loses sight of the importance of inclusivity. You have to take the time to understand what motivates the team and leave a mark with all different levels of management. When you do that, your team will look at you as approachable and human, versus someone in a position that they will never attain. That’s what I would like to see with executive level management.

Me: It is critical for leaders to truly get to know their teams and create safe space to exchange ideas.

Colleen: It is. Here at the Bank of America we make it a priority to create that safe space, particularly for women. We have a group called the “Power of 10” that is an informal group of mid-level management designed to bring women up and give them confidence.

Me: It sounds like a wonderful program. Continuing along the theme of being a leader, what advice do you have for younger professionals just starting out?

Colleen: Find your passion and what makes you happy. My passion has brought me to so many different areas within a bank and has allowed me to do so many different things. Once you know your passion, there’s no telling the path you’ll head down. I’d also add: find people you love to work with and seek out those who can help you on your journey, especially women. If you can find a reciprocal relationship, hang on to that person.

Me: OK, last question… what do most not know about you?

Colleen: Here are two things. First, I am passionate about animals, especially rescue animals. My husband and I recently rescued two Boston Terriers who are a bonded pair and needed to be adopted together. They are everything to us. Second, I love ballroom dancing.  A few years ago I was able to live my dream by being a participant in a local “Dancing with the Stars” charity fundraising competition for the organization Mentor Rhode Island.  I was paired with a professional dancer and actually WON the top prize that evening! 

Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as Marketing Principal for Trilix Tech. Carrie was named to the 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” list and is a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.