Working her way through college taught Krista Flynn valuable lessons she carried over to her career. Courtesy Chemical Bank
Krista Flynn kicked off her career in banking when it still was largely a boys’ club, and she thought she fit in pretty well.
Looking back on that time in light of the #MeToo movement, Flynn now sees the compromises she made to be accepted — laughing at demeaning jokes, staying silent about inequity — as unacceptable.
“I would not consider myself quiet today,” she said.
Despite the isolation and unfairness she at times experienced in the industry, Flynn is grateful to the mentors she had who encouraged her skills and ambition.
“They were honest with me and told me what I needed to do to get to the next level and how to improve perceived flaws,” she said. “They were positively encouraging but didn’t hold back and tell me just what I wanted to hear. They were challenging me to do more than what I was comfortable with.”
This included accepting new opportunities — even when she didn’t feel qualified.
With a 25-year foundation in the banking industry, including long-term jobs at JPMorgan Chase and PNC Bank, Flynn was hired as West Michigan regional president for Chemical Bank in July.
“The milestones I hit were because I was embracing and diving in and doing the best I could,” she said of her promotions.
The new role gives her the opportunity to take the good and the bad of her history in the industry and use it to forge something new.
She is starting out by taking her natural giftedness with people to make connections, serve others and build brand trust for Chemical Bank in West Michigan.
“The biggest thing that prepared me for it has been the last 15 years of making connections in the community,” she said. “I spent a lot of time meeting and talking to people, trying to find what’s important to them and helping them make connections to other people, whether or not it had anything to do with banking. A lot of times, it was selfless, and a lot of times, it was great for the bank.”
Flynn said she believes helping others is the most important motivation a person can have. She started her new position by conducting a listening tour of all the Chemical Bank offices and branches in her coverage area, “hearing what the employees’ passions and hurdles are.”
Now, she has shifted to focusing on clients and the community to understand what it will take to help Chemical Bank achieve its goal of being the No. 1 bank in Michigan.
She said her role is “so new” she is eager to see what will happen.
“I think it’s just really important that our brand continues to be elevated to the point where people think of Chemical as Michigan’s bank. We have expanded outside of Michigan, but to me, we are Michigan’s bank,” she said.
“We are large enough and have the products and services to compete with anybody. And local decisions are made here in town. The people are all right here.”
Though a lifelong lover of numbers, Flynn prefers to use qualitative standards when measuring her career.
“Certainly, there were deals I was proud of at certain times, and those were fun,” she said. “But when I look back and say what I am proud of today, it’s mentoring and developing talent. I’m finally to an age where I get people who say, ‘Wow, you made an impact on my career.’ It makes me feel old. But if we can develop other people — and it doesn’t have to be banking, it can be other fields or college kids — it’s helping other people find what they enjoy in their careers.”
Today, she is mentoring the generation below her, millennials, as well as other women and members of the management team.
And she is enthusiastic about the bank’s decision earlier this summer to move the headquarters to Detroit, its contract as the city of Detroit’s relationship banking partner and its appointment of Donnell White as chief diversity officer. She noted the banking industry as a whole, including Chemical, lacks ethnic and gender diversity.
“I think hiring me was a statement — that’s important,” Flynn said. But she would like to see even more diversity.
To that end, she is part of a group that is launching Chemical Bank Network of Women (cbNOW), which is a “grassroots movement” that will include mentorship, networking and development internally at the bank.
“We’re figuring out how it’s going to go,” Flynn said. “It was not forced; it was started by a group of women here who said, ‘We should get together.’ Our chief diversity officer came and supported it, and I think it’s going to be a template for the rest of the bank.”
She hopes more initiatives like cbNOW spring up, which will help the bank with recruiting, training, career coaching and talent development.
In her spare time, Flynn pours her energy into helping the most vulnerable, caring especially for the cause of early childhood education.
She volunteers with Kids’ Food Basket and KConnect. The latter is working to create school attendance standards for Kent County because school “attendance is an early indicator of success,” she said.
The nonprofit and its collaborators also are working on an initiative to get all children in Kent County access to 3-year-old preschool.
“Early childhood education is so important,” she said. “The earlier we can get kids on track, the better off our communities will be.”
Flynn said she was blessed in her own childhood support system, with older siblings she looked up to, hardworking parents and caring teachers in her Catholic school education.
“I grew up on the south side of Detroit in an area they called Downriver, which was fairly blue collar,” she said. “My parents were not college educated. They were hard workers, but I was the first to go to college. I had to pay my way, so I stayed at home, went to U-M Dearborn and worked almost full time while I was in school. They were very proud that I had aspirations they hadn’t dreamed of. They didn’t help, and I say that not in a bad way, but I had to find my own way.
“I talk about that a lot because I don’t want to lose my roots and groundedness. And I want to let people know I believe anybody can go out and aspire to bigger things and make their own way.”