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Expanded KeyBank takes team-based approach to developing leaders

KeyBank chairman and CEO Beth E. Mooney recently met in Amherst with about 45 employees from across the bank's territory and inviting them to ask her anything.

Mooney likes offering that opportunity to employees as part of a Key leadership development program labeled "Leading to Win." Key uses the program to encourage collaboration among employees across the bank – something that has become a much bigger undertaking since Key acquired First Niagara in 2016.

Employees usually ask Mooney about the future of the bank. Someone almost always asks her for advice about how to advance if she was in their position. Mooney has developed a perspective from a long career in banking that includes serving as Key's chairman and CEO since 2011.

"I've always believed there is no substitute for hard work, and that we are a company that values not just what you do, but how you do it," Mooney said she tells the employees. "Some piece of programs like this is to help balance the desire for results with the culture of how we do it."

Mooney also talks up the value of taking a team-based approach, and for budding leaders to be accountable, not just responsible, for their work. And then there is the personal dimension of their jobs to consider.

"I think it's really, really important, that, we spend so much time doing what we do, you need to feel like you can be your best and authentic self at work," she said. "I talk about that being personal to me, because there has not always been times in my career when I felt I could be authentically myself in the early days.

"At the end of the day, it should be fun," Mooney said. "This is a place where we spend a lot of time together all day long. ... I always say, you can hear a smile on the phone."

Key holds these leadership sessions at different cities in its network, mixing together employees from different business lines and parts of the country. The goal is to help the employees build contacts across Key while learning side by side what the bank looks for in its leaders.

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The Buffalo area has gained greater stature within Key since the bank acquired First Niagara and made Larkinville its Northeast regional headquarters. The leadership program has helped blend former First Niagara employees into its workforce; as the integration of the two banks was taking hold, Key held the leadership training sessions almost weekly, said Gary Quenneville, Key's upstate New York regional executive.

Key is trying to instill its leadership message across a bank with more than 18,000 employees, in regions spread among 15 states. When Mooney hired Key's head of human resources five years ago, she told him the bank needed a dedicated approach to developing leaders in order to succeed.

The Key-First Niagara deal created career opportunities for Key employees like Courtney Jinjika. She started as a teller with Key in its Seattle region in 2001, as a way to put herself through school. "I really thought of it as a job, but soon after I realized how much I loved the clients," she said.

Jinjika ascended through Key's ranks. Following the First Niagara deal, she was named regional retail leader for Key in its new Connecticut and Western Massachusetts territory. During the leadership training in Amherst, Jinjika got her first look at Buffalo and planned to meet with her counterpart in the region. (Buffalo is Key's No. 2 market, after its home base in Cleveland.)

Michael McMahon (KeyBank photo)

Michael McMahon was recently promoted to Key's commercial bank sales leader for Buffalo, after joining the bank three years ago. McMahon said the leadership program helps employees think beyond the everyday scope of their own jobs.

"It takes us away from being a commercial lender or being a retail leader," he said. "It brings us together as being a team and it focuses on collaboration and solving problems together."

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