Beth Mooney arrived at Republic Bank in Dallas unannounced and unemployed in 1979, and cajoled the head of management training for three hours until he agreed to hire her.
“He did not really see a fit for me,” Mooney, 55, said in a telephone interview. “I just nicely and basically refused to leave until he offered me a job.”
In May, Mooney will take over as chief executive officer of Cleveland-based KeyCorp, becoming the first woman to lead one of the 20 biggest independent U.S. banks. The Michigan native, who joined KeyCorp in 2006 to head its community-banking unit, is credited with helping to boost deposits by adding and overhauling branches during the financial crisis.
The lender, with $94 billion in assets and more than 1,000 branches in 14 states, is Ohio’s second-biggest bank after Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp. KeyCorp, which has yet to repay $2.5 billion in U.S. bailout funds, became profitable in the second quarter after eight straight losses.
“She inherited a tough hand, entering a tough period, and has done a good job,” said Jason Goldberg, a senior analyst at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York. “She has really led the rejuvenation of their retail effort.”
KeyCorp fell 17 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $7.53 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have advanced 36 percent this year.
For Mooney, the Nov. 18 announcement that she had become president and chief operating officer and will succeed CEO Henry L. Meyer, who’s retiring, fulfilled a long-held ambition.
“This is absolutely something she’s had her sights set on,” said Dowd Ritter, the former CEO of Birmingham, Alabama- based Regions Financial Corp., where Mooney was chief financial officer when the company was known as AmSouth Bancorp. “It has come from a lot of hard work over a career that has been headed this way from the start.”
Ritter said he couldn’t change Mooney’s mind when she called in 2006 to say she had accepted an offer to become vice chairwoman in charge of community banking for KeyCorp.
The new job “was an opportunity to build a strategy and execute it,” Mooney said. “I felt like I would personally grow from doing it as well as further my career aspirations of potentially running an organization one day.”
Part of Mooney’s success stems from immersing herself in civic life, according to Jacqueline Woods, a friend and former Ohio president of SBC Communications Inc., now AT&T Inc.
“There’s people who get involved in just doing a lot of stuff and they sort of show up, but they don’t really do any work or they don’t really know how to help,” Woods said. “She did the digging.”
Helps Orchestra, Clinic
Mooney, as a trustee and treasurer of Cleveland’s Musical Arts Association, helped the city’s orchestra revamp its business model as it struggled to finance performances and travel, Woods said.
“They’re lucky to have her,” said Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, where Mooney leads a committee focused on the patient experience. “She’s brought the same sort of rigors to that as she has to her customer focus at the bank.”
Mooney also serves as trustee of the United Way of Greater Cleveland and board chairman of Neighborhood Progress Inc., a nonprofit that’s working to counter the effects of foreclosures in six city neighborhoods, according to its website.
In Counsel with Women, an invitation-only group of 139 female executives from northeast Ohio, is celebrating the achievement by one of its own.
“The members of In Counsel are abuzz about this news,” said the nonprofit’s chairwoman, Linda Bluso, partner in charge of law firm Brouse McDowell’s Cleveland office.
Triumph With Responsibility
Her rise to the top of a profession dominated by men created “more than a crack” in the glass ceiling and represents a triumph for women that also comes with a responsibility, Mooney said.
“I’m grateful for those who blazed the trail before me, but I’m also going to be conscious of serving as an example for those who want to come after me, and I take that balance seriously,” she said.
In 2000, Mooney was CEO of Ohio operations for Bank One Corp., now a unit of JPMorgan Chase & Co., when AmSouth hired her to head its Tennessee bank. She transferred from Nashville to Birmingham four years later as CFO.
“Not only did she acclimate herself very quickly into her job and the things you would expect, but she was in the key community leadership roles instantly,” Ritter said.
Mooney was born Beth Elaine Streeter, the youngest of three siblings, and raised in Midland, Michigan, the home of Dow Chemical Co., where her father was a chemist. The family moved three times in as many years, settling in Texas for her final year of high school.
Streeter attended the University of Texas, largely because of “its illustrious football team,” graduating with a history degree in 1977. She was married and took the name Mooney, which she decided to keep after divorcing about six years later.
“I was mindful of not changing my name because for a large bank headquartered in Dallas to be a vice president of the bank as a young woman in her late 20s was still a pretty big deal,” she said. “So I just kind of kept mum about it.”
After graduating from Texas summa cum laude, Mooney said she got a job as a secretary in the real estate department of First City National Bank of Houston.
“I didn’t have any particular skills that resonated with people,” she said. “So when I was interviewing and they asked me if I could type, and I thought it would lead me to a job, I said yes.”
A year later, Mooney talked her way into the job at Republic Bank and promised to attend graduate school at night to pursue an MBA, which she received in 1983 from Southern Methodist University. Keith Schmidt, who ran the management training program, gave her a chance because he had never met someone who wanted something so badly, Mooney said.
“I won’t sleep nights if I refuse you this opportunity,” she recalled him saying. “I’m giving you the opportunity to succeed or fail, and it’s not clear to me which it will be.”
Having settled that uncertainty, Mooney said she regrets not tracking down Schmidt to thank him before he died.
“He could have thrown me out,” she said. “It was a game-changer for me.”