Women Lead the Way in Banking

Women Lead the Way In Banking
Three Local Banking Executives Share Their Success Stories
I95 BUSINESS – 2/6/19


According to 2017 labor force data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 60 percent of banking employees are women. A November 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office indicates that in 2015, just over 51 percent of professional financial services positions were held by women. Representation of women among first- and mid-level managers remained around 48 percent, and senior-level managers remained about 29 percent from 2007 through 2015.

In the Baltimore metropolitan area, women leaders in the banking industry are common. They lead by example, having worked their way up the ladder to achieve executive level positions. The future is bright for women business leaders in a variety of industries, including banking and finance, as we spotlight three local female banking executives who are blazing the trail for future women business leaders.

Laura Gamble comes from a long line of North Carolina Tarheels, and while on campus, she interviewed for a management training position with NCNB, a bank with $16 billion in assets. It was during the training program that she met Hugh McColl, then the CEO who would “usher in a new era in banking,” by driving the consolidation of several southern banks to become NationsBank, which would later take over BankAmerica and become Bank of America.

“It was an exciting time to be in banking,” says Gamble. “It’s one of the reasons I was interested.”

Gamble recalls McColl taking new hires to the basement deli to break bread and chat. He would show up in the office, stop by employees’ desks and ask about work projects. 

Gamble was impressed by the young organization’s plans and goals for growth. She spent her first year out of school in Charlotte, and then served the organization in New York. She saw McColl in New York and mentioned the lack of an available position near Washington, D.C., and the man she was dating, and the next day, there was a call from a member of the human resources department.

In the meantime, she interviewed with Maryland National Bank and secured a position in Baltimore.

Three years later, NationsBank bought Maryland National Bank and Gamble was reunited with the man who inspired her. “I told McColl that he could run, but he could not hide,” she laughs.

Gamble says she learned from McColl’s leadership. What the former marine enjoyed most about his job was being with his people, the bank’s employees. He led by example and served as Gamble’s role model throughout her career, which progressed through posts in corporate banking, on the transition team and the treasury management leadership team, and in domestic treasury management before she assumed the role of president of Bank of America, Maryland.

“In leading a team or business, it’s really all about having the right people in the right role,” she says. “If you do it right, the job is easy.”

In 2009, after nearly 25 years in banking, she left for consulting and business advisory work. She served on a board with Louis Cestello, then regional president of PNC. When Cestello was promoted, he asked if she would consider a return to banking.

The company’s culture, philosophy and people attracted Gamble, who felt it was strikingly similar to the size and footprint of NationsBank. In April 2012, Gamble assumed the position of regional president for PNC, Greater Maryland.

“It’s not about being a certain size or in a certain business,” she says of PNC’s philosophy. “It’s about being the best for the customer and giving the customer the best experience. That’s the focus.”

The “culture of collaboration” proved intriguing for Gamble, who serves as a leader over all lines of business for the bank with a focus on customer service. The matrix environment provides a leader for each business line in addition to Gamble’s oversight. Gamble provides coaching for the business lines to promote growth for talent and for customers.

Promoting women in the industry is a distinct focus, Gamble says. Her coaching includes stewarding an active diversity council comprised of subcommittees and employee business resource groups including Women’s Connect, which is focused on career and business development for women. Gamble serves as the group’s leadership sponsor. Also, she guides an active women’s business development program, which provides training specific to working with women, and women’s business advocacy training. The corporation also sponsors ATHENAPowerLink Baltimore, mentoring women-owned businesses, C200 and the Women Presidents’ Organization.

When she’s not at work, she’s rowing competitively with Baltimore Community Rowing, a hobby she embraced after a Learn to Row Day and then a novice class. With practices early mornings four times a week and regattas on weekends, she’s on the water locally, regionally, nationally and occasionally internationally from April through November. Her award collection includes Masters Nationals’ medals and a 2010 FISA Masters Worlds medal, a feat she hopes to repeat. Gamble, who celebrated her 30-year wedding anniversary with Robert Gillison in October and has two grown children, enjoys her time on the water. It provides an opportunity to prepare for the busy world of banking, which still proves rewarding after three decades.

“It’s a great career, especially for women,” she says.



When Sabina Kelly graduated from UMBC in 1979 with a double major in economics and accounting, she chose banking as her career path for its versatility. At the time, she was the only female college graduate offered a professional career path position with Suburban Trust.

Kelly entered the training program and worked in a financial center and proceeded up the ladder to assistant manager and credit analyst. Following her first day in the MBA program at Loyola University Maryland, she was offered a position in the credit department at Maryland National Bank. She remained through several mergers and acquisitions and the establishment of Bank of America in 1998.

During her time at UMBC, Kelly enrolled in technology classes that led her to develop the first automated spreading system for commercial loans in the early 1980s.

“I always tell younger people to always be prepared in all the things you do,” she says. “You never know what might be enough experience to do something (innovative).”

From early on, she desired to become a relationship manager in commercial banking. During the early 1980s, she reached out to a senior level manager in commercial banking to make herself “known for a future opportunity.” There was no position available at the time, but she told him, “If you knew me, you might consider me.” Four months later, he did, and she was hired.

“Everything you do in life, it’s all about building relationships,” she says. “I was confident enough to not crumble when someone says, ‘I don’t know why you’re here.’”

Subsequently, she was asked to consider a role in the risk department to cover financial institutions and national accounts. With her commercial banking experience, educational background and early credit experience she had the credentials needed to advance. She tackled a steep learning curve, the birth of her first child and a difficult economic cycle during which the bank merged with American Security Bank and Equitable Bank. Shortly thereafter, NationsBank bought Maryland National Bank and recapitalized. Kelly moved to financial institutions and national banking.

“Opportunities come your way,” she says. “You have to be willing to be open to them. You have to be willing to be versatile.”

She became the risk manager for the health care sector, which led to another opportunity – leaving the risk arena and running the bank’s health care practice. While her children were young, she worked at home one day a week with the support of a forward-thinking boss. Opportunity knocked again, and Kelly found herself running the business banking market with clients from $5 to $50 million. She’s also the bank’s Greater Maryland market president, with over 2,000 associates and eight business service lines.

Before assuming both roles at once, she sought advice and sponsorship from leaders including her former boss and mentor. She pays that help forward today as she serves the company’s Power of 10 mentorship program, initiating small groups for female employees to confidentially meet and support each other, both professionally and personally. She’s also part of the bank’s Diverse Leaders Sponsorship Program, which she says aims to help women advance more quickly, among other affinity groups to help advance women as well as veterans and minorities.

She advises women to seek sponsors and board directors to help guide their careers. She stresses rest, self-care, sleep and exercise, and supporting others in their quests to advance, taking the time to brag about another’s accomplishments while around other people. She also encourages women to “take risks” and pursue opportunities seemingly out of reach.

“Go for it even when you are only 60 percent prepared,” she says. “Don’t hold back and take a risk. You won’t be 100 percent (prepared) for everything.

“Weave in family obligations in the way you need to. You have to do it your way, not the way the person did before you.”

Kelly acknowledges her impact on younger women in the field and relishes the opportunity to inspire them. She remains in contact with individuals on teams all over the country and recommends the practice of making and maintaining connections to all women in the field.

She relishes her private time, which she spends with her husband of 36 years, Joe Kelly, and three adult children, as well as discussing works with her book club, reading historical fiction and relaxing at her beach house near Bethany Beach, Del.



Mary Ann Scully had three job offers after graduating from Seton Hill College. The daughter of an IRS business auditor, she planned to enroll in law school after a few years in the corporate world.

Instead, she “fell in love with banking.”

A retail management training program with First National Bank of Maryland in Baltimore gave her a start. After six months, she accepted a job as a corporate relations analyst and that led to a position in cash management, now called treasury management. She provided consulting services for large national companies for five years and earned a master’s degree at Loyola University Maryland at night. Scully’s career spanned a variety of areas from national lending to international banking, mergers and acquisitions and strategic planning.

“I had decided I liked the variety in banking,” she says, “(serving) a lot of customers in different industries in different countries.”

After 20 years, she was spending at least a week per month outside of the region. She had remarried in 1995, with the hopes of starting a family, coincidentally timed with a shift to executive management.

“It took a lot of courage to break that boundary,” she says of pursuing sectors with little female presence. “Doing that introduced me to the heart and soul of banking and gave me the initial preparation to start a bank and own a bank.”

As mergers and acquisitions monopolized the banking headlines, small and medium-sized businesses were disrupted with the out-of-state banks coming to Maryland, Scully says. After four years in mergers and acquisitions and strategic banking, plus the birth of her son, Scully returned to a more locally-based position, supervising 200 branches of community banks and small business relationship managers.

In April 2003, following First National’s sale to M&T Bank, Scully left the bank. Colleagues encouraged her to open her own community bank, which would benefit from her passion for community service. In August, she and a colleague created a business plan and asked the logical questions: Did it make sense? Do the numbers suggest a market? Would the bank have a good future? They set out to start in Howard County, meeting with potential investors. By Thanksgiving, they had raised $5 million in seed money, and by April, they had raised another $12 million. With regulatory approval, they opened two branch locations in August 2004.

Since its humble beginning nearly 15 years ago, Scully’s Howard Bank has focused on organic growth, one customer at a time. The bank survived the recession and through selective acquisition bought small bank branches in Harford, Baltimore and Cecil counties. In late 2017, Howard Bank took over First Mariner Bank and moved its headquarters to Baltimore. Today, the bank operates 20 branches with $2 billion in assets.

“Something I thought I would do for a couple of years before law school turned into a career,” Scully admits. “I started with a big company perspective and came back to a regional bank focused on small and medium-sized businesses.”

The bank’s success is attributed to its continued focus on the customer relationship and remaining locally owned and operated. “I always believed, you bank with people, not businesses,” Scully adds. “People decide to give you the business.” This is a philosophy her employees adopt, and they spread their impact to their customer relationships as well as through volunteer work in the community on local, not-for-profit boards.

Scully looks back on the battle to open and grow Howard Bank, attributing her drive, in part, to advice she received from her grandmother.

“Things in life worth fighting for are never easy,” she recalls.

Scully looks ahead to further growth in the short-term with larger lending capacity and more products to offer. She’s now serving companies from Annapolis to Newark, Del. “I believe if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. You can’t just stay in place.”

She also attributes her success to her father’s influence and his core values. The best thing, she says, was that he had two daughters and no sons, and the World War II veteran and “workaholic” poured his heart into preparing them to do what they aspired to in life.

Despite her tremendous success, she acknowledges her 21-year-old son is “certainly the best thing I ever did in my life.” Starting a family later in life was not conventional but it helped motivate her to start the bank and stay local.

Scully met her husband, golf pro James Charles Scully, during a golf lesson. She supports her son’s career choice – the college junior is eyeing video game or fantasy writing – just like she supports young women in banking. She was an early supporter of a Women in Leadership program at Howard Bank, which mentors many young women individually and welcomes girls who wish to shadow a day at the bank. One shadow became an intern and will be extended fulltime consideration after graduation.

Scully is admittedly “obsessed” with history. When her father passed away, she took over his membership in the Civil War Trust, now the American Battlefield Trust. She takes weekend trips to visit historical sites. Her daily outlet is exercise, running a few miles in the early morning before the start of the workday.

“My husband says I will go at this pace until I die,” she jokes. “I don’t see myself slowing down.” 

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