Kelli Young chats with a customer from her desk at D.L. Evans Bank. Knowing her clients both professionally and personally can be tricky, but Young says working with people using her head and heart gives her extra job satisfaction.
Express photos by David N. Seelig
"I remember going into the bank and the manager was just this bigger-than-life guy," said Kelli Young, manager of the Hailey Branch of D. L. Evans Bank. "The manager was always male. There might be female secretaries...but there were always male bankers."
Not so any more. Women are the dominant force in banking in the Wood River Valley. Both branch managers at D. L. Evans are female, as are the managers of Mountain West Bank.
Even as they say they have faced challenges during the courses of their respective careers, many agree that being female hasn't hindered--in fact, has helped--their success.
Vive la reine
Ivy Sherburne, regional manager of the Pioneer Federal Credit Union, said the days of the exclusively male bank manager are over, at least in this valley.
"In the old days, the role of the manager was traditionally held by men, but that has evolved," she said. "I can count on one hand the number of men I have worked with."
Sherburne has worked in banking for more than 25 years, during which time she said the industry has been mostly female-dominated. Young and fellow D. L. Evans Manager Susan Morgan Share had slightly different experiences.
"Back in the '80s, banking was so male-dominated," said Share, who is manager of the Ketchum branch.
Share and her colleagues said they've faced little opposition in the valley based solely on their gender. Share said she believes that that's due to the increasing education, the skills they've gained in the workplace and their strong, driven personalities.
Karen McNary, branch manager of the Mountain West Bank in Ketchum, said she was never made to feel inferior because she was a woman in a traditionally male industry.
"Even at First Bank of Idaho, where a lot of the loan processors were men, that was never an issue for me," she said.
However, she said it might all be a matter of perspective, and that certain women might feel pressure when she did not.
"I've always been a go-getter," she said. "If you have a tendency to let people think you're inferior, then that can weigh on you a bit."
Perhaps it's that drive that helps valley women succeed in the banking industry, as Share also said that the strong personalities of Wood River Valley women help them overcome all obstacles on their way to the top. Though Share is not native to the valley, she said she shares that same drive.
"Has it been difficult? Absolutely," she said.
But she said that in her early days of banking, she barely would have noticed if anyone had challenged her based on her gender.
"In those years, I was so focused on me and what I was driving towards," she said. "I was so strong in that focus."
Young said she agrees female success is about setting a goal and determining to meet it.
"It's the journey you want to go on," she said. "We're as capable as anyone else. [Banking] is an equal-opportunity profession."
Where it began
Despite their success, only Sherburne said she has always felt banking was her calling.
"Even in high school, I knew I wanted to work for a bank," she said.
The yen started when a close friend got a job as a teller at a local bank.
"I was so jealous!" she said. "That was exactly what I wanted to do."
Her first banking job was at First Security Bank in Hailey, where she worked for 16 years before she was transferred to the bank's branch in Sun Valley.
"It was just two employees and a fireplace," she said, a tiny office that closed at 3 p.m. every day.
Since then, she's moved on to the role of regional manager for Pioneer Federal Credit Union, a role she said combines two of her passions.
"I love working with numbers and I love the interaction with people even more."
Share said it was people who drew her into her role as well.
"I'm a people person," she said. "I wanted to strive to help my clients become successful."
Share's interest in banking began when her father, a struggling Nebraska farmer, took a job as a lender at a local bank to make ends meet.
"I saw how he affected the other farmers who were struggling," she said. "That was a huge, huge influence."
Share began her own career in 1984 at a small bank in Phoenix called Merabank, which was bought by Bank of America several years later. When that happened, Share took every job in the bank she could get her hands on.
"I was all over," she said. "I wanted to be in different areas of the bank so I'd get a complete understanding of the industry."
Share worked in commercial loans, customer service, mortgage payoffs and loan processing before working her way up to operations and management.
Young also said she worked various jobs before her current role, though not all of them in banking. Her first job was at the Mercantile in Hailey, where she waited on many employees of the First Security Bank down the street.
"They liked my personality," she said, and when she went into the bank to make a truck payment for her dad in 1979, she was offered a job.
Still, she said, she didn't consider it her career.
"I thought, 'Oh, this will be something fun to learn,'" she said. "I just never would have thought I'd be manager of a bank."
Even though some of these women seem to have fallen into their professions, all said they faced challenges while balancing a demanding professional life against the duties inherent in being a mom.
"It was a balancing act," Sherburne said.
Susan Morgan Share, manager of the D.L. Evans in Ketchum, and Karen McNary, Mountain West Bank’s Ketchum branch manager.
She raised a son and daughter while working at First Security Bank.
Share said she felt her demanding job had more of an impact on her youngest daughter, now 20 and a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, but her need to show her girls the possibility of professional success was vital.
"I wanted to be successful, and I wanted my girls to see that I was successful," she said. "I wanted to raise strong girls."
Share said her role as her family's disciplinarian has influenced the way that she interacts with her staff. Just the way she'd try to guide her children to do the right thing, she tried to guide her employees, she said.
"You care about your staff, and you want them to grow, because they're the ones that make you successful, too," she said. "As a parent, those are things you want for your children."
McNary said parenting her two sons made her a more understanding employer, giving her more empathy with her younger employees.
"You have a tendency to understand their needs a little more," she said. "There are some girls who are the same age as my boys. You have some more compassion for them.
"I understand it when they call in, or," she said with a laugh, "when they go out the night before and maybe aren't feeling so well the next morning."
Person to person, face to face
That empathy and personal connection can pose a challenge at times, the managers said, especially living in a town where they run into many of their clients outside the office.
"Sometimes it takes me a few hours to get out of the grocery store!" Share said, a problem McNary said she runs into as well.
"That's the biggest challenge, people always want to talk shop," she said. "Sometimes you want to leave the shop."
Young said that sometimes making financial decisions about people whom she knows personally could pose a problem, but she always steps back and looks at the problem professionally.
"Sometimes, I have to step back and say, 'I have to think with my head and not my heart,'" she said.
"You have to learn to separate personal and business," Share echoed. "[But] it's very important to connect with people on a personal level. I take a personal interest in each client. If I can't find an answer for them, I'll find someone who can."
Sherburne said she feels the same way about her clients, and if she ever has to turn down a loan, it never ends there.
"I'm never just turning them away," she said, adding that she'll search for every alternative to help her clients. "I love what I do. I'm passionate about it. It's almost a hobby. If you like doing it, you just want to get better at it."
McNary, too, said she is motivated by her clients to stay in banking.
"I never imagined I'd become a bank manager," McNary said. "[But] I enjoy what I do, and I absolutely love my clients. Right now, I don't think I want to change."