Melanie Dressel—We Should All Have an Obituary LikeThis

It deserved being clipped from the Wall Street Journal, “Low_Key Chief Led Bank’s Acquisition Drive,” March 4, 2017, p. A9.. An inspirational obituary. Melanie Dressel, the CEO of Columbia Banking System, Inc. died too soon at the age of 64, on February 19, 2017.

Let’s get the business accomplishments of this really successful community banker on the table:

• Took the bank from $1.7 billion in assets to $9.5 billion
• The bank survived the crisis and grew because she had “a traditional balance sheet.” Everyone kept asking why Columbia was not making as much as the other banks. Her response was that what the other banks were doing was “not a business model.”

• The bank benefited – it made 5 acquisitions post-crisis because, well, they had the capital.
• At the time of her death, the bank had 140 branches and a pending merger she negotiated will take that figure to 150 and those assets to $12 billion

Her management style:

• She had a “no jerk” rule for hires, i.e., people who are all about themselves.
• She asked a chief operating officer to arrange a tour for her of the bank branches for West Coast Bank, which Columbia had recently acquired. He set up a 15-stop tour. She sent him back to the drawing board, “No, all of them.” He originally had a one-day schedule for the 15. She took one week and stopped at 75 branches.
• “My customers built the bank.”

The personal (and this is the part that will make you rethink your life)

• She grew up in a small town where her parents ran a gift shop and watched them open up the store for a late call from someone who had forgotten a birthday.
• She said that when she traveled with her CFO, he was always mistaken for the CEO, noting, “It’s more like I am there to carry his bags.” She found it funny.
• On a weekend business call for the acquisition of the Bank of Astoria, the participants heard a “ding.” When asked what she was doing she said that she was baking cookies to send to one of her sons who was away at college. The multi-tasking CEO got the cookies to her son and the bank.
• One of the first flowers to arrive following the announcement of her death came from a retired janitor at the bank who said that they were friends.

Pause. Rethink. Change, as needed.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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