Beth Mooney is not the type to back away from a challenge. And she doesn’t take no for an answer. No wonder she is the only female CEO of a top 20 bank in the United States. She has been running Cleveland-based KeyCorp (KEY) since 2011 and has built it into the nation’s 13th largest bank, also earning her a spot on Fortune’s list of the Most Powerful Women in Business.
Her rise to the top wasn’t easy. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin she took the only job in banking she could get—bank secretary—at First City National Bank in Houston. But through hard work and grit, she eventually worked in every corner of the banking business at a half dozen different financial institutions moving nine times in 16 years, ultimately rising to the top job at KeyCorp.
“I think we can sit here and remember the day when the President of the bank took your client to lunch but you weren’t allowed to come because the club they were going to didn’t allow women,” she recalls. “So I think some of the hardest part was in early days, being accepted.”
What’s her advice to ambitious women today? “Don’t hold back,”says Mooney. “I never said ‘no’ to a challenge. I never said ‘no’ to an opportunity. Have enough confidence in your own ability and your ability to work hard and make good decisions and go into the unknown. And I think you will learn more than you’ll ever imagine you can learn and you build confidence by accepting those challenges versus hanging back and saying ‘I’m not ready’ or ‘I don’t want to do that.’ ”
Watch the video above to hear more of our conversation with Mooney.