Santander Bank North America’s Laura Dursee has been working in the banking industry for over 30 years, but her recent move to Santander has been defining. She followed several esteemed members of her network to the bank and was met with a culture of respect and the ability to make a true difference, something she values given her extensive functional expertise in operations.
What other milestones marked her path to Senior Vice President and how is she balancing her priorities in this period of her career? Recently, Dursee shared insights into her career path, her accomplishments and the challenges she’s overcome to be in her spot today. She also gave us a look at her inspirations, the network that supports her and how she balances the personal with the professional.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Laura Dursee
Senior Vice President, Head of Operations at Santander Bank, North America
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
My career in banking started when I was 18 years old and I took an entry-level job in Card Services while going to college part time. I earned my college degrees at night while working full time, with the added benefit of the bank paying for my tuition as a retention effort. It worked. I was fortunate to have had a long, successful career at that bank for more than 30 years. I learned quickly that hard work, integrity and treating people respectfully would be rewarded. Even as a young woman at the bank, I never felt a “glass ceiling.” I continually set realistic goals for myself and found that any role I aspired to, I achieved. I was privileged to work with talented people and have had a few key mentors and managers who guided and helped encourage my strengths and develop my opportunities.
As I worked my way up, I had the opportunity to work in different lines of business within Retail & Consumer Banking, learning different products and skills. I gravitated toward Servicing and Operations because I found that I loved working with people and impacting the customer experience. In high school, I dreamed of being a teacher. In the end, as a leader in Operations, I’ve been a teacher, coach, mentor and cheerleader!
Working for a large firm, I was able to continuously take on more responsibility — as well as breadth of experience — without having to look externally. This included taking lateral moves to learn a new business or reducing the size of management oversight for the chance to specialize.
This past year, my role was moved out of New York to Texas. As a native New Yorker and current resident of the great state of New Jersey with five children — three of which are teenagers in high school — relocating was not an option for me at this time. I enjoyed my first summer off in a very long time and was very thoughtful about the next step in my career.
I had the privilege of previously working with some very talented people who had moved to Santander in recent years. These were colleagues that I remained close to because they were role models and mentors and very important to me, both personally and professionally. My network is extremely valuable to me, especially during pivotal times like these.
Santander’s strong employee culture and customer brand promise built on respect, along with the opportunity to do some great work with colleagues that I held dear, made the decision to join a very easy one. I am thrilled to be part of the Santander family.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
Taking over management of a struggling operation post-financial crisis and turning the performance around within a year.
The work involved changing people, process and technology. It also required changing a culture and focusing the team on the right metrics to measure the health of the organization.
I had the chance to develop existing talent and bring in new talent, which is key. In the end, we dramatically improved the customer experience, the cost and the quality of the organization.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
I faced the challenge of being brought into a line of business for my operations and production management experience while learning the product. Shortly after I joined the business, a new leader was brought in who valued the product knowledge over the functional expertise. I had to work diligently to show improvement using my expertise and leadership skills in a very challenging environment.
I was able to meet my goals in the end and prove my value. I will add though that the "happiness factor" is extremely important, and I eventually moved out of that business to achieve balance.
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
You have to love what you do. We sacrifice time away from the priorities outside of work to focus on our work. It is very important to be happy in your work in order to make those sacrifices worthwhile.
Surround yourself with people who make you better and who you can trust. Seek the advice of good mentors and colleagues who will become your valued network.
Why do you love where you work?
I love working for Santander because I am surrounded by talented people who are willing to share knowledge and move forward on a journey of continuous improvement. I love the culture of respect, the strong focus on our brand and the pride people have who work for Santander.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? And why?
Many years ago, while leading a strategic initiative in Six Sigma, I was introduced to Martha Gallo, the firm's head of Audit, who was the Executive Sponsor for Six Sigma for the Firm. Martha became a trusted mentor and advisor to me in my career for many years. Interestingly, we are both breast cancer survivors and our relationship deepened through that experience.
Mentoring happens in many ways. Your best mentors are sometimes role models you admire outside of your work environment. In recent years, I have found that the best guidance and advice comes from a small group of women I am proud to call my friends — four other working moms who have known me for the better part of 20 years. They are accomplished women who hold senior roles in Finance, Sales, Trading and Project Management. Their insights and guidance, gleaned from years of professional experience as well as personal interaction, transcend industry. Chris, Carol, Megan and Theresa are my Fairygodbosses.
What do you do when you're not working?
I spend precious time with my family — my husband, Rich, and our five children: Quinn, Colin, Charlotte, Ciara and Timothy. The three youngest are all involved in High School athletics, so we spend a lot of time at games, holding psych parties and being fans. I love to read, and spend time at the beach, as well.
If you could have dinner with one famous person - dead or alive - who would it be?
There are the obvious answers, like Eleanor Roosevelt or Condoleeza Rice, but right now, my honest answer is Bruce Springsteen. I am a New Yorker turned Jersey girl, and married to a local guy for over 20 years, so I have become an avid Bruce Springsteen fan.
I was exposed to musicians at a young age, even played a little (very little) guitar in my day, and I have a huge respect for and fascination with songwriters. Springsteen’s lyrics are like poetry, reaching into the depths of emotion surrounding family, home and aspirations for a better life. He is a rock and roll legend. At the same time, he and his wife, Patty Scialfa, have balanced careers and raised a family.
I would love to hear about his inspirations, and their experiences over a casual dinner in a local place in his beloved Asbury Park.
Lightning Round: What is your karaoke song?
“Sweet Caroline” … Isn't it everyone's?
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
“Gone With the Wind.”
Lightning Round: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
“To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Lightning Round: What would you buy if you won the lottery?
A beach house where it is summer year-round.
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