Phyllis Campbell’s philosophy in life is to pay it forward.
The Spokane native initially found her love for business while working at her family’s dry cleaning company. Her banking career began some years later at Old National Bank in Spokane during the 1970s. When she took over operations at U.S. Bank, she became the first woman president and CEO to lead a bank in Washington state.
Now, as chairwoman of the Pacific Northwest for JPMorgan Chase & Co. – its most senior executive in Washington, Oregon and Idaho – she’s giving back to the community by helping customers achieve their financial goals.
An accidental banker
Campbell, who has four siblings, grew up in northeast Spokane. Her mother, a Japanese-American from Hawaii, moved to Spokane for college, going on to become a medical technologist at Sacred Heart Hospital. Campbell’s father, who was interned in Idaho during World War II, attended Gonzaga Prep and enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the war was over, he returned to Spokane, met Campbell’s mother and launched a dry cleaning business.
“We did everything from waiting on customers to bookkeeping, which was, to me, a great experience,” Campbell said. “So, when people ask me, ‘Where did you get your love for business?’ I’ll say I was really fortunate to have worked for the family dry cleaning business.”
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Washington State University in 1973, Campbell found herself on an undecided career path. However, Spokane-based Old National Bank was hiring for a management training program.
“I thought I’d love to work for a bank in Spokane, but I was told the bank wasn’t hiring women. And I thought, ‘Well, why not?’ ” Campbell said. “So, I called every day. It was after about 35 days of calling them every day, they did finally hire me.”
“I didn’t know anything about banking,” she added. “But I had long admired Old National Bank and the management, including Dave Clack, and I just felt very lucky to be part of that team.”
Student to branch manager
Clack, a former chairman of Old National Bank, became a mentor for Campbell while she was in the bank’s management training program.
“I learned every job in the bank and then was given my first branch to manage at a pretty young age. Dave was one of those people that encouraged me and saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” she said. “I really thought to myself at that point, being the daughter of a dry cleaner managing a branch would probably be the biggest job I could ever have, and I just felt so fortunate and continued to get opportunities to manage larger branches.’ ”
Clack said Campbell was an outstanding employee.
“As time went on, Phyllis just continued to have stellar performance, so she got to the point where she wanted to be branch manager,” he said. “We had a difficult branch with a lot of turnover of personnel for a variety of reasons. She said she’d like to get the bank back on track, and did.”
Clack encouraged Campbell to pursue an executive MBA at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. She commuted to Seattle every weekend to attend classes, while working full time in Spokane.
“That was (Clack’s) investment in me. And that was something I’ve always appreciated,” she said.
Women in leadership
The banking industry has changed since the 1970s, with more women now in leadership positions, Campbell said.
“Back when I started in banking, there were very few role models in banking or other positions,” she said. “Now, I look at JPMorgan Chase and our boss, Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO, makes gender diversity a huge priority. He has really made sure all of us get opportunities.”
Campbell said women make up 35 percent of the senior leadership team worldwide at JPMorgan Chase.
“That tells you we’ve made tremendous progress,” she said.
However, there’s still room for improvement on corporate boards, Campbell said.
Campbell, who is an independent director of Alaska Air Group, said while women make up half of the airline’s board, the directorship of corporate boards nationally is only 20 percent women.
“I think that says we still have a ways to go. That’s something I care about and I work on. I believe gender diversity brings more good questions to the table,” she said. “It helps business, it brings different perspectives and it brings challenging questions.
“I just make sure I speak to a lot of young women in high schools and colleges to talk about what it takes to see more women step up to leadership positions so there can be a better situation for our companies and our communities.” she added.
Get ready and be ready
Gary Cameron, another mentor for Campbell, gave her advice that stuck throughout her career: “Get ready and be ready.”
“You need to be in a state of readiness with your education, your network, but also to make sure that you are ready and willing to step through a door, especially if a door opens that you don’t expect,” Campbell said. “It always has come back to me as an important piece of advice, especially for women.”
Campbell said risk-taking is important for career success.
When Cameron asked Campbell to relocate to Seattle for a job to oversee all JPMorgan Chase & Co. branches in Washington, she initially hesitated because her family was deeply rooted in Spokane.
“I never thought I would leave Spokane. This was our hometown,” she said. “When I was asked to move, I was managing all the branches in Eastern Washington, which again, was the biggest job I thought I would have.”
Cameron told her it’s a “get ready” opportunity. So Campbell and her husband made the move to Seattle.
“If you are a little nervous about it, you sometimes need to just do it, and I think that’s an important piece of advice,” she said.
Paying it forward
Campbell said her motto in life is to always pay it forward.
Campbell’s father wanted her to attend WSU after high school, but the move was financially unfeasible.
That is until one day when Campbell received a $2,500 check in the mail from the Josie Comstock Shadle Scholarship for kids in need.
“It was the amount of money that allowed us to make the decision for me to go to college,” she said. “And I’ll never forget that.”
While at Old National Bank, she held a number of civic positions, including chairwoman of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and serving on the Centennial Trail steering committee.
“It’s not enough to be good at your profession. You really have to do things for others and be a good person,” she said. “Acts of generosity were always important to the bank, and, for my family, it’s something that has always been a natural part of our philosophy.”
Campbell got her start in nonprofit work after she resigned from U.S. Bank to pursue a different career path.
“I thought I was really fortunate to have such a wonderful opportunity, but I wanted to do something different,” she said. “I actually thought I wanted to run a small business, similar to what I had grown up in.”
She was serving on the board of the Seattle Foundation, the largest community foundation in Washington. Board members approached Campbell to ask if she would be interested in running the foundation.
“I wasn’t interested at first, but then people said to me, ‘It’s like running a small business, only it’s a business about growing philanthropy grants for nonprofits and growing the community,’ ” she said. “The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about it.”
She was selected from a pool of finalists for the position in 2003 and remained president and CEO of the foundation for six years.
“It really ended up being a lot of serendipity,” she said. “I never would have predicted that I would have run a nonprofit. I learned a lot. It was a wonderfully rewarding experience.”
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