Wells Fargo President Jill Leary retiring after 39 years in banking
February 28, 2010
If you go
What: Open house and refreshments with Wells Fargo Community Bank President Jill Leary, who is retiring after 30 years in local banking
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Friday
Where: Wells Fargo bank, at Lincoln Avenue and Third Street in downtown Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs — After years of running local banks, running on local streets and running a household, Jill Leary is about to slow down and take a breath.
"I might sleep for a month after I retire," Leary, 59, said last week in her office at Wells Fargo bank, where she has been community bank president for more than six years.
Leary's last day on the job is Friday. Wells Fargo is hosting an open house with refreshments from noon to 4 p.m. that day to honor Leary's service, say goodbye and celebrate her retirement.
She's worked in that same building at Third Street and Lincoln Avenue for 30 years, a time span that has seen five banks on the busy downtown Steamboat Springs corner. When Leary and her husband, Jim, moved to Steamboat from Denver in October 1979 — she already had nine years of banking experience on the Front Range under her belt — Jill Leary walked into the building as teller supervisor at what was then Routt County National Bank. In October 1982, the bank at Third and Lincoln came under the ownership of Intrawest, a company not related to the Intrawest that today is the parent company of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. In May 1987, the building became United Bank, then Norwest Bank in 1991. The merger with Wells Fargo was in May 1998, Leary said. The bank changed its name to Wells Fargo in May 2000.
Leary accessed all that history in about 30 seconds, pulling a file out of a large cabinet in her office closet.
"I'm a hoarder of information," she said. "I've been going through my files thinking, 'God, I can't believe I kept this.'"
During her time in the building, Leary progressed from teller supervisor to assistant cashier, managing day-to-day operations; cashier, a position equivalent to an assistant vice president; store manager, equivalent to vice president; and then community bank president.
Yampa Valley Bank President PJ Wharton said Leary's straight-line career path is increasingly rare in a banking industry frequently shaken up by mergers and acquisitions.
"To have a 30-year banking career at the same bank, that's extraordinary — that is very, very difficult to find in this environment," Wharton said last week, adding that changes in ownership often result in different management styles and turnover.
"The culture of the bank will change dramatically, so employees leave," he said. "To stay and keep that consistency of management style is very unusual — to me, that speaks highly to her loyalty and commitment."
Wharton said he's known Leary for about 10 years, beginning when he was a Wells Fargo community bank president in Gunnison. He called Leary a "straight shooter" with a tremendous reputation in the banking community.
"As a president of a competing bank, I honestly say we'll miss her," Wharton said. "I categorize her as a very fair competitor — she doesn't exaggerate, she doesn't malign the competition. … She wants what's best for her bank customers in the community."
Ed Hill worked from 1977 to 1987 at Routt County National Bank, where he reached the position of executive vice president. He said Leary's talent was evident nearly as soon as she walked through the bank's doors.
"She was a pretty young lady at that time, but very, very confident — throughout her career, she's been outstanding," Hill said last week. "She was just a top-notch person, very likable, was an excellent supervisor, very conscientious as to the accuracy of what was going on in the teller line and with the bookkeeping."
In those days, Hill said, banks conducted all their bookkeeping and other management duties in-house. Leary said the switch to large-scale outsourcing has been the biggest change in the banking industry during her career.
"In the first probably 15 years, we did everything in the bank, and now, everything is outsourced," she said. "Everybody just learns their own part."
Routt County National Bank had about 75 employees on site, Leary recalled. That's a drastic change to the about 35 employees now in Steamboat, including at the City Market branch, for the much larger Wells Fargo. Leary is president of both Steamboat banks and one in Winter Park.
She said she usually arrives at work between 6:15 and 6:30 a.m. to open the bank, look at financial numbers, check customer feedback reports and plan her day. Her alarm rings at about 4:50 a.m., Leary said, and she's not one to hit the "snooze" button.
"I'm pretty much up," she said.
Hill noted that in addition to her career and community work, Leary also raised two children with Jim. The Learys' 24-year-old son lives in Vail, and their 27-year-old daughter lives in Sausalito, Calif.
Hill recalled Jill Leary's high level of energy.
"She would run during her lunch hours — she was a long-distance runner, and she was equally good at that (as banking) — she was one of the top runners here in Steamboat for a long time," Hill said.
Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said Leary and Wells Fargo have been title sponsors of the Steamboat Marathon for years.
"They kind of own that event," Evans Hall said. "Wells Fargo comes to the table on just about everything we do."
Evans Hall said Leary's community involvement has occurred regardless of the name on the downtown building where she works.
"No matter who the bank has been, we know that we can trust the people within, and part of that has been because of Jill Leary," Evans Hall said.
"We'll miss her," said Tracy Barnett, of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs. "She's a great supporter of Mainstreet — she's always right there for us when we need her."
Barnett added another extraordinary note about Leary's career.
"She was the first female president of a bank in downtown Steamboat," Barnett said. "That was a pretty big coup at the time."
Last week, the smell of flowers permeated Leary's office from bouquets in front of the windows. The flowers were evidence of what Leary said she is most proud of in her career.
"That I've been able to make it, still, a personal, local bank. That I've been able to personalize my relationship with customers and employees," Leary said. "I'll probably be retired and come in here and make sure everyone has been waited on."