Meet a banker who pays it forward. A combined gift from former KeyCorp CEO Beth E. Mooney and the KeyBank Foundation, made in honor of Mooney’s legacy of inclusion, will support ASPIRE, a Cleveland Clinic program that provides pathways to nursing careers for high school students from underrepresented populations. Mooney is the Chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Board of Directors.
How would you describe your leadership style?
When I became CEO of Key,1 corporate America talked a lot about shareholders. I remember thinking, it’s not just about your shareholders — it’s about your employees, your customers and your communities, and what you do to make their dreams come true. If you do that well, your shareholders should do well, too. For any leader, serving all of your constituents across the board is the true measure of success. I came up through the ranks in banking and held many different jobs. Along the way, I not only learned a lot about how banks work, but I found my passion and purpose in leading people. Some people might describe me as business-minded, but my leadership style is rooted in the people side of the business, with an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. I’d like to think that I have a knack for inspiring people. I’m down-to-earth.
Please tell us about the time that you refused to leave a bank executive’s office until he hired you.
Well, I can be very tenacious and very persuasive, too! I started as a secretary in a bank in the late 1970s. Back then, banks had management training programs. I wanted to go to night school and get my MBA. I went to all the banks in downtown Dallas. When I got to Republic Bank of Dallas, I ended up with Keith Schmidt, who ran their program. He only hired people with business degrees. I had a history degree, but I was like, “No problem — I took one accounting course.” He had me look at credit files and a financial statement. He became intrigued by how badly I wanted the job. At the end of three hours, he looked at me and said, “I’m not going to sleep nights if I don’t offer you a job. Furthermore, the bank will pay for your MBA. I don’t know if you’re going to make it, but prove me wrong.” Somebody has to believe in you. It’s what you do with those opportunities that becomes the story that you write of your life.
You were the first woman to lead a top 20 bank, although you’ve said that you look forward to the day when that will be a footnote, not a headline.
We’ve made progress. There are more female CEOs and more women in management, but it’s not a footnote yet. It will be a great day when it’s no longer a headline. It’s something to celebrate whenever a woman or a person of color or someone from a diverse population is chosen for a significant role of responsibility. Every time someone breaks the barrier, we’re one day closer to the time when it’s the expectation, not the exception. I tried to set a good example. I hope I did my part to help create a path forward for others to follow.
Speaking of a path forward, how does Cleveland Clinic’s ASPIRE program align with your priorities?
At its most fundamental, it’s about giving people an opportunity, and it’s a community-based program. I’ve always said that part of our job is taking care of the communities that we serve. ASPIRE is creating a pipeline of talent for nursing roles that desperately need to be filled.2 It checks the boxes of everything I believe in, and it mirrors what I was the beneficiary of in my own career: having someone believe in you and give you a chance, which is often half the battle.
You serve on the boards of several organizations, including Cleveland Clinic. How do you decide where to put your energy?
Your community needs your gifts as much as your career does. You have to believe in the mission of the organization. You have to believe it meets a need. And you have to believe in the people who work there and their commitment to making a difference. I can’t think of a greater privilege than being affiliated with Cleveland Clinic.3 We’ve been the future of healthcare for 100 years. As stewards of that legacy, how do we transform healthcare over the next 100 years? It will take bold thinking, and I see that at Cleveland Clinic. We’re empowering people to think big, so we can make a big difference.
What role will philanthropy play in shaping that future?
None of this is possible without philanthropy. Our outcomes in patient care, research and education require investments. If we didn’t have generous supporters who believe in Cleveland Clinic’s mission, we couldn’t reach these heights.
- Mooney was Chairman and CEO of KeyCorp from 2011 to 2020, when she retired. In 2017, she was named Banker of the Year by American Banker magazine.
- ASPIRE was launched in 2017 with funding from the Howley Foundation.
- Mooney was elected to the Cleveland Clinic Board in 2006. She became Chair in 2019.