Spokane Journal of Business

Parting Thoughts with bank executive Phyllis Campbell


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A half-century after starting her banking career in Spokane, Phyllis Campbell, 71, has retired from her last banking role as chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co. for the financial services company’s Seattle-based Pacific Northwest region.

Campbell, who was born and raised in Spokane, started her banking career with Spokane-based Old National Bank in 1973. A Washington State University graduate with a degree in business administration, Campbell was the operations manager for several Old National Bank branches in Spokane and Spokane Valley.

Eventually, Campbell’s career took her to Seattle where she went on to become president of U.S. Bank of Washington, followed by a second career in philanthropy as the president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation, before stepping into her last banking role with JPMorgan Chase.

The Journal recently talked with Campbell about her time in Spokane, the challenges she faced as a female Asian American banker in the early 1970s, and the mentors who have guided her from the beginning of her career.


What drew you to a banking career?

They were the only ones that would hire me. Being a woman coming out of business school in the ‘70s was a lonely place to be. I had so many rejections. When the hiring manager for Old National Bank told me no several times, I finally got stubborn and decided to call him every day until he got tired of me. I called him for 35 business days and finally he said, “I’m going to hire you because I’m tired of you calling me every day.” Maybe I forced the door open a little bit, and they took a chance on me. But I always loved finance. I had a special interest in it and treated it like a puzzle to solve. It was a good fit after all.


Tell me about the branches you managed for Old National Bank.

After I finished the manager-training program, my first position was with the Country Homes branch on Division Street. Then I was promoted to oversee the Manito branch and a South Hill branch.

The Manito branch is where I met my first mentor and sponsor, Dave Clack, who was the chairman and CEO of Old National Bank at the time. He always talked about the Golden Rule—the more you give, the more you get back. It’s an unending cycle. He applied that to business and told us he wanted all of us to be involved in the community. (It) was the impetus for me to get more involved in the community.

Dave would stop by the Manito branch a lot, and often he would sit down, and we’d have these informal conversations where he would impart advice. He got to know me and opened a lot of doors for me down the road, more doors than I could have imagined at the time.


What is an example of how he was a mentor and opened doors for you?

He always said you can do more than you think you can do. I think particularly as a young woman and an Asian American woman, I probably didn’t have ambitions to do more. I thought if I could become a branch manager, that would be the best job I could ever have. And it was a great job, but it was by no means the limit of what I would do.

One example is when a new branch was opening in Spokane Valley. The manager I reported to directly told me he didn’t think I was ready for that role. I told him I’d like a chance. I lived in the Valley, and I thought I could grow it, but he said no. Dave heard about this and said, “Phyllis is ready. I want her to run not just the new branch that is being opened but the Spokane Valley district.”

Later in 1988, when Old National Bank was acquired and became U.S. Bank of Washington, Dave introduced me to the then CEO of U.S. Bank, Gerry Cameron. He said, “I want you to keep an eye on her. She’s got a lot more potential.” It was a personal introduction he didn’t have to make, and it certainly gave me a big endorsement, which opened another door and another sponsor to be part of my life.


Is that how you made your way to Seattle?

Yes, that’s right. I’ll never forget it too. I was happily running the Spokane Valley District and a larger region as well for U.S. Bank of Washington. I thought I would finish my career in Spokane. That was in about 1990.

Gerry Cameron flew in from Seattle, and I met him at a restaurant off the freeway at Freya Street. I remember that lunch very well. He said, “I’d like you to take this big job running all the branches for Washington state.” I said, if I can do it from Spokane, I might do it. He said, “No, you must move to Seattle.” I asked him how long I had to decide, and he said until 3 p.m. that day. And it was already 1:30 p.m.

I never thought I would have that opportunity. I never thought I would move. After talking with my husband, I called Gerry back and we said yes.


That’s a very short time to make such a big decision. How long were you in that role?

I did that role for about seven years. Then Gerry called me to his office one day and asked me what I wanted to do next. I couldn’t think of anything, I had come so far in such a short period. He pressed me and I said, how about your job then?

Within a week he called me and said, “I didn’t ask you that question casually. I asked you because I’m moving to the headquarters and going to become the vice chairman of the company and I want you to take my job.”

He is the one who gave me the next big piece of advice and one that I now always give to young people: Get ready, be ready. He said, “Well you are ready for this job. I know you don’t think so, but you’re ready and you’ve been ready for a long time.”

So, I became president of U.S. Bank of Washington. Which was a shock to me to be offered that in my early 40s.


Do you travel back to Spokane often?

Yes, I still have all my family in Spokane—my three brothers. I have a strong connection to Spokane and 40 years of relationships. My father used to own a dry-cleaning business called Beacon Cleaners, which has expanded since he sold it. My mom was a medical technician at Sacred Heart hospital her whole career.


Are your parents also from Spokane?

My mother came to Spokane from Hawaii to go to college. She was Japanese American born in Hawaii. My father was originally from Seattle, but unfortunately because Japanese Americans were being interned off the West Coast during World War II, his family was moved out of Seattle and into internment camps in Idaho and North Dakota. My father was still in high school. His older brother found him a foster home in Spokane, and my father was then able to finish high school at Gonzaga Prep. He then enrolled in the Army and came back to Spokane and met my mom.


Was he able to reunite with his parents?

They all did reunite and settled in Spokane, and eventually, a lot of my family moved back to Seattle after World War II. That was the migration of a lot of Japanese Americans who ended up in Idaho and eventually went back to their hometown.

There’s a silver lining to everything. My father was loyal to the U.S. to the end. He was a citizen and enrolled in the Army to show his loyalty. He was resilient, but he couldn’t find a job. There was a lot of discrimination after the war, but he persisted. A dry cleaner in Spokane took pity on him and hired him, taught him the trade, and he eventually bought and started his own business. There are lessons learned despite adversity.


Was that discrimination still present when you entered banking?

Well sure. I don’t think it was conscious bias, more unconscious bias. Several times in my career, different managers have told me I couldn’t take a job as a corporate officer because white male chief financial officers would not accept a young woman who looked different. There is a tendency sometimes to accept that, because that is what you are told. What Dave (Clack) did for me is he said, “You can’t accept that, and I don’t accept that, so let’s give you a chance.” It’s people like Dave who stick up for others that (taught me) that sometimes you need to force a door open, because there is bias. That was a lesson for me. I try to pay it forward by looking around and asking, are others experiencing bias? Do I need to open a door?


How did you help lead the transition of Washington Mutual to JPMorgan Chase?

In 2001, I stepped down as president of U.S. Bank of Washington. I felt I had a good career and wanted to try something different. I became president of the Seattle Foundation, a nonprofit similar to the Innovia Foundation in Spokane. The financial crisis was in 2008. That was the failure of a lot of financial institutions: Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and, in September, Washington Mutual, which was an iconic institution for the region and nationally.

I got a call from (JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO) Jamie Dimon’s office in which I was offered a job helping with the Washington Mutual-to-JPMorgan Chase transition. I said no, I left banking and like what I’m doing. But in 2009, a headhunter called again and asked to fly to New York and meet with Jamie Dimon and just talk about the job.

Over time, talking to Jamie, friends, and advisers, they would tell me I’m one of few people with philanthropy, banking, and community knowledge, and I could use all this to make sure the WaMu-to-Chase transition goes well.


How was the transition?

Change was hard for the community and our employees. WaMu was a beloved institution. Many people on the West Coast had not heard of Chase. It was hard for customers and the community to accept the new company. I got asked constantly, are you going to invest in the community like WaMu did? Are you going to be involved? I said, yes, give us a chance. Over time, people saw that, but in the first years, it was hard.


What plans do you have for retirement?

The good news is I don’t have to have all the answers, and I don’t want to have all the answers. I want more balance. 

I’ll learn to say no. I’m already getting a lot of requests for my time, and it’s flattering, but I want to have more time for my family, friends, and fun, along with the business things.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Karina Elias
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Reporter Karina Elias covers the banking and finance industry. A California native, she attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Karina loves salsa dancing, traveling, baking, cuddling with her dog, and writing creative fiction and non-fiction.  

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