Leadership is not always an inherent trait. Sometimes natural leadership skills aren’t recognized until one is forced to lead.
When Lori Cestra was named captain of her 8th-grade basketball team, she became very aware of the responsibilities a leader must carry. “I grew a lot in that role. It made me understand the importance of relationships, the value of recognition of your teammates, and what it means to be a mentor.”
As Lori steps into her role this month as the first elected female Chairperson of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers, she’ll bring with her the leadership skills instilled in 8th grade and then cultivated and developed over a 20+ year career in community banking.
Banking was not something Cestra had aspired to until, while a student at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, she interned at a small commercial bank in the Pittsburgh area.
“I was there for three summers throughout college,” shares Cestra. “I worked in every department — credit administration, finance, operations. Those experiences gave me a unique insight into how a bank operates. I fell in love with the credit side of the business. I wanted to help others succeed.”
Upon graduation, the bank offered Cestra a position in the credit department. Within a year, she was a manager. Soon after, she was approached by the newly opened Enterprise Bank to be a relationship manager assistant.
For two years, she worked in that position and then became a relationship manager with her own slate of clients. She was the youngest relationship manager at Enterprise Bank.
“Lori has a very strong work ethic,” says Chuck Leyh, President and CEO, Chairman of the Board and founding member of Enterprise Bank. “She knows the banking industry, and she understands people. She knows how to build relationships. We were confident in her ability to succeed.”
And successes, she has. Her current position EVP/COO at Enterprise Bank, was not a straight path through the ranks but was cultivated as she relocated, had a family, and worked for another organization.
In 2003, family circumstances had her move to eastern Pennsylvania, where over the next three years, she gave birth to her three daughters — two of them twins. “I became a stay at home mom. And I enjoyed every moment of that experience as much as I enjoyed my work in banking.”
As the girls got a little older, Lori started thinking about working again. She knew her expertise at packaging SBA loans was a valuable skill that certain banks could use. She put together a marketing packet touting her skills and accomplishments. She also set her criteria for a new job. It had to be part-time, flexible, and within 5 miles of her home in Phoenixville, PA.
“Knowing I had marketable skills and determining what was going to work best for my family, allowed me to approach these banks with confidence. I would be flexible, too, but I had my set parameters.”
Soon she became friends with the receptionist at every bank in Phoenixville. Her belief in the importance of building relationships helped get her information into the right hands.
At Phoenixville Federal Bank & Trust, the receptionist told her they were not SBA lenders, but she would talk to the Commercial Lending Manager.
When Richard Kunsch, the hiring manager and then Vice Chairman/CEO at Phoenixville Federal, reached out to his business associate Chuck Leyh at Enterprise Bank to learn more about Lori, Leyh sung her praises, “Hire her. If you don’t have a position for her, create one.”
Lori worked three days a week for a year at Phoenixville, then went to full time, and became their chief credit officer.
When asked what she loves about community banking, Cestra tells us, “Nothing fills me more than helping clients — helping people start businesses and succeed, then getting to see it come full circle. Watching families making money, creating jobs for others in the community, allowing them to put their kids through school. We make decisions that fulfill dreams.”
Life brought Lori and her family back to the Pittsburgh area in early 2012. Leyh hired her back as a Commercial Lending Officer, and soon there was a succession plan in place for her to become COO.
“I am passionate about being able to help others,” says Lori. “In my current role, I have little client contact, but train and mentor others in the organization. I am a huge advocate for education and want to encourage management teams to mentor those coming through the ranks, especially women. There are not enough women in executive positions in banking.”
Cestra recalls how early in her career, she didn’t understand the importance of attending industry and association events. As Chair of PACB, she wants to guide those entering the field to know the value of networking and building relationships.
She also wants to inspire young women with her story. “You can raise a family and have a career. There can be a balance.”
With her daughters now teenagers, Lori herself has come full circle. She was involved in middle school basketball for seven years as a coach, treasurer and board member. “I love the kids,” she shares. “I love teaching and mentoring. It’s fun to watch and see how they grow. Just as I learned in 8th grade, I know that even a small pat on the back makes a difference in motivating a young person and builds their confidence.”
Lori intends to do the same for PACB members in the next year. She wants to build relationships with not only CEO’s but those in the community banking industry who will mentor and help the next generation of bankers be successful. “PACB is one voice for community banking. I want to make that voice stronger.”
Diane M. Sweeney is a professional copywriter and content strategist. At her desk, overlooking Beaver Creek in Chester County, she enjoys writing articles and web content to inform, persuade and entertain. Her work can be found at www.dianemsweeney.com