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Pacific Northwest's Influence

Phyllis Campbell, Former Chair of JPMorgan Chase, Pacific Northwest Region, Talks Career, Board Diversity and Succession Planning

Phyllis Campbell is a trailblazer in finance. She entered banking when there were few female role models and honed her tenacity and self-confidence to build a successful career. She has served on public and private company boards for the past 30 years and in 2023 retired as chair of JPMorgan Chase, Pacific Northwest Region. Phyllis recently joined 新澳彩开奖结果查询 as a Senior Advisor based in our Seattle office, and we sat down with her for a conversation about her career, her passion for family businesses (she grew up in one), and diverse and inclusive boards.

新澳彩开奖结果查询 Senior Advisor Phyllis Campbell
新澳彩开奖结果查询 Senior Advisor Phyllis Campbell

You’ve spent a large chunk of your life in the Pacific Northwest. What is it about this area that inspired you to build your career there?
Building my life here was very much by design. I was born here and chose to anchor my career in the Pacific Northwest for a few reasons. The number one reason is the people—this area attracts people who share a love of the outdoors, and my husband and I love golfing and skiing. Then there is the proximity to different landscapes—you can enjoy lakes and mountains all within an hour's drive.

The second reason is the culture—it is very rooted in giving back. This sets the tone for not just what you do in your personal life but also for the companies that anchor themselves here—they value philanthropy. This is one of the reasons I joined the 新澳彩开奖结果查询 office in Seattle. “Leadership for a better world” really resonated with me. It’s not just a marketing slogan but a true commitment to making a difference in the community here.


You built a long career in financial services. What led you down that path?
I call myself an accidental banker. I graduated with a degree in business administration with a specialty in finance. I loved finance—I saw it as a puzzle to be solved and I grew up in a family-owned business, so I had some first-hand insights, too. When I applied to work at a bank, I was told they weren’t hiring women into the management training program. I called them every day for 20 business days straight, explaining why I thought I was the right person for the job. They eventually hired me, maybe because they got tired of my daily calls. 

I stayed on there and was regional manager when the bank sold. Ultimately, it worked out, but it wasn’t easy. As a young woman of color, it’s hard to feel like you are being rejected, so I kept persisting. 


Where did you find the most energy and fulfillment in your career? 
Financial Services is like consulting. You are helping people—and businesses—to be successful, which was always a motivator for me. It was a great way to give advice and get to know them as people and help them build their futures. 
I worked a lot with family-owned businesses; they wanted to know about succession planning from a capital lending standpoint, and then we got into how to deploy wealth and pass it down. I still get notes from people I banked 40 years ago, and it’s so gratifying to see them succeed and build their organizations.

 

Where did you find challenges?
Being a trailblazer is hard. There were a number of points where my bosses would say to me, “We can’t put you in that position because people in this area won’t accept a young Asian-American woman.” But I always asked for a chance to prove myself. I also had some sponsors who spoke up, challenged those preconceived notions, and insisted I be given a chance. I didn’t have a lot of role models in those earlier days, and my sponsors helped me so much. They saw some things in me that I may not have seen in myself.

One sponsor opened the door for me to become president. He would always tell me, “Get ready and be ready.” What he meant by that was to be ready to take the emotional risk—even if you are questioning your readiness for a role. You have to ask yourself what makes you think you aren’t ready and look past self-doubt. It’s OK to make mistakes and stumble—know that taking risks involves mistakes. It’s not failure if you learn from them.


You retired last year as chair of JPMorgan Chase, Pacific Northwest Region, after 14 years in the role. You came in at a pivotal time—after the acquisition of Washington Mutual and the market collapse of 2008. Given all you saw in your time in that role, how did you approach your own succession?
I thought I would be there for seven years, but some of the change management took a little longer and then Covid happened. It took a long time to find someone who I felt lived the culture and the values and had similar leadership qualities that would be aligned with the company and who could carry on the legacy of doing the right thing for all stakeholders. Eventually, we found someone at another bank, who happened to be a woman. Having spent a career opening doors for other women, I knew it was the right time for me to step back. 

 

Succession planning is often a challenge for all companies, but it’s even more nuanced in family businesses—particularly founder-led ones—where you are balancing both personal and professional pressures. What are some practical steps that you’d recommend to family businesses to avoid the consequences of not being prepared?
Part of the challenge is that by definition founders are proud, and the emotions of control and how to pass the business on—or don’t—are high. But if founders don’t plan for succession, then they really lose control. I always advise owners to give this some time and thought. I also recommend bringing in an outside consultant who really understands family dynamics and won’t just approach it from a tax perspective. 

Another step is building a board that helps owners oversee the business for the next few generations. Once owners understand the value of a board of directors, they often realize that they’re not losing control of the company they built—they’re getting more control over the future of the business. 


You’ve had an extensive board career—how have you seen the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion evolve on boards?
When I started my board service 30 years ago there was no diversity—you were the only and lonely voice at the table. I would often get ignored or trivialized, so I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t understand the dynamics. Boards, in general, didn’t have diversity of thought and many members were friends of the CEO. 

Fast forward to today, boards have become aware that diversity of thought is important to the future of the company and see it as a strategic imperative. Now there is sometimes some pushback, but I see more women at the board table and more age and racial and ethnic diversity have also been added to the board. One of the boards I serve on now is very mission-based and also has a lot of diversity in its membership. There is often a lot of tension in our discussions, but it ultimately leads us to better outcomes and helps the business evolve. 


Representation seems to be improving—our Global Board Diversity Tracker has historically shown boards are diversifying. But what does that mean for inclusion and how do you view the role of the chair or lead director in creating and maintaining an inclusive board culture? 
Board leaders need very high emotional intelligence. The best chairs and lead directors take a pause, listen, understand what’s happening, and make sure quiet voices are heard. They notice that someone may be frowning a little and ask them to share their opinion or ask if they have a concern. And if that person isn’t listened to, a good chair or lead director comes back to what that board member said and raises it again—this is a real-time inclusionary practice of reading the room. 


What are you reading that isn’t business-related? 
I was reading a book last night during a flight—The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin. What I am taking away from it is that it’s about living life more intentionally and being more aware of the things that bring joy to both myself and others. While I was on that flight, I was looking out the window at the Rocky Mountains thinking about how often I fly back and forth across the country, and I don’t even notice their beauty. When you make the time and space, creativity comes through.

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