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The Interview Issue: Maria Quintana

September 27, 2014

Maria Quintana grew up in impoverished neighborhoods near downtown Indianapolis, but today she’s part of the leadership team that runs the largest bank in the state—JPMorgan Chase Indiana. She’s been in the industry for 35 years, and today she’s executive vice president of the bank’s government, not-for-profit and health care division. Quintana spoke about her early start in the workforce, escaping poverty and being a Latina in senior management.

People I’ve mentored have always asked me what drove me. And it was remembering my mother holding her hand out to my father for money. I always looked at that and said, “That will never be me.”

My father was from Tampico, Mexico. He came to the states, illegally, and he met my mother, who was a Tex-Mex from the Rio Grande Valley. He came to the state of Indiana in the late 1940s. He had multiple jobs in order to keep myself and my seven brothers fed.

My parents didn’t support education necessarily, but they were very supportive of working.

Because of our income status, we technically started paying rent when we were in high school. And my form of rent since I was the only girl—Dad went easy on me—was to buy my own clothes.

At age 11, I was baby-sitting, and I started at Dairy Queen at 14. It was a four- to five-mile walk to and from Dairy Queen. I made $1.25 an hour there and got a whopping 10-cent raise at Burger Chef the following year.

My father didn’t trust banks. It took me a long time to get him to open up IRAs, checking accounts and saving accounts. I always worried about somebody breaking into the house because they thought he had money buried somewhere in the house.

To me, having survived living in the inner city and getting through the late 1960s and 1970s and being able to make it on to college, to me that’s probably my biggest success.

Back in the day, many of the bankers that came on the floor had fathers who were the former chairmen of banks. Or they had a history or legacy of family members who had been in the business, and that was not me.

I came on board and that was my message to the bank: “Hey, I’m coming on and I’m going to do this job for you, but I’ve almost got my degree finished — I’m hoping you pay for the rest of it — and then I want to be in management.

The bankers I’ve worked with for years will tell you that I’m not a micromanager, and if I am a micromanager it’s because you need to be micromanaged.

I have a very flexible schedule because I do a lot of community service work for the bank and oftentimes have eating functions. Three nights a week, one on the weekend, so I’m always going to various community events to represent the firm.

I got started on not-for-profit boards very early in my career in the 1980s, and it was fostered and supported by the bank.

As it relates to managing the business, I’ve really never felt any different from anyone else in the firm. Color was meaningless. One way or the other, it didn’t impact me being Latina. And quite honestly, back in the 1980s, nobody even … they probably … I was white from most folks’ perspectives.

Women have made a lot of progress, but to have an African-American banker running a financial institution, that’s been more of a challenge in Indiana. So we’re still not where we need to be.

There are no barriers [for minorities] in the industry. The issue is, “How do you keep people?” When they look around, they don’t see others like themselves. And they don’t see others in leadership positions that they can aspire to. So they’re looking for leadership; they’re looking for mentors. And that’s the bigger challenge: Once you hire in the diversity, how do you retain it?

A former boss of mine always gave me the same advice: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I’m happy to say that’s not something I have to worry about these days.

I’m very fiscally sound. I still balance my checkbooks to the penny. I’m a saver. I have a lot of respect for the value of a dollar.

I’d give the same advice to any young people, not just bankers. And that is, “Don’t stretch yourself too thin.”

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