“Young women have no idea how their lives are going to progress,” Midge Campbell-Thomas tells me. “You rarely progress right up the chain – in 30 years of work, you may not have the chance to move up.”
But Midge has. Her 30-year financial services career began as a teller, and last December she was named market president for Bank of America – the face of the institution’s work in Ventura and Santa Barbara – while continuing on a national level as chief operating officer and overseeing business operations, quality control, and exam and issues management for the bank. “When I started working the role models were men,” she says. “I didn’t see women executives.”
Midge was born in Arizona, and when she was growing up the opportunities for education weren’t there. So her goal was to get out. Her oldest sister had moved to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB, and Midge was inspired to come to the west coast as well. She majored in Biology at Santa Clara University because she wanted to do genetic research. “I started to work in a lab after graduation, but it wasn’t a good environment for me,” she shares. “I’m an extrovert.”
Her future husband moved to Los Angeles to teach biology, so she decided to move down there. She taught 6th to 8th graders math and science at Saint Francis de Sales for 2 years. “My husband and I were going to get married, and we decided that two teacher’s salaries wasn’t a good idea,” she says. And so she applied for a job as a bank teller. “If you’re good with 12-year-olds, you’re going to be good at interacting with customers,” the manager who hired her told her. He went on to mentor her on building relationships and getting to know customers personally.
Eventually she became an assistant branch manager and then a branch manager. She moved from retail banking into mortgage servicing. She was hired by Great Western Bank (which eventually was acquired by Western Mutual) and had eight different roles in 16 years – including managing the training department, the policy and procedures department, and managing call centers. “One of the benefits of working for a large corporation is to be able to have different experiences and use all of that to keep learning,” she explains.
From WAMU, she took a sideways move and worked from AIG – the biggest insurance company at the time from 2006 to 2011. She ran a call center that handled variable annuities. It was a chance to learn a different industry – and potentially a chance to work internationally. Then the bailout of 2008 happened, and Bank of America recruited her at the height of the mortgage crisis to manage all of their complaints across the USA. “It was difficult but incredibly rewarding to help people keep their homes, or to figure out a possible solution to help them transition out of them,” she recalls. At the peak of the crisis, she had 2500 employees, and she had to instill in all of her employees the idea that the customer on the phone could be a family member. Eventually she took over all of the consumer complaints nationally – and she was promoted to COO.
“While we’re a big bank, we want to be perceived as local,” she tells me. She proudly states that Bank of America has 140 employees in Santa Barbara and that they get paid time off to help the community.
She’s done the Santa Barbara Triathlon 2 times, and her husband and her son did it together as well.
Midge Campbell-Thomas answers the Proust Questionnaire.
Who do you admire most?
I’m fortunate to have grown up with a very large family – in fact, I’m the youngest of seven. I most admire my older sister. She has adeptly navigated her career and has tackled some of the most incredible obstacles. She has truly blazed a trail by being the first woman to ever hold many of her positions. She is incredibly bright, but is also fearless.
What is your current state of mind?
I am very optimistic about the future. I’ve always tried to be forward-looking, however my Market President role has highlighted just how important it is. In my roles with the bank, I’ve consistently needed to look ahead, to anticipate what’s on the horizon, and to work to pre-empt and prepare for anything coming our way. As Market President, I’m thinking more about community needs and how we build a forward-looking plan to meet our objectives and support our community.
What do you like most about your job?
Foremost, I get to experience firsthand the positive impact we have on our customers and our community. I have made deep connections in our local communities and I look forward to serving their needs and making the connections to our business. I am extremely passionate about sponsoring and supporting young women who are blazing their own career paths. I enjoy carving out opportunities and helping advocate for them along the way.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It is simple for me, perfect happiness equals a healthy and happy family. Of course, throw in a career that fuels me every day to do better and do more and you go beyond perfection!
What is your greatest fear?
Boredom. I am constantly on the go and involved in all sorts of activities. Idle time is not part of my vocabulary.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Anyone who knows me, knows that any extravagance I have will be related to physical activity. Exercise fuels me and my paddleboard is certainly my greatest extravagance.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I am an adventure seeker, so I truly appreciate people who enjoy experiencing all the amazing things in life.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Being so active and adventurous, it’s tough for me to understand people who hesitate to try new things.
What do you most value in friends?
Honesty is at the core of my relationships and friendships. I welcome and appreciate brutal honesty at work, at home, and with friends.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am known for being direct and achieving results. You will always know where you stand with me and people count on me and on my teams to deliver.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I am always looking for ways to break things down and re-build them in a better and a more unique way. I expect creativity and surround myself with people who have new ideas. My most overused phrase won’t surprise you given my consistent quest for creativity – I use “outside the box” at least a few times a day.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I have learned so much throughout the years that I’d like to remember absolutely everything I’ve ever learned and consistently apply it to what I do every day.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
People always joke that they can’t keep up with me, so if I could change one thing, it would be to have more patience.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Simply stated, my 18 year-old son is hands down my greatest achievement.
Where would you most like to live?
Having grown up in AZ, I gravitate toward warm and sunny climates. If I could live anywhere, it would be Maui.
What is your most treasured possession?
Your most treasured possession should be the item you would grab in an emergency. For me, that would be pictures of my family.
Who makes you laugh the most?
I have a great group of friends who can make me laugh like no other.
What is your motto?
Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Amelia Earhart. She was not only a true advocate for women’s rights and commercial aviation, but clearly had the soul of an adventurer.
On what occasion do you lie?
When it spares people’s feelings.