Perspectives: Women Who Excel 2013 – Failing and fixing her way to success

Lisa Oliver, Cleveland District President, KeyBank

Lisa Oliver, Cleveland District President, KeyBank

Lisa Oliver has been working in the banking industry ever since she graduated from college. She went to work for KeyBank in 1990 and has been the Cleveland district president for the past 10 years. However, her career wasn’t as straightforward as one might expect.

Oliver has come face-to-face with numerous challenges and obstacles throughout her career, and having to overcome those is what made her who she is today.

Early in her career, Oliver struggled with self-confidence in her ability to climb the ranks of a male-dominated industry. She also had to overcome a punch or two to her ego when she was turned down for certain jobs or promotions.

“Many times, you see people who have a desire to move quick and get into the next role and grow and make more money,” Oliver says. “You tell that person they’re not ready for the next job or you tell them no; that was an early challenge for me.

“I was a middle-market relationship manager and the leadership role on our team opened up, and I put my name in the hat for that job. I didn’t get that job. A gentleman from outside the bank got that job. It really upset me. I felt I was qualified and was the next person in line.”

The way you handle that scenario is a huge challenge in anyone’s career and can predict future successes. Oliver had to take the lessons from being passed over and ask the questions to understand why. She began to dig deeper at work and viewed her position at Key as a career rather than just a job for a paycheck.

“That was a huge confidence factor that came from sticking with a career and viewing it that way and not as a job,” she says. “What I realized was it was also helping me grow as a person. My confidence professionally came from failing and fixing it.”

Oliver has seen people achieve success much quicker than she did but believes she was much better off failing and then climbing to the top.

“Those people who have moved quickly and have had little mini successes will eventually have a huge fall,” she says. “When I look at my career, and this goes back to being told, ‘No, you can’t have this next job’ or not winning or being the best or being on top of the pile, that has always been something that has driven me to try harder and learn more.”

Oliver has always been her own biggest critic. That desire to always be a little bit better, improve and make sure you’re willing to understand what your weaknesses are helps build confidence.

Oliver has done that over time. Her ability to gain confidence and find more purpose in her career ultimately led to her getting a leadership role at KeyBank. That role would be the turning point in her career.

“There was a group that reached out to me that was interested in having me go from middle-market into the business banking space and they were looking for a team leader,” Oliver says.

“Being given that opportunity was hugely transformative for me. It helped me start to think about the future and not just what I had to do in that day or that week. What do we want to achieve this year? How do I want people to excel? What will be my next career move and to what is this a building block?”

That process ultimately led to her current position at Key in Cleveland.

“So much of it is about attitude,” she says. “There is a saying about attitude that whether you think you can or that you can’t, you’re right, because you will direct yourself down that path. Whether you know it or not, you are the person who undermines your career, not anybody else, and you have to be aware of that.” ●

How to reach: KeyBank, (216) 689-5580 or


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