"I always felt the good news is, I may be the only woman in the room, but I stand out," says Gulley, CEO of PNC Advisors.
Moving up the ladder in a profession dominated by men, Gulley's gender may have been her most obvious attribute. After surveying her career, however, it's hard to believe that it is her only outstanding characteristic.
Gulley spent the first 16 years of her business career at the Federal Reserve, where she held positions with the board of governors in Washington, as well as at the Boston branch of the Fed. By the time she was 32, after a series of management assignments starting with running the check department, she had reached the level of senior vice president.
Gulley joined PNC in 1993 when the company she was working for at the time, the Massachusetts Company, was acquired by the Pittsburgh banker.
Last year, she took over as CEO of PNC Advisors, a financial management operation with 3,200 employees and more than 320,000 clients in 19 states. In the interim, she'd gained a wealth of experience at PNC, including time spent as director of strategic planning and chief executive of business banking.
Gulley says that her stint at the Massachusetts Company, a start-up bank she helped launch in Boston, drove home for her the value of the customer.
Says Gulley: "There is something wonderful and horrible about the experience of starting something with no customers, but what you get out of it is such an appreciation of customers and how special every one is and how hard it is to get one."
Do you think that your approach to your position is fundamentally different because you are a woman?
Different women and different men would all approach this position differently. I think one of the things that I brought to the table is something that I brought from the Massachusetts Company is that the client is very much part of my thinking in whatever I do, the notion that employees are the access to everything we do.
So I think there are men who might approach it that way. Maybe as a general rule, you might say that women are probably generally more relationship-oriented in thinking about some of those issues.
How did your experience at the Federal Reserve influence your views of banking and the business world?
Well, I did spend half my career thus far at the Fed, and it was a great place to spend the early part of one's career. I got terrific experience there.
I think I probably got to do things there that would have been, at the time, more difficult (to do) in the private sector. I think I got more opportunity.
I can't swear to that since I wasn't in the private sector, but, for example, when I was probably 26 or 27, I was running a major department of the Boston Fed, the check collection department, which is 300 people, a pretty big operation.
I had limited management experience prior to that, and they were willing to give me a lot of opportunity to do different things, so I had line experience. I ran human resources for a year, I had some national responsibilities at the Fed.
I did a lot of stuff, including things that I wasn't necessarily qualified for on paper. I think that made a huge difference.
What is it like to be a woman in banking?
I've always been a glass-half-full kind of person. When I look back, the thing that probably was hardest was being a working mother, and the fact that most of the people you were competing with, practically all of them were men.
Most of them had wives at home taking care of things. Their lives were so much different than mine in terms of the stress and strain associated with that and the feeling like you were always choosing one or the other. I think one of the things I'm so happy about is the recognition that men and women both need flexibility in their lives to deal with those things. I never felt I had that flexibility to be able to do that.
I feel great today; I feel in many ways you hit your 50s, where I am now, and in some sense you're at the top of your game and your career. And I feel as though I bring to the table capacities as a woman that a man doesn't have, that those are appreciated, that I'm appreciated for who I am, and maybe I'm at the point in my career that I don't worry so much about what people think.
I'm a lot more comfortable and confident that I am making that contribution that I know how to make and I can make a difference. I think it's an extraordinary thing to be doing what I'm doing and at the same time, when I watch women coming up the organization, I think it's still -- not particularly in this organization -- but globally, I think there's still a lot of progress that needs to be made, and not just for women, for men, too.
It's a much tougher row to hoe today in terms of the competition and also the demands on you. There weren't 24-hour-day demands that are always there today. I never go on vacation without my PC, without my Blackberry, I never leave and just not do e-mails, voice mails. And I don't mind that, that's a choice I make because of a commitment to this business, but I think I'm at a point in my life where I have that choice.
It seems it would take an individual of exceptional talent and self-confidence to rise to your level. What other qualities do you believe are critical for success?
I think probably one piece of it is being able to distinguish between being a great manager and being a good leader. It's something I've thought about a lot over the last several years, and I think organizationally, we've done a lot of work around leadership.
And I think I always was a very good manager in the sense of doing things, being very organized, planning, executing, project management, all of that stuff ... being on budget, managing expenses ...
Yes, delivery stuff. But the whole notion of what it takes to get people excited and committed to what they need to do. I think for all of us -- I shouldn't speak for all businesses -- this is a very personal business.
No matter how many great products we have, our business is a one-to-one relationship business, and our employees are the access to the client. We could have the most technically proficient employees in the world, and if they don't have their hearts and their passion and the love of the customer and their wanting to make a difference, and just loving what they do -- and, by the way, I think we do have that -- but creating the environment where that's who we are for the client, that's what this business is.
At the end of the day, we can all replicate each others' products. You always differentiate by the commitment and dedication and passion of your employees. A big part of it for me has been being OK with not having all of the answers. It opens the door for all the people in the organization to be part of finding the answers.
There are lots of things we need to figure out how to do as the world changes that aren't clear.
Leadership is ... ?
Getting things to happen that would not otherwise happen on their own. Good management is necessary, but it's not sufficient to make something great happen.
For all of us -- I don't know of any business where being OK is acceptable anymore. I also, by the way, from an employer perspective, I have yet to meet a person in this organization -- any organization I've worked for -- that wants to be average.
Nobody wants to be average, everybody wants to make a difference, everyone wants to be successful. It is around creating the environment and creating the opportunity, and also the request for something extraordinary to happen.
What job that you've held besides your current position did you enjoy most?
I think the thing that made the biggest difference -- I'm not sure I could say I enjoyed it at the time -- but the thing that made the biggest difference was that first major management job, running the check department at the Boston Fed.
If you picture it, it was mostly third shift, 300 people on third shift. It was a high-pressure world, a very blue collar environment. Most of the people working in that organization were women. They worked nights because they couldn't afford child care. Their husbands were at home at night, and I don't know when they ever slept.
There was something about how it expanded me and my appreciation for hard-working people committed to doing the right thing for their families and the right thing for the organization. We had a snowstorm in 1978, and a lot of those folks slept in the bank for a week. There was such a work ethic, such a commitment to doing things right, such a down-to-earth quality. You had to earn respect in this world.
There was something so authentic and genuine about the way those folks dealt with life and their work and the standards of performance that they put on themselves that were as (high or higher) than anybody imposed on them.
What keeps you motivated?
For one thing, the notion of really building something that defines the industry. This may sound like a man, but for me, winning is important, and I don't mean at the expense of somebody else, but being committed to something big.
If Jim Rohr (chairman and CEO of The PNC Financial Services Group Inc.) said, 'Grow a little next year, grow incrementally, whatever you could do would be great' -- not that he would ever say that -- I wouldn't find that to be the kind of environment I would want to be in.
I think the other is I really love the people I work with -- the notion of being part of a group of people who are committed to something they care about and are willing to check their egos at the door and focus on the results.
But at the end of the day, for me, it's having something I care about and being proud of and thinking someday I'll look back and see I've made a difference in what I did. How to reach: PNC Advisors, www.pncadvisors.com