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She’s a Landmark

She’s a Landmark

McDonnell stands at her desk on the third floor of Landmark’s downtown location at the corner of Broadway and Eighth Street.

Sabrina McDonnell was fresh out of college when she walked into Columbia’s First National Bank. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she applied for and received a teller position. Cashing checks at a drive-thru window was a modest start, but surprises were to come fast and plenty for the young woman from Auxvasse, Mo.

Today, McDonnell is with the same bank (now Landmark) but at a different window — three stories up and in the executive suite. Six senior vice presidents report to her in Landmark’s tri-state region of Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. As the firm’s chief administrative executive, she’s responsible for bank operations, information services, product development, marketing, human resources and risk management, encompassing about 200 employees.

McDonnell’s career path has accelerated like compound interest. It began in the teller booth, where she kept a notebook of ideas on how things could be improved, especially regarding employee training.

“I tend to think things can be better,” McDonnell says, “and I’ve found that if you look around to fill a need, it will redefine your job.”

That redefining occurred as managers took note of her problem-solving skills. Three months after being hired, she moved into a senior teller position and then was tapped to manage the teller department.

The deregulation of the 1980s began to change the landscape for financial institutions and afforded more opportunities for innovation in the retail market. Restrictions were further eased by federal legislation in the ’90s, when McDonnell’s job took on a new phase.

“We saw a great need to educate customers because of the industry’s fast growth,” McDonnell says. “For example, up until then, the debit card was not in action, but suddenly people were swiping plastic, and new products started coming.” As a result, she created a full-time training position for those on the front lines.

A slew of other management positions followed, until she was promoted as the Columbia bank’s president in 2007.

Major changes occurred in 2009, when the Missouri branches were renamed Landmark Bank, a play on words from the founding family, the Landrums, and from third-generation owner Mark Landrum.

Initiative and the STARS program
Another initiative springing from McDonnell’s own bank of ideas is known as the STARS program (Strive To Achieve Remarkable Service). The program took representatives from each area of the bank to define a common culture. It moved the organization from an independent cluster of banks to an enterprise environment.

McDonnell heard of another bank trying to implement a similar initiative. They hired a consultant who advised that employees should “try to act like they cared.”

“It shocked me,” McDonnell says. “Why not just hire people who actually did care for customers, beyond the transaction?”

STARS focused on identifying and harnessing existing core values and spreading that across all branches. “In that respect, it wasn’t really a change so much as it was an affirmation,” she says. The bank began Banker of the Year awards and “applause-o-grams” that recognized peers for contributions big and small.

In 2010, McDonnell won the Athena Award, an annual recognition by the Women’s Network, an affiliate of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, for a female leader who works to serve the community and help other women.

The fact that McDonnell is a female executive in a traditionally male-dominated field doesn’t cross her mind much. However, when she is outside of the Landmark environment, the issue occasionally comes up. For example, sometimes when she attends business meetings with a male co-worker, other associates automatically assume the man is McDonnell’s boss. “It comes across in subtleties, reminding me that gender-biased perceptions still exist,” she says. “But my hope and belief is that those assumptions won’t persist for women 10 years from now.”

At home, the executive prioritizes and cherishes her family time. Her husband, Eric, is an athletic trainer for women’s sports at the University of Missouri. They have a 16-year-old daughter, Madison, and an 11-year-old son, Grant.

“The four of us do a lot together, and that’s important,” she says. Whether it’s going to the driving range, carving family pumpkins, having Sunday night dinners or frequenting Disney World, the family is big on tradition.

One valuable tradition for the Landmark work family is artwork. Its presence fills every room in the Landmark facilities: from ceramics, metal horses and large watercolor paintings to a well-known “pet” seal on the basement floor of the main building in Columbia. McDonnell is a former member of the board of trustees of the State Historical Society of Missouri. In addition, each year the bank sponsors Visions, a competitive photography exhibition for residents in several Missouri counties.

Mark Landrum, who passed away in August 2012, is considered the creator of the art culture. “Mark saw art as a basic need for people and the community,” McDonnell says, “and when you think about it, people really grow in their imagination and creativity when you have art as an important part of your environment.”

Defining motivation
When the executive considers her bank’s future, she points to another kind of artist for inspiration: Steve Wozniak, the legendary guru of technology, whose products have made their way into the majority of homes. Wozniak was the guest speaker at an Avaya Evolutions conference that McDonnell attended in November. Avaya, a global provider of business communications, held the one-day event in Chicago and invited Wozniak to discuss the importance of motivation. Wozniak, a co-founder of Apple Computer, is credited for singlehandedly creating the world’s first color graphics on a personal computer.

Wozniak shared about the time Apple had been invited to submit its first computer at a consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. Steve Jobs and a couple of other senior executives were attending. Wozniak figured if he could add a floppy drive to it in time, Jobs would have to take him, as he would be the only one who could explain it. The story is that Wozniak completed it while on the trade room floor the morning of the show.

But the kicker for McDonnell was why the computer genius worked so hard to make the trip. “He didn’t spend that amount of effort and drive and time for compensation or for recognition,” she says. “He just heard some really neat things about Las Vegas and wanted to experience the city. It made me realize that what you decide to do, what you are passionate about and what you decide to work on is based on your own set of motivations, not anyone else’s. We often oversimplify things in the workplace and try to design the perfect incentive plan, but people have different reasons for why they work.”

Inspiring leaders
McDonnell says the trip inspired her to return to Columbia and get the wheels turning around leadership development. “Leadership is so much more than management,” she says, “and I want to help people throughout the company understand their role as leaders toward enterprisewide objectives. It’s the next natural step for us.”

Locally, Landmark is behind only Boone County National Bank in deposits. According to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. index, Landmark this summer posted $537 million in deposits in the county, with an 18 percent market share. Boone County National Bank has more than $1 billion in deposits. Coming in third is Commerce Bank, with deposits of more than $400 million. Landmark has more than 25 ATMs in Columbia, with about half of them at Break Time Convenience stores.

How those numbers move in the future will depend on how the entire industry deals with inevitable headwinds. Consumer over-regulation and technology are two possible challenges that await senior financial services leaders. In addition, thinning margins from continued low interest rates are topics of discussion. However, only one of these pieces has McDonnell’s interest. “What wakes me up at night is how to keep pace with consumer technology,” she says. “How do we stay as integral as possible to the customer?”

Just as quickly, a smile spreads across her face, as if the teller-turned-trainer already has another big idea. “Now that’s a puzzle I can work on.”



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