Whether riding an elephant—or a Harley—chatting up the PBS NewsHour about TARP, or pushing herself to do more for the association, ABA COO Diane Casey-Landry is on a mission: doing her part to make the new ABA the best. Her 30 years’ experience helps.
By William W. Streeter, editor-in-chief,
ABA’s chief operating officer recently completed her first year since ABA merged with America’s Community Bankers. The year put her skills and experience to the test
Washington is a pretty serious place. You have the Capitol dome looming over everything; all those monuments; momentous matters being weighed every day; political intrigue. The place and its inhabitants tend to take themselves pretty seriously.
So it’s refreshing to see a person in a high-level, high-visibility position in Washington who’s willing to have a little fun in between dealing with all the serious stuff. Fun, like riding an elephant into a convention hall in full show-girl regalia to open a conference in Orlando. Or doing the same on a Harley-Davidson at an earlier conference, except wearing biker leathers that time.
That was a few years ago, when she was head of America’s Community Bankers, but Diane Casey-Landry hasn’t lost her sense of humor since joining the American Bankers Association in December 2007 when the merger of ABA and ACB became official.
ABA’s number two staff officer is, of course, pretty serious most times. By her own description, she is “very hands on and very detail oriented.” Part of the credit for that probably goes to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, where Casey-Landry spent six years as an examiner. It was her first job, and she became the youngest person ever to become a senior examiner at the Cleveland Fed.
Two positions and 15 years later, when she was CEO of ACB, she earned high marks for turning that organization around.
“She took an organization that was stale and revitalized it,” says Mark Macomber, CEO of Litchfield Bancorp, Litchfield, Conn., and ACB’s 2006-7 chairman. “She got people cranking.”
Trained by the Fed
The future association leader had planned to go to law school after graduating from Ohio’s Miami University in 1979, with majors in political science and economics, but, as she says, candidly, “I was tired of school and didn’t know what I wanted to do.” She figured it made sense to get a job, and interviewed with insurance companies, for a hotel management position, and for a job as a flight attendant. Nothing clicked. Her sister, however, met someone who said the Cleveland Fed was hiring, so Casey-Landry interviewed there, and was hired.
“That job was great training,” she says. Most of the banks she examined were community banks, and, back then, “you could still have a dialogue with bankers.” Two assignments for the Federal Reserve Board in Washington kindled an interest in the Cleveland native to move to Washington, D.C.
Serendipity struck again when a friend spotted an ad in the Washington Post for the position of Senate lobbyist for the Independent Bankers Association of America (now the Independent Community Bankers Association).
After sending in her resume, Casey-Landry received a call from Ken Guenther, who was executive vice-president of IBAA at the time. He said, “You’re not qualified to be a Senate lobbyist, but how about being a regulatory counsel?” She told him she wasn’t a lawyer, but Guenther, who had worked for the Fed, said, “but you’re an examiner, even better. Come to Washington for an interview.” They hit it off and Casey-Landry worked there for ten years.
She relates how a few months after joining IBAA, Guenther brought his new regulatory counsel to meet Paul Volcker. She was near speechless in the presence of the imposing Fed chairman, whom she had not met before. “Next thing I know,” she recalls, “Volcker asks Guenther a question and Ken turns to me and says, ‘Well, what’s the answer?’” After an awkward pause, she managed to stammer out something, and recalls that Volcker was very nice about it.
Casey-Landry quickly got used to dealing with the Washington elite and today is far from speechless in the presence of a Henry Paulson or a Ben Bernanke, or at a congressional hearing. She is also at ease in front of a television camera. In December she participated in a PBS “NewsHour” program on the TARP Capital Purchase Program, along with economic heavyweights Alice Rivlin and Alan Blinder.
“Diane has the ability to take complex issues and explain them in a way that is straightforward and understandable,” observes Brad Rock, CEO of Bank of Smithtown, Smithtown, N.Y., and ABA chairman in 2007-8. “That makes her a terrific spokesperson for the industry.”
While at ACB, Casey-Landry married Brock Landry, a Washington trade association lawyer with Venable, LLC. Actually, they met when she hired him to be ACB’s general counsel. He was a widower and she had never been married, and they quickly became friends. When they began dating, she recalls, they received a certain amount of good-natured ribbing by the ACB officers and board. The couple married in January 2002.
Just call her Deputy
Officially, Casey-Landry is ABA’s chief operating officer and senior executive vice-president. Functionally, as she puts it, she’s Ed Yingling’s deputy—his “Number Two.” Yingling became ABA president and CEO in 2005.
“I’m not a classic operating officer,” she says, “I don’t do the day-in and day-out operations.” She points out that ABA now has a chief of staff, Jeffrey Owen, a long-time executive staff member of the ABA, who helps coordinate things across business lines.
While Casey-Landry and Yingling each have areas they focus on, they have also identified certain things they do jointly. “For example,” she says, “we’ll interview anyone over vice-president together. We approach things differently, but more often than not we end up at the same place.” She’ll ask a question he wouldn’t have asked, she says, and that will trigger a follow-up question from him, and vice versa.
“Diane brings a very substantive background to ABA,” says Yingling. “Because she’s knowledgeable about all the key policy issues, we can cover twice as much ground as either of us could when we were CEOs at separate organizations.”
Bankers who know them both say the chemistry between the two was good even before the merger, and they have developed a comfortable and effective working relationship that transcends titles and lines on an organization chart.
“We’re a good complement to each other,” she says. “We joke about how he can get me to ‘tone it down,’ and how, on the other hand, he has recognized that emotion is not all a bad thing.”
It starts with the staff
Specific assignments she’s been working on since the merger include integrating the businesses brought over as part of Total Business Solutions—formerly part of ACB, but now an ABA subsidiary—including mortgage, card, capital markets, and commercial lending solutions. She has also been guiding the development of “ABA 2010,” which she describes as “the plan to get to our Vision: to be the best financial services association that everyone wants to belong to, and to be one of the best places to work in Washington.”
ABA 2010 is not just a showpiece, however. “We want it to be a living document that employees can not only buy into,” says Casey-Landry, “but support. For members to view ABA as the best trade association, we have to have a staff that is happy and excited about coming to work.
When I think about everything that has transpired over the last six months, and the dedication of the staff at all levels, that’s really worked.”
It’s not about the title
Bankers who have been through a merger naturally may wonder how a former CEO could give up the authority and prestige of the top position.
“It’s not an easy thing,” says banker Mark Macomber. “There was no doubt Diane would have a job at ABA after the merger, but it’s one thing to have a job and another to have a job you like.” Yet, he says, she never hesitated to support the merger.
Fourteen months into the job, it’s clear Casey-Landry likes it. There were adjustments, of course, and some confusion about lines of reporting—typical hiccups with any merger. But for her, staying at ABA as number two was simply an extension of her support of the merger to begin with.
“The merger was absolutely the right thing to do for the industry,” she says. “We didn’t have to merge, but current events have certainly proved that not only was it right, but that the timing couldn’t have been better. The industry needs our collective strength right now.”
As for herself, she says, “When you’ve been in the industry going on 30 years, and have a commitment to it, which I do, it’s not about the title, it’s about doing the right thing.”
She gives Yingling a lot of credit for helping to ease the transition—not only for her, but for all the former ACB staffers.
We’re in this together
Though all her previous work has been focused on community banks (and still is, she’s proud to say), Casey-Landry strongly disagrees with those who would divide the banking industry by size. “All they are doing is hindering the ultimate effectiveness of the industry,” she says. “We are one industry and we need to stay united. When we do we are much stronger.”
She agrees that the industry’s reputation—justifiably or not—has suffered during the financial crisis. All the more reason, she says, “why we don’t need to be throwing rocks at each other, but need to stand together to say, ‘traditional banks are the solution. Real bankers have integrity, commitment, and they lend to their communities.’”
The impact of the crisis and the recession has unleashed a torrent of verbiage about who’s to blame, most of it from outside the industry.
“Everybody wants to be an analyst and second-guess what they believe everybody else should have known,” Casey-Landry observes. “In a world of 20/20 hindsight there are things that should have been done differently by all size institutions,. But if you play the blame game, ultimately that backfires because in this situation there are enough mistakes to go around.
“Most importantly people have to remember that this is a Wall Street crisis not a banking crisis. On the other hand, we can’t play the victim. We’ve got to help work out the solution.”
“You know, my grandmother taught me once, if you point your finger at someone and say ‘You did this,’ you better be careful because you’ve got three fingers (of your own hand) pointing back at you.
“We’re in this together as an industry—large and small, public, private, mutual, stock—and if we fight together, then we may protect our industry from more regulatory burden, and bad ideas. And together we will be a big part of the solution to get our country out of the recession.”