Michele Elrod joined Regions in 1984. But banking wasn’t her initial plan. She spent the first part of her career in an altogether different field (where she’s continued to serve as a board member). In the years since, as Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Marketing for Regions, Elrod has earned a reputation for strategic decision-making, using cutting-edge analytics and evolving how the bank appeals to new generations of consumers.
Beyond the accolades, the heart of her success is her commitment to help others grow through opportunities and mentorship. Our Doing More Today team sat down with Elrod to discuss her role – and her leadership by example.
Michele, you became Head of Corporate Marketing long before a lot of other companies elevated women into this leadership position. Do you feel like a trailblazer?
“No. I don’t approach my job that way. I don’t even think of myself that way. I approach my job with a deep desire to learn, improve marketing’s contribution to the company and with real passion. I love the work and doing good work that makes a difference. If I’m a trailblazer, that’s great. Where I am professionally today is where I always wanted to be. My objective — what I think about — is my team, the work they do for the company, and continuously improving toward best-in-class marketing. And best-in-class marketing is a hurdle that continuously changes so we always focus on staying on top of the game.”
You didn’t start out as a banker, did you?
“I’ve been in banking for 35 years. But I spent five years in the mental health industry. In college, when I took my first advertising class, I fell in love with marketing because it was about how people thought and behaved, and how a marketer can make a difference by understanding the consumer.
“At first, I went into the mental health field because I wanted to change the stigma about mental illness and make a difference. In my mind, it was the same thing – just for a nonprofit. I started a radio show, a community social center, and I created an advocacy group of women who had the financial wherewithal to raise money on behalf of the people in the hospital, to get them home. While those were great things, and made a difference, I wanted to apply more traditional marketing skills. I went to First National Bank of Tuscaloosa. They’d had a marketing director, but she’d retired. I said, when you’re ready to hire, I’m here. And they hired me. Of course, First National was soon purchased by AmSouth, which merged with Regions. And here I am.”
Do women have a clearer path to executive careers in banking at Regions now, compared to when you started?
“I think women today have the opportunity to develop their path. Over the course of my career, I have seen an evolution of the support and opportunities for women. I am very proud of what I see across the bank leadership, within our board, etc. We are consciously making a difference.
“Listen, I am not naive – I understand there are biases and challenges women experience – but we must address those head-on and always work to make things better for everyone. I personally think it is my responsibility to make it better for the next group of women developing their careers.
I never thought that my path would be different from anyone else’s – man or woman.
Michele Elrod, Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Marketing for Regions
“But here’s the interesting thing, from my viewpoint. I never thought that my path would be different from anyone else’s – man or woman. I was raised by a military father, and he never distinguished between what a girl and boy could do. When I asked for a motorcycle, because my brother had one, he said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know you wanted one,’ and got me one. I know obstacles exist, but I never thought I couldn’t do something because of my gender. Certainly, I have had unconscious bias experiences, but it has been about overcoming those, not letting them define me or hinder me.”
How important is mentorship for successful careers, and what is the best way for a young career woman to find a mentor?
“Mentorship is essential. I’ve given several speeches on this topic and have been a mentor for many years to young women in college. I do this because I think it’s important that they understand what is possible, they know the questions to ask and they have an opportunity to experience the work they want to eventually do.
“I’ve been a part of the University of Alabama’s mentorship program – both in the Business and Communications schools – and at UAB. I actually worked with the School of Communications to start its program.”
How does the process begin?
“The person who wants a mentor, the mentee, must decide their objectives, what do they want help with? Look around and see who best does those things that meet your objectives; then ask for help – regardless of gender – and make commitments. The mentee must ask themselves what they want out of the relationship and what they are willing to give.
“The biggest responsibility is on the mentee. If the mentor must drive the relationship, they’re doing the work for the mentee and it simply won’t work. The value of mentoring is you give someone permission to be very honest with you, to give you critical feedback, and you know they are doing it to help you.
“We’ve established a quarterly development experience for our Corporate Marketing team. The thought process is similar as are the benefits of a mentoring relationship. Our team is encouraged to go to a vendor partner, peer or another person in the company they work with and get candid feedback and constructive criticism about their work style and things to “stop, start and continue.” I think our team gets a lot out of it and that it is a growth experience.”
Developing leaders and engaging associates is an everyday focus for Regions Bank. See additional Women in Leadership profiles linked below: