Justin Clemons

Business

How Jennifer Chandler Went From High School Spanish Teacher to Bank Exec

The president of Bank of America's Dallas market leads by bringing her teams together.

As a child, Jennifer Chandler volunteered with her family at church and saw the difference one person could make.

Her mother helped arrange weddings for couples who couldn’t afford them, and to those happy brides and grooms, it meant everything. Growing up, Chandler became involved in clubs at school and saw how one person’s efforts paled in comparison to what a motivated group could achieve. By the time she was elected student council president of Duncanville High School, she was well-versed in harnessing the collective power of an organized team. “It was eye-opening to me that, rather than one person doing one thing for an hour, you could help mobilize groups of 20, 30, or 40,” Chandler says. “I always wanted to have an impact; that was in my DNA.”

The early life lessons have evolved into a key leadership strategy for her today, as president of Bank of America’s Dallas market. The bank has 13,500 North Texas employees; Chandler shares oversight with Fort Worth market president Michael Pavell.  “It goes back to the collective change I saw with student council,” she says. “We can have more impact together.”

Her early days were dotted with unusual circumstances. As a child, she survived two near-death experiences. When she was 3, she nearly died of drowning; when she was 12, she suffered a minor stroke. When she looks back on the experiences, what she remembers most is her parents’ perspective: gratitude. They used words like “gift” and “blessing” when they spoke about the fact that she was still with them. “Hearing them say those things made me value each day,” Chandler says.

She was raised in Dallas, always scrambling to keep up with her older siblings. Her father would read her The Little Engine That Could for encouragement. “My dad jokes that I took it a little too seriously,” she says.

Her parents, native Texans, didn’t have much money, but they worked hard, her father as a salesman and her mother, later in life, at AT&T. Giving back to the community was a part of Chandler’s upbringing, and it was a homeless man named Carl who drove the lesson home. Carl lived at the church where she and her mother volunteered, and Chandler would see him mopping the floors. One day, he gave her a gift.

It was nothing flashy, just a plastic toy lifted from a fast-food kids’ meal. But it made an impact. Although Carl didn’t have much of his own, he had found a way to give something to her. “I’ve kept it over the years,” Chandler says. “It’s a reminder to me that you can always give back.”

She attended the University of Texas, where she earned a B.A. in political science and government. Her first job out of college was as a high school Spanish teacher, which she loved. But she found herself often thinking about how she could have a bigger impact.

Chandler decided to explore the business world and applied for a training program with financial services firm Morgan Stanley. By the end of her first day, Chandler knew she’d found a good fit and felt she could thrive in the demanding, fast-paced environment. She graduated from the program and went to work for Morgan Stanley as a financial adviser. While there, she witnessed the dot-com boom and the advent of the internet—exciting changes that helped shape her perspective. In 2001, a recruiter called and asked her if she’d be interested in joining Bank of America.

Out of The Comfort Zone

At Bank of America, Chandler moved into a business management role and worked on a trading desk. She was determined to prove herself to her new colleagues. “I was getting in at 5 a.m. and staying late,” Chandler says. “It was an institutional space with a lot of smart people, and I wanted to prove to the group that I could be helpful.”

The strategy paid off. She earned additional licenses and began supervising the trades. As her responsibilities continued to expand, Chandler took advantage of opportunities that Bank of America offered for volunteerism, which had always been an important part of her life, and mentoring, which fulfilled her passion to teach.

In the early 2000s, Chandler’s group integrated with the private bank, and she recognized the chance to gain a greater appreciation for both sides of the balance sheet and a deeper understanding of the bank’s base of clients. In 2007, Bank of America acquired U.S. Trust. Chandler, as she puts it, “raised her hand” and asked to help with the merger. In the process, she learned not just about the trust business, but more about the trials of bringing two company cultures together.

“I got out of my comfort zone and took on projects that would give me a broader view of the bank,” Chandler says. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to get to know other parts of the bank, and to get to know our colleagues really well.”

When she was young, Chandler was told that things that were written down were more likely to come true. So, as time went by and she continued to jump at opportunities, she wrote out her goals in an ever- present notebook. One of the goals was to get her MBA, an item she crossed off her list in 2004.

When the financial crisis struck, Chandler sifted through the bank’s private banking business, looking for ways to streamline processes and increase efficiencies. She sought mentors and participated in leadership programs. In 2011, she was accepted to Leadership Dallas, a program run by the Dallas Regional Chamber that takes high-potential, community-oriented professionals and educates them on the city.

“The goal is to immerse our future leaders in Dallas so they really understand the challenges and opportunities of our community,” Dale Petroskey, president and CEO of the Dallas Regional Chamber, says. Petroskey calls Chandler a great “connector of people.”

“Jennifer surprises me sometimes,” he says. “It’s not just how she serves on boards or interacts with professional colleagues, it’s how she’s getting out in the community and sharing the message of Bank of America.”

Chandler moved from market executive to regional executive, and, then on Jan. 1, 2019, she replaced Richard Holt and became Bank of America’s Dallas market president.

An Eye on The Future

A typical day for Chandler might go something like this: a 5 a.m. walk or run, followed by rousing her children for school. Then breakfast with a prospective client, an internal meeting, and perhaps a visit with a mentee. Then a client lunch and maybe a stop at a banking center. (“I usually bring muffins,” she says.) Then strategy meetings or perhaps a community meeting. After that, she goes home to her husband and four children, whom she often takes along to the bank’s volunteer days at food banks and shelters.

Hers is a busy schedule. Harriet Miers, who previously served as President George W. Bush’s White House counsel, calls Chandler a role model—especially for high-achieving women who struggle with finding a work-life balance.

“What I love to see is someone who has had the great success she’s had but has been able to balance responsibilities with family and doing community work at the same time,” says Miers, who first met Chandler through a family connection. “It’s a great combination.”

Today, Bank of America’s downtown office, a space with understated neutrals and walls specked with modern art, is quiet. At her table on the 67th floor, Chandler is talking about her notebook. It’s in front of her, filled with notes from various conversations with colleagues, clients, and members of the community. Her goals are written in the back; one of them is to teach her youngest child to ride a bike. A recently crossed-off item is to complete Harvard’s FinTech Short Course. “I’ve got to get that one framed,” she says of the completion certificate.

As in many industries, technology has an essential place in banking, and for Chandler, figuring out how to best leverage it is a crucial part of the bank’s future. It’s also important to keep abreast of the market in which she lives and works, she says. Today, Bank of America has 138 financial centers spread across the Dallas-Fort Worth area and $85 billion in total FDIC deposits. The bank has $1.1 billion in home loans, $26 billion in private banking client balances, and $47 billion in Merrill client balances. But when asked about her plans going forward, Chandler doesn’t mention dollar amounts. “My vision is to be known as the bank that changed lives,” she says. “And we’ll use all 13,500 of our colleagues to do it.” 

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