by Maria SCRIVANI
She looks like a business executive but talks like a community activist. KeyBank
President Marsha Henderson has bridged the gap between profit margins and personal
idealism, creating a 21st-century model for corporate responsibility. Leadership can
only come from a sincere desire to achieve outcomes that are beyond an individual
interest, the Williamsville native said recently.
The extent to which you are able to transform your self-concern into
other-concern will determine your effectiveness in getting others to follow
you. In this first year of her tenure as head of KeyBank, N.A.s Western New
York District, Ms. Henderson has amply demonstrated such leadership skills, encouraging
some 1,200 Key employees to follow in her footsteps to community involvement. They are
volunteering with Scouts, serving on youth boards, sponsoring theatre productions,
supporting health care programs, guiding church groups and so on. The banks annual
Community Report, designed to match its financial twin in information dissemination,
details the many initiatives in which KeyBank staffers have played roles.
Marsha in 3rd grade.
We take to heart strongly what we say in the report, says their chief.
The values we take seriously are leadership, responsibility and teamwork...We have
1,200 employees who live and work here. We want them to feel theyre living in a very
vital, energetic community.
Their efforts at making Western New York a better place is a high point of her
presidency, Ms. Henderson states. I am most proud of our very active volunteers in
the communitywe have so many unsung heroes. Im extremely proud of what
theyve been doing hereand this is a strong part of our culture here at
More than just stirring words, Marsha Hendersons notion of civic stewardship is
underscored by her example. She serves on the boards of directors of the United Way of
Buffalo and Erie County, Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Kaleida Healths Trustee
Council and Kaleidas Women and Childrens Health Research Foundation, and the
Independent Health Foundation. She is also a trustee of the Buffalo Philharmonic
Orchestra, and has volunteered on behalf of the March of Dimes (shes Honorary
Chairperson for WalkAmerica 1999), Benedict House, the Girl Scout Council and the American
Marshas mother and fatherGerry and John Spence.
Thats the litany youll hear when Ms. Henderson discusses her 27 years in
the banking industry. Rather than harping on her career accomplishments, she prefers to
highlight the community activities that have been so important in her life and now are a
sort of sub rosa mission statement for KeyBank under her aegis.
She came to Key in 1998 after eight years with Fleet Financial Group (where she served
as senior vice president and marketing manager of Fleets Private Clients Group for
Upstate New York) and 18 years with M&T (her last position was vice president and
manager in their Western New York Commercial Banking Division). The KeyBank presidency was
an offer she couldnt refuse, just when it looked like her work would necessitate
leaving her beloved hometown.
Marsha and her husband Christopher.
I could see that it suited a lot of my desiresit was a real leadership
opportunity and a chance to contribute more to the Western New York community. I really
wanted to stay here!
Now, when she addresses professional organizations as she has done on the subject of
career advancement, she recalls that moment of accepting the challenge of a bank
presidency as a critical decision point in her life. Fear can keep us
from taking a risk, she says. I cannot say that each move in my career was
pre-planned but I can say I felt in control of the outcome. I knew it was up to me.
Early on she dared to take such leaps. When Marsha Henderson was at State University of
New York at Buffalo she toyed with the idea of becoming an urban planner, a career goal
inspired by the riveting lectures delivered by one popular geography professor. She earned
her BA degree with a major in that subject.
KeyBank Rat Race.
She ended up in banking almost by happenstance, like someone who went on vacation and
ended up relocating. A job in retail at the old Hengerers Department Store had led
to an offer of a buyers position; while she was considering that a relative who
worked at M&T told her the bank was hiring. She talked to a woman in human resources,
who spoke convincingly of bankings many career opportunities. And Marsha said yes.
The first work I did was on the computer, data entry for an operational area. But
I could see there was opportunity for advancement. Eventually she worked her way
into a management-training program. One of her early mentors at M&T was Charlie
Kerrigan in the human resources department ( he later went on to a professorship at
DYouville College), who told her shed need more than a geography degree if she
was serious about banking. Soon she was enrolled at Canisius College, where she earned an
MBA in Finance.
Marsha and Chris at Pebble Beach on a golf vacation.
Even as she moved up the ladder she managed to reach a hand back to help those coming
up behind, especially other women. At the time there werent a lot of role
models in the business for us, she recalls, speaking of the 70s and 80s.
The situation has improved, though she notes that while 80 percent of financial services
workers are female, they still comprise less than five percent of top administrators.
I have always been involved in various womens groups, says Henderson,
who was recently elected to the board of the National Womens Hall of Fame and is a
Pataki appointee to the governors Commission Honoring the Achievements of Women. She
has been involved in the development of the Western New York Womens Hall of Fame.
One of her proudest moments came when she was elected international president of Financial
Women International, with over 15,000 members nationwide and in several foreign countries.
She directed the group through a strenuous strategic planning process, spoke to member
groups across the country and helped form an affiliate group in Russia.
Marsha satisfies her love of gardening while traveling to Giverny, France.
All the time her heart and her biggest challenges have remained right here, she says.
We have such a wonderful community, great natural resources, a terrific
climatedespite what some say. We need to find the factors that bring us more
economic success. We need to make the transition from the old economy to a new one...Our
students need to learn skills for the 21st century, not skills for jobs of the past. We
need to give them skills for the future.
We have to have a common destiny and will for our community.
Implementing such ideas occupies most of Marsha Hendersons 60-hour work weeks.
When she does finally unwind, its likely to be on the golf course with husband
Christopher, whom she met while at M&T. Hes vice president and security manager
there. Chris has been a terrific partner in all this, she says.
Were both proud of the organizations we work for. I guess you could say we
have a friendly rivalry.
Marsha with friend Gail Ginnetty at St. Basils - Red Square 1995.
Ms. Henderson is also an avid gardener, enjoying planning, planting, and lately, a new
hobbyphotographing perennials at their Snyder home. I find it very
relaxing, she says. Clearly, shes as happy with her home life as she is with
whats happening in the office. In these days of rampant stress and job
dissatisfaction, there arent many who can echo her words: Work just
doesnt seem like work to me.
Maria Scrivani is a freelance writer.
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