WILLOUGHBY: Jan Graham, Regions Financial Corp.

Graham

Juggling motherhood and a successful career is no easy task. I only have the smallest glimpse into what it really involves when my wife is out of town, and I try to manage my work schedule and my children’s active schedules. I watched my wife Nicki for years balance the tensions of home and work while she was a professional sales representative for Merck. I have tremendous respect for working moms.

I recently interviewed Jan Graham, a divisional commercial real estate executive with responsibility of CRE teams in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for Regions Financial Corp. She is truly one of those superheroes who excelled at work and home.

Graham grew up in Savannah, Ga., and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and also the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University. She started as a bank teller in Hattiesburg while she was in college and continued in banking after graduation at Deposit Guaranty National Bank in Jackson. After two years with DGB, she entered the bank’s training program. Her early duties included managing the Student Loan Department, working as an assistant branch manager, and serving as a health care and commercial loan officer. After 10 years in commercial lending, she moved to the commercial real estate group, managed a team for Mississippi and northern Louisiana, and was a regional commercial real estate executive before transitioning into her current role.

Graham’s father had a significant impact on her work ethic and drive to succeed. She shared that he was one of 10 children, born on a tobacco farm in Georgia where he grew up without a father. Her dad eventually worked his way through college and received a master’s in electrical engineering and eventually held 11 patents and sold a computer he invented to IBM in the early 60′s. Graham also noted that she learned how to manage by observing how not to manage from one of her early managers. She said, “He certainly made me realize how I, and others, wanted to be treated — with respect and fairness.” I have noted that many leaders learn the right way to manage by serving for a season under a poor manager. This is a good life lesson that we can always learn something even in difficult circumstances.

When I interview successful leaders like Graham, I am always curious about their key principles of leadership. She shared that she believes that it is important to “be honest and forthright to both internal and external clients. No one grows in their careers without honest constructive feedback.” She also emphasized how important it is to “be completely fair and to keep emotion out of your business dealings.” Graham also wisely noted that it is important not to panic in business. She said, “There are very few issues/problems that don’t have solutions.” That is a great point about leadership. Real leaders keep their cool and remain calm under pressure. Graham also pointed out how important thoughtful communication is in business. In an age of email and texting, this can be a real challenge. She noted, “Think carefully about what you are about to say before you say it or email it. You can’t take those words back.”

In addition to her success in business, Graham has raised two wonderful daughters one of which is a pediatrician and the other runs the online division of a health care supply company. She emphasized, “They are the highest accomplishments of my life.” Graham candidly noted that juggling motherhood and a career was an obstacle she had to overcome. She pointed out that “women tend to feel guilty that they cannot (or don’t) stay at home with their children.” As for her, she shared, “The time I had with my girls was true quality time and they were always my highest priority.” While Graham would be the first to acknowledge that life is always full of challenges, her positive attitude and strong work ethic have helped her be a true success both at the office and at home.

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