Former Chair Named One of Most Powerful Women in Banking

Behind a powerful woman, there’s a powerful story. Debby McWhinney ’77, COO of Citi Enterprise Payments, has made American Banker magazine’s list of the "25 Most Powerful Women in Banking" based on her global success and leadership, a notable achievement. But for McWhinney, it might be considered business as usual: this is the third time she’s made one of the magazine’s power lists.

"Originally, the list was built on banking metrics," McWhinney says. "But over time, they’ve realized power is more than that. It’s having a seat at the table, implementing decisions, making policy, being involved in your community and your country."

As an example, McWhinney points to another woman on the list: Karen Peetz, vice chairman and CEO of Financial Markets and Treasury Services at Bank of New York Mellon. "In addition to her day job, she stepped in to be chair of the board of trustees at Penn State University during their recent crisis. She has a powerful job, but she accepted that challenge. To me, that’s power, and that’s strength. It’s what that list is all about, and it shows all the characteristics of a group of women I want to be associated with."

Laura Brehm and Debby McWhinney

McWhinney exemplifies that kind of strength and influence herself.

A native Montanan who now lives in New York, she oversees employees around the world. "Our employee opinion survey is in 26 languages," she notes.

In addition, she co-chairs the Citi Women initiative, a company-wide effort to attract and develop top talent and to encourage promotional opportunities for women at all levels in the organization. Currently, that encompasses 142,000 women across the globe.

McWhinney believes lists like American Banker’s can be important for young women just starting their careers. "It proves to them women are in these kinds of positions. It gives them someone to look at and say, ‘I can do that. Let me read the profiles of the women on this list. What do they have I don’t? What do I need to do to become a powerful member of society?" Anyone can get straight As, and anyone can do their job well. It’s much bigger than that."

The key, McWhinney explains, is broadening career options. "Often, women get good at something, but they don’t broaden their career into other things. When I was first starting out in my career, I had an incredible mentor who took me aside and told me I was great at marketing, but I needed to stretch myself and show my versatility. I took that advice, and it’s brought me to where I am today."

McWhinney’s career has included board service for organizations she cares about, including UM. She served as chair of the UM Foundation Board of Trustees and the Invest in Discovery campaign, which raised $131 million for UM. She also has served on the UM Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Now, she continues to give back. McWhinney spoke to UM Global Leadership Initiative Fellows last spring, stressing the importance of a global perspective on business. "The world we live in is a global world. From grain in Montana to computer chips manufactured in China, there’s nothing in your office that isn’t globalized. That’s why the GLI is so important. It isn’t just learning another language; it’s understanding the culture behind the language. Without that knowledge, you just can’t compete."

Powerful words from a woman who knows what it takes to achieve global success.

Pictured above: Debby McWhinney (right) celebrated with Laura Brehm, UM Foundation President and CEO, at the President’s Club dinner in Missoula this fall.