On an otherwise bare coffee table in Susan C. Keating's office rests a book called "This Job Should Be Fun!"
For Ms. Keating, an executive vice president at MNC Financial Inc., the job has been fun, even during the worst of MNC's financial problems in the last three years. But now, the head of MNC's retail, or consumer, banking operations may have to go back to the book.
Late last month MNC's chief executive, Frank P. Bramble Sr., decided to restructure MNC, parent of Maryland National and American Security banks. He combined the wholesale, or commercial, banking division with the retail division, and when it came time to choose the new "mega-division's" leader, he picked Ms. Keating.
Her challenge now is to help MNC get its consumer and commercial lending in high gear again. Mr. Bramble's restructuring is intended to do that by more closely coordinating commercial lending with the business opportunities provided by the extensive branch banking systems of MNC's two main subsidiaries, Maryland National Bank in Baltimore and American Security Bank in Washington.
That'll be no small task considering the company barely survived the losses from its late 1980s binge on commercial real estate. MNC's assets have dropped almost by half in the last three years, to about $17 billion, and the company made money last year largely by slashing costs and investing in government securities.
The promotion brought Ms. Keating even closer to the top level of the company, putting her in the inner circle of executives reporting directly to Mr. Bramble. And it made her one of the top woman executives in the state.
"There's a common understanding around town that if you [talk about] real power, Susan's got real power," observes Robert Keller, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. Ms. Keating was a recent participant in the GBC's annual leadership program.
Ms. Keating, he said, is "somebody you can be around and believe that something's going on -- something important."
How long she will retain that power is anyone's guess, since MNC's acquisition by NationsBank Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., is widely expected to occur by September.
Although she won't talk about NationsBank, working for a company that size -- it's the fourth-largest banking company in the nation -- likely won't be daunting for Ms. Keating, a 42-year-old Los Angeles native. Thriving on personal interaction is a thread that runs through her rise from high school English teacher in St. Louis to one of Maryland's top bankers.
A graduate of Northwestern University, outside of Chicago, Ms. Keating left her high school teaching job in 1974 to take her grandfather's advice and get into the business world, she related in an interview last week. With no business experience, and the desire to enter banking -- a field where women were usually relegated to secretarial and teller jobs -- she convinced her interviewer at Milwaukee's Midland Bank that she was serious about a banking career.
"I looked him in the eye and said, 'I'd like to be president of the bank someday.' I guess partly because of my chutzpah, he hired me on the spot," she laughed.
Mr. Bramble said she is "an outstanding manager of people and process, and has an excellent knowledge of the banking business, and has done a great job in running the community bank for me since I've been in this position."
"She is organizationally savvy and knows how an organization works," said Gary Foss, president of Prism Inc., a Minneapolis management consulting firm.
Ms. Keating has a remarkable talent for recognizing the skills among her staff, using them to complement any shortcomings she may have, and combining them effectively, Mr. Foss said. He worked with Ms. Keating at First Bank System Inc. in Minneapolis and then helped bring her to MNC in 1988 to head consumer banking in the Baltimore region when he was senior vice president for executive resources.
Joining her in the move was her husband, John P. Keating, who also worked at First Bank System at the time. "It was obviously a joint decision," Mr. Keating said. "There wasn't any consternation about . . . who's making the move."
Mr. Keating is now a first vice president in MBNA's affinity group card program, commuting an hour each day to Newark, Del., from the couple's home in Hunt Valley.
Though Ms. Keating serves on the boards of several community groups, including St. Paul's School for Girls, which her 15-year-old daughter attends, Ms. Keating said her time these days is split primarily between work and her family.
She downplays the importance of her new position. "I think one of the key parts about all of this," she said, "is a sense of teamwork, a sense of working toward a common goal, [and] a sense of pride, recognizing the accomplishments that we've had as a company."