Patti Husic: Paving the Way

By Karen Kroll

Tally up the number of U.S. banks, and you’ll find more than 6,000 FDIC-insured institutions. And if you had a dollar for every bank with a woman in both the CEO and CFO roles…

Well, let’s just say you wouldn’t be much richer. Not yet.

So where are those woman-led institutions? “I am thrilled that Centric Bank is one of them,” said Patti Husic, president and CEO of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based bank. With Sandra Schultz serving as Centric’s CFO, Husic is at the forefront of bank execs who actively encourage other women in the industry.

As the third female chair of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association, Husic launched its Women in Banking initiative. The program offers professional development, mentoring, networking, and other opportunities. “The goal has been to recognize and expand the engagement of women in banking,” said Duncan Campbell, president and chief executive officer of the 121-year-old association. Husic has “brought great leadership, vision and commitment to our industry,” he added.

Within Centric, Husic makes an intentional effort to look for a wide range of candidates for positions at all levels. “It isn’t always necessarily the easiest path,” she acknowledged, but it’s essential to changing the status quo. Toward that end, she’s also starting a Millennial Advisory Committee, with the goal of making both banking and Centric attractive to younger employees.

Taking the high-risk road from auditing to the c-suite.

Husic came to banking from public accounting, where most of her audit clients were banks. Five years into her career, Pennsylvania State Bank, a client and startup bank, offered her a position spearheading its accounting and finance area. Husic accepted and remained until the bank’s sale, about fourteen years later.

Although Husic was offered another role within the bank, she was intrigued by the possibility of working with Vartan Bank, the predecessor to Centric. The move offered an opportunity to “put my handprint on the organization,” she said. Vartan was owned by a sole shareholder, and the organization was facing challenges. Husic joined as chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

Less than six months after she joined, the shareholder unexpectedly passed away, and the bank’s shaky financial footing became more pronounced. The family that owned the bank decided to sell it.

Husic and three board members asked to present an offer. They put down substantial sums—which they would lose if the sale wasn’t completed—and then raised about $12 million. Weeks later, they received regulatory approval. “We closed on the transaction with about seven days to spare,” before the opportunity would have disappeared, Husic said.

The challenges weren’t over.

Centric still was under an enforcement action that required it to maintain elevated capital levels. In addition, any new directors and senior-level managers joining the bank had to undergo thorough, often intimidating background checks. That made it hard to recruit employees.

The bank tackled its problems, only to face the financial crisis. However, that proved to be an opportunity, Husic said. Once the enforcement action was lifted and potential clients knew the bank was safe, Centric grew by lending where other banks had stopped. “We seized the opportunity,” she said. Indeed, Centric was included in a March, 2010 Wall Street Journal roundup of banks still making loans.

Centric has kept on growing. Its $373 million in assets at the end of 2015 had increased to $474 million by October of 2016.

What are your keys to success?

Husic says loving what she does has been critical to her success. Another essential element has been what she called “making the ask.” Employees—and especially women—need to let others in their organizations know they want to advance, and ask what they can do to prepare themselves.

Husic noted that many men tell her they’d like to be on Centric’s board of directors. “I’ve never had one female business owner ever say that to me,” she said. While everyone looking to advance to upper management needs to demonstrate quality work and a commitment to the organization, they also need to make it known that they want to advance, she added.

When the chief executive officer at Vartan was terminated in 2005, Husic, then chief financial officer, didn’t consider herself a contender until a friend told her she’d essentially been handling the role for the past year, along with her other duties. Husic asked to be considered. The response? “We’re so glad to hear that. We didn’t think you were interested.”

Similarly, women do themselves a disservice when they brush off compliments about their work, Husic says, as it can lead others to think meeting a goal required less effort than it did. She offers a better response: “Thank you very much. I worked very hard, our team worked very hard, and we’re proud of those accomplishments.”

While helping other women advance remains a cause about which she’s passionate, Husic also says she couldn’t imagine working in any other industry. “When you get a text from a client on Christmas night that says, ‘You know, my wife and I will never forget how, you helped us realize our dream of owning our own business,’ those are the things that matter.”

Karen M. Kroll is a business and financial services writer and content marketer based in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Email: [email protected].