Old-School Bank’s First Female COO Chats About Innovation, Mentoring

By Becky Yerak
Chicago Tribune.


Jana Schreuder, a possible heir apparent to run Northern Trust, has already shattered some glass at the 125-year-old Chicago bank that serves wealthy individuals and companies and institutions worldwide.

Last year, Schreuder, 56, became the first female chief operating officer, a far cry from the accounting department job she landed on a cold call on the bank 35 years ago. At the time she was armed with just a letter of introduction from a couple of Tennessee bankers who were clients of her husband, a hotel manager.

“I’m sure they thought I had two heads when I walked in off the street, which you just didn’t do at Northern Trust … but I didn’t know any better,” said Schreuder, whose total compensation in 2014 was $4.8 million, making her the third-highest-paid person at the company.

Northern Trust’s chief executive, Rick Waddell, 62, was also once COO. That puts Schreuder on a short list for the top job. “It’s flattering certainly, but I have a lot to focus on in this job,” she said.

Her COO duties include overseeing operations, technology and efficiency and cost-cutting programs. Earlier this year, Northern Trust announced plans to open an operating center in Arizona that will employ 1,000 full-time people. “We’ve had a higher-than-expected interest in people moving with the job,” Schreuder said.

As part of her oversight of operations, Schreuder said making sure customer information is protected is a priority. “In this day of cyber security, that’s an ongoing challenge that we spend a lot of time on,” she said.

She said the bank has to stay ahead in meeting customer expectations, the reason she’s excited about an innovation lab Northern has launched. “As the demographics shift, as our clients look at new free time in their lives and want to interact differently, mobilely, expectations are continually shifting,” she said.

She described the lab as “a little room” on the bank’s fourth floor. “We’ll be building it out. It’s really four walls that you could write on and put Post-its on and where people can collaborate.”

One key is boosting banking technology. “The fact that we’re using” mobile “or that we shop online, that’s changing expectations of ‘How I can get information.’ It’s changing views on what choices I want, when I want to interact, when I want to talk to an expert.”

Schreuder said mobile is her preferred banking method, including for depositing checks and paying bills. She said she also uses PayPal, Apple Pay, ATMs, credit cards and cash. She writes checks only when no other form of payment is accepted.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Chicago Tribune asked Schreuder to describe her day.

“I started with a phone call with someone in our London office. I spent some time with Rick (CEO) and Bill (Morrison, Northern Trust president) and Biff (Bowman), our chief financial officer, talking about things that we want to do across the enterprise. I have had a meeting with our risk officer. I had some conversations about a couple of programs that we have underway to add new capabilities: one from a regulatory perspective and one from a product perspective. I have spent time with one of our business unit presidents. I spent time mentoring a young woman who’s 15 years into her career and wants to think about what’s next.” It was Schreuder’s first meeting with the woman.

Schreuder estimates she meets with 25 people on a regular basis and mentors people in Bangalore, India, London and Singapore. “Really, it’s mutual mentoring. A lot of these people teach me about things that are happening in the business that I can’t see through my lens, things we need to pay attention to. But some of them also teach me how to use that new technology.

Her jobs at Northern Trust have included being responsible for operations in London and the Middle East. She said she helped set up the company’s Bangalore office, which now has 3,500 workers. She has spent much time traveling and done extended stays but has never lived abroad for the company.

She said she gets calls about other jobs. “But rarely, I can’t think of one in the last 10 years that I’ve heard, that was really compelling enough for me to even pursue. I got one yesterday. I’m here for the duration.”

Schreuder said it’s impossible to know whether she would have gotten to where she is in her career if her husband, Eric, of 36 years hadn’t retired to stay at home to care for their daughter, who just finished her freshman year at college in Los Angeles.

“But I certainly do know it made it much easier to accept the trade-offs of extensive travel, demanding hours and challenging roles knowing he was with her,” she said. “Most important, our daughter is someone we really like as a person, and his focused attention had a lot to do with the development of her character and confidence, which affords me a sense of ‘no regrets’ as I look back on my career choices.”
Jana Schreuder

Her office: Includes memorabilia from clients and colleagues. Her favorite is a stick used to play hurling. “It’s from my Irish partners,” she said. “It’s kind of like field hockey, but it’s even faster.”

She’s an early riser, usually around 4 a.m., and leaves her suburban home by 5 a.m. She’s at her desk in the Loop before 6.

She gets at least four hours of sleep. “That’s my minimum, but I’m one of those people who can work on fairly little sleep,” she said.

Education: Degree in business, specializing in organizational behavior, from Southern Methodist University in Dallas; master’s in business administration from Northwestern.

Interests: Theater, ballet, opera and concerts. “I was a dancer until I was 17. I was very interested in acting. I was going to be a famous actress until my sophomore year in college when I discovered I would starve. I did not have the talent I thought I had.”

Playing Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams her senior year in high school was her acting pinnacle.

Her 19-year-old daughter just played Stella in Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Schreuder said her daughter has no illusions about becoming an actress but wants to get into production.

Favorite TV shows: “Madam Secretary” and “Blue Bloods.”

Last book read: “Behind the Cloud,” by the CEO of “He gave it to me at a lunch, and I read it so I’d know more about his company.”

Favorite physical activity: Scuba diving. “I’m a passionate diver,” she said. She has seen a great white shark in Australia. “I was in the water, and it went right by,” she said.

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