She majored in drama at the University of North Carolina. After college, struggling to make ends meet, she applied for a job at a Virginia Beach dry cleaner … and got turned down. As a last resort, she took a job as a part-time, drive-up bank teller.
Now, Betsy Duke, age 65, has been named as the new incoming Chairman of the Board at embattled Wells Fargo & Co. That makes her the first woman to oversee one of our country’s largest banks.
The road to the top has been long. Betsy climbed the ranks of Virginia-based banking, earned an MBA, chaired the American Bankers Association (the first woman to do so), and sat on the Federal Reserve Board as a George W. Bush appointee.
A month after she joined the Fed, Lehman Brothers collapsed and unleashed the historic mortgage meltdown. Her old bank, Wachovia, was taken over by Wells Fargo, once viewed as banking’s “cream of the crop” until fraudulent account openings and other lending scandals sullied the bank’s stirling reputation.
Only time will tell if Duke can turn Wells Fargo around. But she’s just the latest in a series of women called in to defy impossible odds and fix ailing companies (think Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Ginny Rometty at IBM, Meg Whitman at HP, Mary Barra at GM).
Not a coincidence?: Why women are often named to leadership roles at troubled companies. Read more about “the glass cliff,” described by psychology professors Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam and sociologist Marianne Cooper of Stanford University as “the phenomenon in which women are more likely to be put into leadership roles under risky and precarious circumstances. By taking the helm during difficult times, their odds of failure are often higher.”