Laura Pingatore – M&T Bank
It’s been a challenging year for the banking industry: In early March, the Federal Reserve’s total lending to banks was just under $5 billion, but by March 29, it had shot up to $332.7 billion.
On March 17, the Wall Street Journal reported that economists had found 186 banks with similar risks to those of Silicon Valley Bank. The failed California lender had a high percentage of uninsured deposits and exposure to government bonds and mortgage-backed securities (which fell in value as interest rates rose), making it vulnerable to a sudden surge of withdrawals by depositors.
But not every bank is faltering. Some are positioned to benefit from the disruption in the market. And Buffalo-based M&T Bank is one of them.
“We see it as an opportunity to help those customers and those employees that could potentially be displaced from those organizations that didn’t have the financial strength or the sound management to stay in business,” says Laura Pingatore, M&T’s senior manager of talent acquisition and senior vice president. “We always step up, no matter what the situation is, to serve our customers and support the communities where we work.”
M&T has gone from being one of the top 20 performing banks in the country to being—with the acquisition of People’s United Bank—the 11th largest bank in America. That has presented its own set of challenges for Pingatore, who had to mobilize her team to stand up the integrated business.
“Leaders across the organization made the decision that we really need to realign everything,” she says. “So that whether someone is doing a job based in Virginia or a job based in Buffalo, it’s seamless—we all have the same infrastructure and the same approach.”
Adapting to help the community
Just as it has emerged from the recent banking crisis unscathed, M&T also came out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before.
As Pingatore tells it, the pandemic was a differentiator, and M&T rose to the occasion. In a typical year, M&T had been offering around 9,000 loans annually through its small business lending program. Over the course of two weeks in 2020, the bank dispensed 30,000 loans.
“I’ve never been prouder of an organization than I was working for M&T in 2020,” Pingatore says. “They tapped teams from throughout the bank for all-hands-on-deck to help with these [Paycheck Protection Program] loans.”
The bank also looked after its employees, recognizing that many of its workers now had kids at home and no daycare. Leadership, including Pingatore, implemented a new rule: no meetings before 9 a.m., no meetings during lunch and no meetings after 4 p.m.
Pingatore credits “a huge team,” of which she was a part, with managing the company’s transition to remote work. They provided daily updates and strategized about the big picture, including how to support employees. And they gave workers chances to gain new skillsets in different positions rather than lose their jobs. For example, mortgages were exploding because of low interest rates, and loan forgiveness was another growth area.
“You know how, when something bad happens in your life, you find out who your friends are?” Pingatore says. “Well, it’s kind of the same in corporate America. You see how the leadership reacts and comes together, or doesn’t, during a time of change.”
The nicest place they’ve worked
That team effort was possible because of M&T’s collaborative company culture. Pingatore says it’s like the Three Musketeers writ large. She herself has worked hard to develop a company ethos of humility, collegiality and having each other’s backs.
“It’s this kind of symbiotic relationship that is really why I love where I work,” Pingatore says. “I mean, it’s the people; we have amazing people. But I think our culture and our philosophy really are the reasons we’re in the position we’re in.”
M&T’s culture has also helped Pingatore lure seasoned talent away from big-name banks. Last year, her direct reports went from five to 15 people. Two of those additions came from well-known banks and had been with their previous employers for decades. But according to Pingatore, they were willing to join her team because they wanted to work for an organization that took care of its employees.
“Me and my team vet talent for not only their technical skillset, but also whether they’re a cultural fit,” Pingatore says, noting that she has passed on top performers with dog-eat-dog attitudes. “We go into every search wanting this to be the best place someone ever works and the last place they ever work.”
Getting hooked on HR
While Pingatore loves working in human resources, it wasn’t the career she originally envisioned. After earning a degree in bioscience from Penn State University, she planned to go to medical school, but was waitlisted and, already in debt, decided to join the workforce. Both her parents worked in human resources, and one of them introduced her to someone who had a sourcing job available.
“I had never done that, but the first person I sourced, I placed,” Pingatore recalls. “So, I was hooked.”
That led to a sourcing role at an executive search firm, then a job at a temp agency. After that, Pingatore ran a temp agency for nine years. While there, she was tapped by a large firm in Philadelphia to start a staffing division for it. After five years there, with young children, she left to start her own search firm.
“People were like, ‘What are you thinking?’” she says. “I said, ‘I’m taking a risk; if I fail, what’s the worst thing I have to do? Go find another job.’”
Wilmington Trust became one of her clients, and when M&T acquired Wilmington in 2011, its management got wind of the fact that Pingatore had been doing executive searches for Wilmington Trust for years. So, they hired her in 2011, at the time of the Wilmington Trust acquisition by M&T, and that led to where she is today.
“The thing is, it’s like: ‘What are you going to do when you grow up?’ And you think you know,” she laughs. “I absolutely love what I do, and the people I work with. The biggest takeaway from my career is: be adaptable. And be true to yourself—know what challenges make you happy, and then just follow how that goes.”
View this feature in the Vol. III 2023 Edition here.
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