As Told To: Bank of America's D. Steve Boland

As Told To: Bank of America's D. Steve Boland

Steve Boland, smiling, Bank of America

Alumnus D. Steve Boland (BS90), president of retail at Bank of America, talks about his life and career path with SESP undergraduates during professor Regina Logan's class, The Life Story Interview.

I was running the Consumer Lending business before the pandemic hit. I was asked to lead Bank of America’s efforts to execute the Paycheck Protection Program, which is the administration's program to help small businesses weather the storm.

It had to be set up quickly. We had to gather 10,000 people who–by the way–we had just sent to work from home and were working three shifts, 24 hours a day. There was a high degree of risk. But we had more small business loans than any other lender and knew we needed to lead the industry.

I use my learning and organizational change degree almost every day. Not a lot of people can say that 30 years into their career. But I do. The skills that I rely on and tap into constantly came through learning how to communicate effectively up, down, and laterally, particularly in large organizations.

I’ve always been willing to take a risk and to rebrand myself. I’ve moved around the country a lot. Transitioning from a role you know really well and taking on a new role and responsibilities can be intimidating. The reality is you may fail. But those assignments help you distinguish yourself.

In the 1990s I was on a conference call. I was the only Black sales leader in that part of our organization. We were starting a partnership with NAACP or the Urban League. Someone made a comment, ‘gosh, I guess we’re all going to have to learn Ebonics now.’ Then you heard the call go immediately silent. It clicked – oh yes, Steve was on the call.

There was a very awkward pause, and I chose not to say anything, to not address it. That was early in my career and I’m definitely in a little bit different mode being in a more senior position. I make it very, very clear to people that if they encounter racism, whether it's triggered by our customers, or a colleague, or anyone else, we’ll address it and drive it out.

I was shocked to the core by some of the things we had to watch unfold after the murder of George Floyd. At first it was personal. I reminded my sons what they need to do if they find themselves in that situation.

As the most senior Black executive of the company, I also had to figure out what I wanted to say about the topics of diversity and inclusion.

I did a series of videos talking about my personal experiences. They aren’t the kind of stories you normally share in front of 200,000+ people, but I thought it was important to say ‘I share your shock, I share your disappointment, I share your anger, and I want you to know these experiences are real.’

On June 2, Bank of America announced they would commit one billion dollars over the next four years to support economic opportunity initiatives in local communities to help with economic and racial inequality.

It’s important that the billion dollars actually gets to some of the root causes. A cavalier approach to life and humanity is actually an outcome or symptom of fundamental inequality. We have to address inequality in healthcare, inequality in education, inequality in access.

My family is from Jamaica. My parents divorced and my mother raised me and my sister. When I was very young, we had a home in Jamaica with no indoor plumbing, and I grew up very modestly. I’ve worked hard since I was young to help contribute to our household.

Don’t worry about failing, worry about not learning from the experience. Every time I have a bad presentation to the board or to our CEO, or a bad TV interview, I review it again and say ‘okay, what can I do so that the next chance I get, I can really knock it out of the park?’ You'll learn more from your mistakes and your stumbles than from multiple successes.

I hope I’ll be remembered as a leader known for his character. That’s true both professionally and personally. I hope that when all is said and done the one thing my colleagues will all be able to say about me is ‘he is a person of high character.’

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 1/13/21