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KeyBank's regional executive revisits past

Outlook

KeyBank's regional executive revisits past

It all started, she explains, with humble beginnings in Dublin, Ireland
KeyBank's regional executive revisits past
Keybank Market President Ruth Mahoney in her 6th floor foyer at 66 S. Pearl Street in Albany Thursday, February 14, 2019.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

ALBANY — Sitting in a sixth-floor conference room overlooking flashing marquees at a nearby arena and wintery South Pearl Street below, KeyBank's regional executive ponders a question from a visitor: How did she get here?

There's no missing the twinkle in her eyes as Ruth Mahoney pauses, reflecting on a serpentine trail stretching over thousands of miles and an array of business, educational and athletic pursuits that spanned international borders.

Mahoney, 51, today leads the regional KeyBank team – directly supervising over 500 retail employees in 57 locations across eight counties and coordinating the work of another 500.

Recently she was tapped to put her skills and experience to work helping to win State of New York economic development dollars for the Capital Region.

The senior business leader was recently appointed to co-lead the Capital Region Economic Development Council, along with University at Albany President Havidan Rodriguez. The group is one of 10 that participate in an annual competition to win economic grants for projects in their regions.

Roots in Ireland

It all started, she explains, with humble beginnings in Dublin, Ireland. "I was born there, but it's important to make sure people know it was the north side. There's a difference."

"From there, our family moved north to Dundalk," she adds, speaking wistfully of a town of about 30,000, perched along the Castletown River near the Irish border with Northern Ireland. It was there that her parents raised a family of four girls. Her mother stayed home with the children, while her father served as fire chief.

Her future path began to take shape as she entered her teen years.

"I was almost 6 foot, 3 inches at 13," Mahoney says. While she played golf regularly with her father and enjoyed the challenge, she felt the siren call of a game where height was an asset.

"I had played some basketball and I learned quickly that my height was helpful," she says.

Mahoney was recruited to play for local teams, played through high school and was so successful she played for the Irish national team.

She briefly tried engineering school after high school but gave it up to focus on basketball. Mahoney also got to know the Irish team's sponsor – a bank – and ended up working at a local branch.

"It was there that I obtained my love of banking," she says of her time at a Dublin branch. A tough "chain-smoking, scotch-drinking" supervisor mentored her and instilled in Mahoney a respect for the business.

Crossing 'The Pond'

Even so, basketball continued to exert an influence. She was an admired forward on the hardwood court who continued to draw attention in Ireland and abroad. One of the biggest turning points in her life occurred in 1987 when a small private college in New York's Hudson River Valley came calling. Marist College offered her a full scholarship to cross the Atlantic Ocean and play Division I hoops in Poughkeepsie.

"We didn't even know where Poughkeepsie was; we had to look for it on a map," Mahoney explains.

But find it they did, and she began packing her two suitcases after telling her family. She didn't waste any time starting her basketball career or academic work.

From 1987 to 1991 she prowled the hardwood at McCann Center, served as a team captain, and studied business. During her time on the
team, she helped elevate the Red Foxes to winning records in her junior and senior years, according to Marist Assistant Athletic Director/Sports Information Director Mike Ferraro.

In both those seasons, she was the third-leading rebounder on the squad. In all, she played in 98 games over four years.

Her plans after graduation? Head back to Ireland and pick up where she left off in banking or another career.

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But before she could put those plans in action, she met a KeyBank recruiter who visited campus during her senior year. The recruiter convinced her to come up to Albany for a management training program, so she told her family she was staying in the U.S. and moved north.

The one-year program involved rotating between several KeyBank departments to gain exposure to how a financial company operated.

She loved the experience and culture so much she decided to stay in Albany, working for Keybank. The future executive met her husband Rob here and began a KeyBank career that spanned several decades, sandwiched around a 10-year stint at Fleet Bank/Bank of America.

In 2006, she was appointed Key Private Bank's market manager for the Capital Region and Hudson Valley. After four years in that role, she headed downstate where KeyBank named her president of the Hudson Valley and Metro New York Market, based in Tarrytown.

In 2015, KeyBank brought her back to Albany for her current job: market president and regional retail executive for the Capital Region. The relationships she had formed in Albany and the knowledge of the market she gained during her previous tour of duty here made her a natural for the job.

Lessons from the hardwood floor

As she moved up the company ladder, working with customers that ranged from individuals to large businesses, Mahoney never forgot the lessons she learned on the basketball court.

First, the bank executive recalls, is simply hard work and determination. From there, teamwork and understanding one's role on the team are important. The required discipline, the practice and the hard work becomes part of the routine, she says.

"In the business world today we call that execution and consistency. Teamwork and understanding your role on the team are really important. When I played basketball I was never the star player but I knew my role and was willing to run the plays consistently and execute whatever it was the coach wanted. This was really important to me later when I was building and leading teams for the last 25 years."

Another important lesson, Mahoney says, is serving as a good role model for others, whether they are teammates, co-workers or employees.

"Finally, there's the issue of winning and losing. You learn to deal with the ups and downs. You become resilient. I've learned over the years that if you have a good strategy you won't get upset when things go wrong. I stay calm when some might say the sky is falling. Sometimes, people underestimate calm for being laid back or low key. I'm so far from that. We move forward and talk about what we're going to do. That mentality I learned from sports I use today in the board room."

A final lesson Mahoney cites is simply having and maintaining passion.

"If you love what you're doing, it's easy to get out of bed every day, come to work, and just give it everything that you have."

The job today

Pushed to describe a typical work day, Mahoney laughs a bit and pauses before confessing that there is no such thing. Each day is different, she explains, and ranges from leadership meetings to conference calls to branch visits/client meetings to community events in the evening.

"When I go out and visit our branches I find what customers and employees say to be very insightful," she says. "Every client is different but I focus on their overall financial wellness. I try to understand their goals and help them meet them so they get to the point where they sleep at night"

Business and community leaders outside of KeyBank understand the value and business sense she brings to any endeavor. She serves on the Albany Medical Center Board of Directors and the boards for the New York Bankers Association and Capital Region Chamber of Commerce.

Advocating for state dollars in the Capital Region

In the news release announcing Mahoney's appointment in February to fill the co-chair role formerly held by Albany Medical Center President and CEO James J. Barba, University at Albany President Havidan Rodriguez said, "I am very much looking forward to working closely with Ruth Mahoney as CREDC co-chairs, and know that she brings to the table a wealth of knowledge and experience about our regional economy."

In this new leadership role, Mahoney sees the collaborative spirit among varied communities, nonprofits and other organizations as a regional strength, as well as some major economic indicators such as a low unemployment rate. In 2017, regional unemployment was 4.4. percent. The rate decreased to 3.4 percent last year. The existence of a wide variety of cultural organizations also helps make the region attractive, she says, citing Proctor's Theatre, Palace Theatre, Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Times-Union Center, among others.

"Our goal is to grow the overall region, not just certain areas, and to support entrepreneurship and innovation so that we thrive here," she says.

Citing a tight recruitment market caused by the low unemployment, Mahoney says it will be critical to find ways to keep college graduates here before they move off to Boston, New York or other major cities.

"If we don't make our downtowns livable, walkable and enjoyable cities for our young people, they are going to go elsewhere," she says.

"When you see what's happened in Troy, for example, it's very encouraging, not only from a downtown perspective but from a video game hub perspective...from a startup perspective...that environment becomes appealing to the younger generation."

As Mahoney begins her first full year as a council chair, she points to a solid team of leaders in place throughout the region – leaders she explains, who can already see where the important business and community intersections lie as great starting points.

The future

Mahoney is not only a great example in the business arena and throughout the community, but her own family sees the value of her successful career path.

Son Patrick is a 6 foot, 5-inch sophomore forward on nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's basketball team. He studies business and management in the Lally School of Business at RPI.

That sounds a little familiar.

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