By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
Hardworking. Persistent. Collaborative. These are just some of the adjectives that describe Mary Knell.
Knell is the Chief Executive Officer of Wells Fargo’s Washington and Western Canada Commercial Banking teams, and has held this position since 2011.
Before her impressive career in banking, Knell thought about being a teacher.
One of the influential mentors in her life was her grandfather. He was a teacher and principal of a school in China and had always been a strong influence in her and her siblings’ lives. He always encouraged them to work hard and do well in school.
A strong work ethic ran in the family. Her parents instilled persistence and hard work on Knell and her three siblings growing up.
As a first generation Chinese American born in the United States, Knell feels blessed to have many of her extended family members close by in Seattle.
Having family in the vicinity helps Knell balance her personal and work life. She’s also had the same housekeeper for the last 25 years, so that helps, too.
Like many other successful people, Knell is an early riser. Up by 5 a.m. to start her day, Knell gets ready and then takes her daughter to school. She’s usually in the office by 8 a.m.
As the CEO, her role is to support all the businesses in the market. Whether she’s out meeting with customers and prospects, attending board and other meetings, retaining and recruiting the best talent, Knell helps her team and customers meet their objectives and succeed financially.
When juggling her active schedule, Knell thinks about what is important and how to delegate at work and at home.
“Life is busy, you just have to find what works best,” she said.
But before her banking career, Knell worked a variety of jobs that included running a paper route, babysitting gigs, and stints at the Bon Marché and Herfy’s. In high school, she started as a teller and worked after school and holidays. She continued working part-time while attending the University of Washington.
When Knell was in college, she wanted to go into sales and applied for a position to sell computers and copy machines. After graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in business administration and finance, she decided to stay in banking and worked as a credit analyst in the World Banking Training Program at Seafirst Bank, which later became Bank of America.
One of the first challenges that Knell endured was building credibility in the workplace as a loan officer. She was the only woman and person of color at the time at the bank. She didn’t have any mentors that looked like her. But she saw her challenge as an opportunity to make sure her hard work was quality work.
Growing up, she started working to help fund the expenses she had. She paved her way through paying for college, and was very proud when she came up with a down payment for her first car.
Now, Knell works so she can go on vacation, and when she does, she takes advantage of the time away so she can really enjoy it. She always tries to have something planned so she can look forward to the trips. She loves to go anywhere with warm weather and a beach, and she feels fortunate to have traveled around the world.
When Knell isn’t working or traveling, Knell hopes to increase her community involvement. Her priority is to give back to communities in need and to help make this a better place.
“Not only is it gratifying to be contributing, but it’s also a way to reach out and hear about issues from a different perspective, and try to make a difference,” she said.
Knell is passionate about education, helping women in business and girls. She is involved with many of the local organizations, including the Pacific Science Center, Washington CEO Forum, UW Foster School of Business, JDRF, Honorary Chair of Girl Scouts of Western Washington Future Builders Campaign, and Honorary Board Member of Executive Development Institute. She is the founder and chair of the Wells Fargo Washington Women’s Roundtable.
“Education is a passion of mine and ensuring we have the right resources that create opportunities and support a bright future, and the growing needs of our communities,” she said.
As a leader, Knell enjoys collaborating and working together as a team to come up with the right answers. She likes to hear input, the more diverse the better.
“I’m a huge proponent of thinking way outside the box. The best idea is what differentiates us as bankers. Being proactive, listening, and meeting customer needs to help them succeed financially is at the center of what we focus on. I’m only successful if my team is successful,” she said.
Above all, Knell’s proudest accomplishment in life is her two children, her 24-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.
“I’m so proud of them, they are incredible kids,” Knell said.
Knell’s advice to aspiring young leaders is to continue to put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up.
She mentioned that it can be a challenge for some people who weren’t raised to question or speak up, but advised that having the confidence to question in a productive way can help engage in the conversation.
“It’s the only way you’re going to make yourself known and have your opinions heard when people know you have something to say,” she said.
In addition to her family influences, Knell’s former bosses, community leaders, teachers, and people that have helped her along the way have been great mentors to her.
“I have a great role and an incredible team at Wells Fargo. We have fantastic customers and am so proud to be supporting our local communities. I feel very, very blessed, thrilled, and honored to be helping all of our teams grow our markets and our business. It’s always about the team, not the individual. We’re all successful because of what we do together, and that is a deep belief that I have,” Knell said. (end)
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.