By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
After 14 years as chairman of JPMorgan Chase, Pacific Northwest Region, Phyllis Campbell retired from the position on April 5—but not from business or a life of service and mentorship.
“My core business work will continue,” Campbell, who still sits on two corporate boards, two nonprofit boards, and is advisor to a private company, told the Weekly. “Most people laugh at me and say that’s a full-time job.” She intends to take some rest and then, “We’ll see what emerges.”
The job was never meant to be this long. Campbell took on the position in 2009 after Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s Chairman and Chief Executive Director, asked her to join in the aftermath of acquiring Washington Mutual (WaMu), the U.S.’s largest savings and loan association until the market collapse in 2008. Campbell was brought on to ease the transition. She took the job in part due to a determination to ensure that WaMu’s culture continued.
“WaMu was generous. They were cultured, they did a lot of great things for the community and for their customers,” Campbell said. “I thought, the Northwest needs another great bank and I want to make sure that happens.”
Campbell supposed she would be with JPMorgan Chase for “five to seven years.” She already had a successful tour in banking, as president and CEO of US Bank of Washington, which she considered a “capstone” of her career; and had been in the nonprofit sector, running the Seattle Foundation, since 2003.
“Sometimes, life has other plans for you!” She thought 2019/2020 would be a good time to depart JPMorgan Chase. “We’ve built a tremendous team in the Pacific Northwest. I wanted to make sure that I had a good successor.” Then, the pandemic happened. “It was a tough time for everybody,” she remembered. “So much uncertainty. 2019, 2020, now turned into 2023.”
Concern for finding a successor was solved when Campbell recruited Kerri Schroeder, former market president for Bank of America (BofA) here.
“She understands banking, she’s been a senior executive of BofA…born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, wants to stay in Seattle…I caught her at the right time.” Schroeder took over Campbell’s role as Chair on April 1—the day Campbell joined in 2009, and hoped to retire, but needed a few more days to return from Hawai’i, where she was visiting at the time.
“I started on April 1, 2009. We used to smile and say it was April Fool’s Day, but it was no April Fool’s joke.”
Campbell grew up learning business from her father, and philanthropy from her mother. Her grandfather, who came from Japan, had a grocery and antique store on Capitol Hill, near Seattle University.
“He was quite a community leader,” Campbell recalled. Her grandfather was interred in the Dakotas during WWII. The rest of the family was sent to Minidoka. Her father, though, went to Spokane with his older brother, where he finished high school and joined the Army.
“He decided to enroll, as many Japanese Americans did…became part of the 442nd [famous for being almost entirely composed of second generation Japanese Americans]…He came back from Spokane after because that was the city he knew and he couldn’t find a job.”
Campbell told the poignant story of how, even in uniform, people would not serve her father at lunch counters.
“He overcame so much.” Eventually, Campbell’s dad was taken on at a dry cleaners, which became the family business (now sold).
“I always say, I learned my love of business, customer service, remembering people’s names…all the mechanics of a business” from her father, who was “a great example of resilience, persistence, hard work. All those lessons have served me well.”
Campbell’s mother is where she got her Aloha spirit. Her mother’s family were some of the first to come from Japan to work on the sugarcane fields and pineapple plantations of Mau’i.
“They had hard scrabble beginnings there,” Campbell said. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, Campbell’s mother’s heart went out to those less fortunate.
“My mother was very kind and generous. People [would] show up at our door.” Living in Spokane at that time, “We didn’t have much to share, but she would share sandwiches…We’d have people at the dinner table. We didn’t even know where they came from…It was kind of a nice combination growing up to see that grit on one side, my father’s, and to see my mother’s very generous Aloha spirit.”
Perhaps it is that upbringing which led Campbell to value connection and mentorship so highly. A prominent mentor of hers was Gerry Cameron, former CEO of US Bancorp, now passed, who mentored Campbell to take over his role. He taught her this motto, “Get Ready Be Ready.”
“He would say…I know that sometimes, as a woman and a woman of color, you have extra obstacles…I see people that don’t believe in you, but I know you are ready.”
Campbell recalled times she was the only woman in a room of managers, or at a board table. She might have felt intimidated or fell victim to the imposter syndrome, if not for Cameron’s advice: “You have to take risks, too…You have to walk through that door when it opens.”
Campbell continued, “Many women and people of color don’t see themselves as ready. Particularly Asian Americans.” She often thought, “If I take the risk and fail, it’s going to bring ‘shame’ on the family…[but] Gerry said, ‘Phyllis, you might stumble, but you’ll never fail…mistakes are a great teacher.’”
Campbell considers mentoring young people a priority and something she will continue after retirement. She hopes those she’s left behind at JPMorgan Chase will do the same.
“You can always ask for mentors, friends, advisors to give you advice and help you through these sticky situations we all get into…That’s why I always tell people to be sure to pass that on. That’s one thing I’ve said to people who’ve said, ‘We’re going to miss you so much. You’ve set the tone.’ I say, ‘This is now your role…to do the same thing for others.’”
Campbell will also continue to stand for representation of women and people of color.
“I really want to make sure…that I do my part to help diversify corporate boards, to diversify leadership teams. It’s all part and parcel of the work that JPMorgan Chase is doing, but luckily now I can have influence in ponds outside of the Company as well.”
She has no intention of leaving Washington—it’s home. She and her husband, retired Public Works Director for the City of Redmond, consider themselves fortunate that they “can create scholarship funds and places for young people. That’s going to always be a passion for me, to pay it forward and open doors.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.