Lauren Ranalli, Executive Vice President and the Chief Financial Offer at First Resource Bank, spoke with VISTA Today about growing up on Long Island and learning the importance of flexibility while working in a sales support role at Newsday, Long Island’s daily newspaper, when she was in college.
She also shared how her decision to attend Villanova plotted the course of her adult life, as she met her husband there, landed her first full time job in Ernst & Young’s Philadelphia office, and later, met Glenn Marshall, with whom she launched First Resource Bank in 2005.
Ranalli also shares her unique experience of starting First Resource, surviving the 2008 global economic downturn, and how her father’s gentle chiding provided the motivated to take on any challenge and never take a back seat to anyone.
Where were you born Lauren?
I was born the oldest of three siblings in West Islip on the south shore of Long Island, New York. My father ran a tire/auto repair shop, and my mother worked at home most of my childhood then took a job as a school secretary when I was in high school.
What memories do you have of growing up in West Islip?
We were a very traditional family. We lived less than five minutes from the beach, so we were out on our boat all the time and crabbing under the bridge. We took many trips to Disney World, a place that I have now taken my own family many times.
What was your first job?
In the summer of my sophomore year of college, I worked for Newsday, the local newspaper on Long Island, covering territories when the sales rep for a sales territory was on vacation. Over the ten-week period, I had as many different bosses. I learned how to manage each of their territories to their specific expectations. One sales rep was a micro-manager; another was hands-off; another stressed sales while his colleague emphasized operations. It felt like ten different jobs over the course of one summer! I loved it.
How much did Newsday pay you??
I don’t remember my hourly wage, but I do remember my mileage reimbursement was eight cents a mile, barely enough to keep my ten-year-old bucket-of-bolts tank I was driving on the road.
What life-lessons did you take from that job?
I used the experience from that job to land my first job out of college with Ernst & Young. When I told the Ernst & Young recruiter what I had done at Newsday, they practically hired me into their auditing practice on the spot. As an auditor, I worked for different clients and bosses all the time. The flexibility I learned at Newsday was enormous.
What kind of music were you listening to growing up, Lauren?
I listened to Eighties new wave like Depeche Mode and The Cure.
Did you do sports in high school?
I was and still am, totally uncoordinated, so sports wasn’t my thing. Instead, I worked on the yearbook, sang in the choir, and was involved in several clubs.
Where did you go to college?
Initially, I was hell-bent on going to The College of William & Mary in Virginia but got wait-listed. In the interim, I visited Villanova on what just happened to be a warm, spring-like day in February when everybody was out and about enjoying the unseasonable weather. Villanova’s campus felt so welcoming. I remember thinking, if Villanova is my Plan-B, I could do a whole lot worse.
Did you adjust well to college life?
I loved it. In fact, my parents had to call me on the hall phone in the dorm to check on me because I had not called home during that first week. I made great friends and enjoyed my business classes.
Looking back, was Villanova a good choice for you?
My decision to attend Villanova was one of the most significant decisions of my life. Not only did I meet my husband Andrew at Villanova, but I ended up remaining in the Philadelphia area and eventually met Glenn Marshall with whom I launched First Resource.
You discover yourself at Villanova?
I always knew I wanted to be in business. Growing up, I loved watching the movie Wall Street and had a poster of Gordon Gecko’s famous speech hanging in my dorm room. When I got to Villanova and started taking marketing and finance classes, I found myself. I became an accounting major precisely because I knew I would get a job with one of the big accounting firms when I graduated. That happened when Ernst & Young offered me a position in the Spring Semester of my Junior year. I didn’t phone in the last three semesters, but I certainly enjoyed myself knowing I had a job at a major accounting firm locked up.
When did you discover you had leadership ability?
I was managing editor of The Villanovan, Villanova’s weekly student newspaper. While I enjoyed whatever leadership opportunities that came my way, what I learned at Villanova was the power of relationships and networks. As I went through interviews, the power of networking, never burning a bridge and working hard became obvious to me. You just never know what door someone you know can open for you.
After College, who gave you your big break to get you where you are today?
Glenn Marshall without a doubt! When I met and worked with Glenn at another bank, we would often joke about how we would do things when we opened our own bank. One day, he said I’m ready, let’s start a bank. The fact that Glenn had faith in me to invite me to be his partner and the CFO of the new bank in 2004, even though I was only 29 years-old and had a one-year-old baby, meant the world to me.
When I told my parents I was going to leave my job and start a bank of my own, they thought I was crazy! They didn’t quite understand why I would leave my job as bank controller, a job I generally liked, and I was good at, to start a bank. But I trusted Glenn that he knew what he was doing and the two of us worked through the launch process together.
What do you think Glenn saw in you?
Aside from the fact that we get each other, Glenn likes my general business acumen, my ability to read people, and my natural ability to work through complex issues. We complement each other and have a strong business partnership. The fact I respect him as much as I do and am not gunning for his job, relieves a lot of the tensions inherent in running a bank.
How did First Resource make it through the 2008 economic downturn?
If we had known in 2005 when we launched First Resource what was coming down the pike, we might not have never gone out on our own. What we’ve lived through in the last twelve years is the equivalent to forty years of banking experience. While larger financial institutions were evicting borrowers from buildings when they missed loan payments, we worked through the crisis with our borrowers. If they worked with us, we worked with them to keep them in their homes or buildings.
Looking out over the next six months, what are First Resource’s opportunities and challenges?
The ability to keep the culture and service that defines us is critical. We’re growing like a weed. When we opened in 2005, we had eleven employees. Today, we have 41 and expect to grow to nearly 50 employees in the next year. Every new employee has to be imbued with our unparalleled hyper-focus on the customer. We work hard, and our customers expect a high level of support. That’s just who we are and what we do. It’s not easy nor does our culture work for everyone.
At the same time, we don’t want to become a stuffy bank. You’ll often see our employees in logo polo shirts or sweaters as opposed to three-piece suits. At the Christmas Parade in West Chester a couple of weeks ago, we had about 20 employees there, almost half of the bank, handing out 10,000 cups of hot chocolate. Even though handing out that many cups of hot chocolate is backbreaking manual labor, we had a great time.
What about expansion plans?
No announcement yet, but we’re very close to identifying a third branch site which we hope to unveil in 2018.
What criteria do you look for in a new branch site?
We look for markets that will support over $100 million in deposit growth. Our Exton branch has well over $150 million in deposits, and West Chester is at $57 million and growing. Deposits are gasoline in the tank for us. Without deposits, we can’t lend money.
Finally, Lauren, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Growing up my father challenged me relentlessly. He would chide me, all constructively of course, ‘girls can’t do that’ or ‘girls can’t be CEO’s or CFO’s’. He knew me and knew if he told me I couldn’t do something, I couldn’t wait to prove that I could. He saw what I could become and didn’t want me to take a back seat to anyone. His challenges made me what I am today, and he remains one of my biggest champions.
Have you carried on that tradition with your daughter?
When my daughter Emily was younger, and I would help out at a school party, she would ask me to come dressed like a “normal” mom not like a banker. She was self-conscious that I was in my business suit while the other moms were wearing “mom clothes”.
Now, at age 14, she sees the impact that my small community bank has locally. She sees how many jobs we’ve created as we have grown and she sees that we have donated over a million dollars to local charities and schools, including the schools she has attended, so she gets it, and is very proud of me.
She’s currently interested in being a corporate lawyer, and I’m pushing her the same way my dad pushed me. I want her to be a strong, independent person that doesn’t back down from a challenge.