Chester County Leadership: Mary Ann Messmer, SVP, Head of Private Banking at Meridian Bank
Mary Ann Messmer, SVP, Head of Private Banking at Meridian Bank, spoke with BUCKSCO.Today about growing up in Blue Bell as the daughter of a World War II veteran; playing multiple sports, which enabled her to spend quality time with her father; and, despite the initial objection of her parents, attending La Salle University, where she was a member of its third graduating class that included women.
Messmer also discussed entering the workforce at 29, after starting a family; joining Meridian Bank; the great mentors she’s had throughout her tenure there; and her priorities this year including a 10-acre horse farm she and her husband recently purchased in Bedminster Township in upper Bucks County.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born the youngest of two girls in Haddonfield, New Jersey, and we moved to Blue Bell in Montgomery County not too long after. Blue Bell was relatively rural at the time, so for my city-born Philadelphia parents, it was an adjustment.
What did your parents do?
My mom was a homemaker. My father was an executive in meat processing. He fought in WWII, returned to Philadelphia, and enrolled at Wharton, where my great uncle was a professor.
My father had a very humble upbringing, but he knew he wanted to go to college once he came back from the war. He was married to my mom, and my sister had been born, so he was back in school and working to afford a life for them.
He worked for Oscar Meyer at the Food Distribution Center in New Jersey, which led us to Haddonfield before receiving a position in Phoenixville, bringing us to Blue Bell. He spent the last thirty years of his career at Berks Packing in Berks County doing marketing and distribution and just loved his job.
What memories do you have of growing up in Blue Bell?
There were horses everywhere, and that was my attraction when my parents were looking at houses. I had the advantage of riding horses all the time and made friends that way. It was a wonderful place to grow up. There was fox hunting, riding, and showing at the Devon Horse Show.
Did you have any jobs growing up?
I was a pet sitter for my neighbors as a very young kid. When I was 14, I took a job at a barn in Collegeville where I started a riding camp and gave riding lessons.
I worked at another barn in Fort Washington while in college. My jobs always revolved around horses and riding, and I was fortunate enough to turn my passion into a way to make money.
How did you get from Blue Bell to Collegeville?
My mom drove me most days until I was sixteen and could drive myself. When I was 18 and in college, I got a job tending horses on an estate in Fort Washington closer to home.
What lessons did you learn from those jobs that still stay with you today?
There’s no substitute for hard work, and you need to love what you do. I never regretted a day that I would ride. I met many great people that I am blessed to know and continue relationships with them to this day.
Did you ever compete in the equestrian world?
I competed when I was younger at the local horse shows. I also fox hunted and did hunter paces.
My horses got better as I got older, and my kids got older. I rode at the Devon Horse Show, fox hunted with Cheshire, and competed in other events. I was a whipper in for a local hunt.
Growing up, the horses that I had were horses bought at the sale in New Holland. We trained them and then would resell them. They were good riding horses.
Did you play any other sports in high school?
I have always loved sports. I played softball in grade school. My dad was my coach, and he really loved it. I went to Mount St. Joseph’s Academy, and they didn’t have a softball team, so I played field hockey. I loved basketball, but unfortunately, I wasn’t very good, so I became the team manager and traveled with the team.
What is it about sports that touched your soul?
As a younger kid, I think it was about spending time with my dad. He should have had a son. He didn’t care what the sport was; he just loved it. He played everything, and I played all those sports with him.
It’s intriguing to watch people who work hard, practice hard, and be successful at their game.
Are you competitive?
Yes, I think so, not in an obsessive way, but in a way that challenges me to be better. I don’t need to beat somebody; I just want to do better than I did before.
What music were you listening to back then?
This question always makes me smile. The answer is none, and it’s sad. I was not engaged in music at that time.
At the time, I always listened to whatever my parents were listening to when I was home. I was never immersed in it, even though my peers were. I was in Glee Club and Music Makers, so I did the shows and was around that type of music.
My husband played in a band. When we got married twenty years ago, we’d be listening to music, and I’d say, “where is this from?!” In 2008, I watched the Superbowl Halftime Show, and I didn’t know who Tom Petty was! I became a fan that day – albeit late to the game.
Where did you go to college?
My mom and dad wanted me to go to Chestnut Hill College because that’s where my sister went. I didn’t want to go there because I had enough of the all-girls school. I thought Penn would be a little too big for me, so I decided on LaSalle. My parents were not happy with my decision because they didn’t think it was a good fit for me.
What did LaSalle offer for you?
La Salle felt small enough for me, and I was very welcomed. I was in the third graduating class of women, so there were not a lot of us there!
My grandparents lived not too far from there, so I knew the area. I was accepted into the Honors Program, and I liked that. It checked all the boxes for me. My parents came to the freshman orientation, and they left totally in love with my choice!
Was it a good choice for you?
I absolutely loved it! I had a dual major in Political Science and Economics. Particularly in economics, there were very few women in my classes. The professors were upfront in saying they didn’t think women could do the economics or statistics classes.
I didn’t take offense at that. It just inspired me to do the work. The professors were all men, and in the end, they told me they took an interest in me, were impressed that I could do the curriculum, and ended up being great mentors.
It was a great time to be doing that work, especially in economics and political science. Events would happen in the real world and then we would talk about them in class the next day.
Looking back over your career, Mary Ann, who were the people who saw promise in you?
I did not go right from college into the workforce. Instead, I spent a few years in graduate school, and during that time, I was married and had two children. When I got around to joining the workforce, I was 29 years old.
I always wanted to be in banking. When I was in college, my money and banking courses, and the financial side of the economy, always intrigued me. When I graduated from college, I started working toward an MBA, and then I decided to take a break while I had children. As soon as the kids were in full-time daycare or school, I looked for a bank to join. I always liked Meridian Bank- then it was American Bank and Trust. The old Meridian is where my parents banked, and they always had great stories.
The first place I interviewed was Meridian. I entered their management training program, and after the first week, I knew that was perfect for me. I took as much training as I could so that I could learn the ins and outs. Meridian was a small enough bank that you could get to know people.
Sam McCullough, Zeke Ketchum, and Wayne Huey were all great mentors. There was not a huge differentiator between a management trainee and the CEO. It was a great place to work.
So many people leading banks today in the Delaware Valley came out of the Meridian ecosystem.
Chris Annas is a lot like Sam. He knows everybody in the bank, and we all feel very comfortable with him.
I started in retail, and you could get a branch close to home in retail. From there, I went into private banking and worked at One Liberty Place in Philadelphia, where I began to interact more with Sam and his associates.
Was private banking a good spot for you?
Yes, it worked out well. It was right in my wheelhouse. We were exposed to Meridian Asset Management and other aspects of the bank while still doing credit training and mock lending. The only drawback was working in the city with young children, but my three girls all survived!
The very large bank background is neat to have in banking. They spent so much time and resources developing us workers, developing us professionally, and expanding our knowledge base, financial accounting, financial analysis, sales, and more. When you get to the community banking side, the resources available are very different, so I appreciate having worked at a large bank.
Who else saw promise in you?
Initially, it was the Meridian crew. Being a little bit older in my role in the branches was helpful. I was able to initiate things that a younger person wouldn’t try. I tried different styles, especially our marketing, and went to all the events needed to network.
I left Meridian when the CoreStates merger was completed. I was used to the Meridian marketing and prospecting approach, and I knew the new company’s approach wouldn’t be for me. I went to First Union National Bank from there to run their Montgomery County region from a retail perspective.
As difficult as their entry into this market was, I really enjoyed working with the people from North Carolina because they had a very different approach to banking than what I was used to. I was very involved in the CoreStates – First Union merger, which was difficult to go through, but I learned a ton about mergers during that time. I made myself a promise not to leave until we got through the merger. We had 120 branches in Montgomery County at the time.
I saw an article in the Inquirer about how Sam McCullough was starting a new bank called Millennium. I heard a lot of the names from Meridian’s past, and I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I joined the bank just as they opened the doors in 1999.
The role I had before joining Meridian Bank in 2018 was as a Founder and President of First Priority Bank in Malvern under Dave Sparks. That was a great opportunity.
At the start of 2022. what priorities are you focused on, Mary Ann?
I feel very blessed to have ended up at Meridian. I started there, and I am ending up there. I am amazed at how Meridian performed through the pandemic. The technology, the readiness, and the years we had in 2020 and 2021; it’s incredible what we were able to accomplish.
I came to Meridian to be a private banker. When I came on, they had just acquired Meridian Wealth Partners. The flip side of the wealth side is private banking, which was a great experience for me.
Chris Annas asked me to run retail at Meridian. They had spent a lot of resources on the commercial side, so it was interesting to get involved on the retail side and build that out more. It’s been a great experience! We have been working with a consultant, Haberfeld, for about a year and a half now.
Retail is new for Meridian? How would you position it?
I don’t think it’s a new shift. There’s a lot of opportunity in retail banking. There are executives and professionals involved with our clients on the commercial side that we can help on the personal side. They don’t want the experience of banking at PNC, and we can give them a higher level of service with both their business and personal accounts.
On the small business side, some businesses don’t necessarily need a loan, like the medical, law, or accounting practices. We can provide them the same technology that Wells Fargo can while having someone from their community who knows their name representing their accounts at the bank. It’s a natural progression for Meridian to move into this sphere. Retail is where people put balloons out for customer appreciation day and serve cookies and coffee. It’s about being a good community citizen.
Do you still ride?
Yes! Just as I changed jobs, we purchased a farm in Bedminster Township in Bucks County, and we moved there. I lived in Blue Bell all my life, and I kept horses there until it became too congested. In Bedminster, we have ten acres, four horses, and some ponies. We have a few grandchildren now. They have all been exposed to horses, and two of them have ridden at Devon. It’s great!
What do you do with your free time?
That’s about it! There’s very little of the horse world that I don’t enjoy. Up until a few years ago, I was still competing and foxhunting. Now, I enjoy just riding. I have some goals for myself in terms of driving – I have a pony that pulls a cart, and I’m interested in learning more about that. There is always something new to learn.
I don’t do what I did 15 years ago with the horses, and now I just really enjoy watching them in the fields.
Do you read?
I wish I read more. I do read self-help, motivational, and inspirational books. I love books written by those in the military because of my daughter. Admiral McRaven’s “Make Your Bed” is a good one. Those lessons about leadership and teamwork can be translated into everyday life.
Is your daughter in the military?
Yes, she’s in the Army. She graduated in 2000 from Temple in ROTC. She went to flight school and flew Blackhawks. After September 11th happened, she spent a lot of time deployed in Iraq. She’s at Fort Rucker right now, the home of Army Aviation, as a Lieutenant Colonel.
What gives you hope, Mary Ann?
My daughter and the millions of young people serving in the military give me hope! I am very
optimistic about the future of our country. There are stories about people who would lay down their lives for freedom every day. Just like the Greatest Generation – that’s what should give everyone hope.
Also, the people I talk to and meet every day. The company I work for is really involved with its employees and the community. Meridian is dedicated to making every community we are involved with a little bit better. With everything else going on in the world, it’s nice to just stay focused on trying to do good in the lives of our customers.
Finally, Mary Ann, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
When I was in high school, my dad always impressed upon me that I needed to be involved and make a difference wherever I was. People should know me and my name. That wasn’t hard to do in business and the great companies I worked for.
It always comes back to people first. Whether they are your customers or your employees, you never know what people are going through, and it’s essential to make a difference in their lives. In return, they’ll end up making a difference in your life.
You’re more of a family member in private banking than a banker. In commercial lending, they are focused on the business. I know my client’s kids’ names, what kind of dog they have, and what they’re doing for the holidays. It’s special.
Publisher’s Note: Laura Manion Contributed to this leadership profile.
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