It was about 9:30 on a fall night in Reading, and Carolyn Schaefer was trudging out to her company car after a function related to her job with a large bank. As rain poured down, she juggled an umbrella blowing wildly and the equipment she was lugging through the parking lot.
She had started her work day about 15 hours earlier. Driving home to York down Route 222, she realized enough was enough.
“I thought, ‘What am I doing this for? Why am I putting myself through this? I have no work-life balance; I’m doing things with my people that I don’t feel good about,’” she recalled. “And I made a decision really right then that I was going to leave.”
Schaefer quit that job in December 2004. She took a few months off before accepting a new post at York Traditions Bank, a then 2-year-old institution led by her former co-worker, Michael Kochenour.
The rainy night marked a turning point in a banking career Schaefer had started at the age of 16. She is now preparing for another turning point: retirement.
Schaefer will step down from her position as York Traditions’ managing director of specialized banking effective July 31. Although she will continue working with a women’s finance program she helped create, her 53-year banking career will officially be over come Aug. 1.
Efforts win praise
She doesn’t hold a C-suite title, nor does she run a multibillion dollar corporation, but her impact on the community has been such that people who know her can’t help but tout her contributions not just to the bank but also to the York community.
“She’s great at building relationships. She’s an advocate of women. She’s a supporter of education. She likes to have fun. She’s got a great compassion for people,” said Betty Carson, a member of York Traditions’ board of directors. “It’s just a pleasure to know her. She’s remarkable.”
Schaefer took her first bank job at the age of 16 in the small York County borough of Jacobus. The position lacked glamor — she spent much of her day filing checks — but it helped her save up for a car, and her employers treated her well.
“It was a very tedious and boring job, and I would look out at the teller line and think, ‘Oh man, if only I could graduate into being a teller,” she recalled.
She eventually did, taking a job with The Reading Trust Co. after graduating from Albright College. She saw the position as a temporary gig to support herself as she looked for a job in human resources, but the longer she stayed, the more promotions she received. Before long, she had stumbled into a lifelong banking career.
By the time Schaefer quit in 2004, the bank had gone through several mergers to become Wachovia. With each change, she said, everyone’s job responsibilities increased, as did the amount of time she spent trekking to meetings in Reading, Philadelphia or occasionally company headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.
“My work-life balance was really, really out of whack,” she said, although she admits she did not realize it at the time. “It was like a black hole. It just kind of pulls you in.”
Exhaustion had hit by the time Schaefer moved to York Traditions in 2005. She figured she would stay with the bank for maybe three to five years, starting off part-time, so she could catch her breath after so many years of pushing herself to the limit.
That lasted about three weeks. The fledgling bank was preparing to open its second branch when Schaefer joined, and she soon found herself swept into work again — but this time, in a way that felt fulfilling.
Over the past 12 years, Schaefer has gained a reputation as a banner carrier for not only York Traditions but also community retail banking in general — a side of the industry often overshadowed by higher-profit commercial banking.
“She’s got the nice balance between understanding the culture of the bank but also the importance of financial performance,” said Wanda Filer, a member of the bank’s board of directors.
Schaefer is perhaps best known among her peers for her relentless enthusiasm for her work — a trait evident from a signature catchphrase she frequently busts out throughout the workday, often accompanied by a fist in the air: “Ain’t it a great day to be a community banker!”
That attitude has helped create a bank where customers receive a greeting by name when they walk in the door and personalized cards on their birthdays and Christmas, said Lynda Randall, co-owner of management consulting firm New Level Advisors. Randall is a York Traditions customer and has known Schaefer since about 2007.
Bank president and CEO Eugene Draganosky has also known Schaefer for years, having first crossed paths wither her when they both worked at the former Hamilton Bank.
“Carolyn Schaefer is among the top leaders I’ve ever had the privilege to know in banking, and beyond,” he said in a news release announcing Schaefer’s retirement. “What stands out to me most is her extraordinary level of professionalism. She has influenced my career and my life, and has helped define the relationship sales and service focus for which York Traditions Bank is known.”
Schaefer’s leadership — which Randall described as warm and authentic in a way that makes people want to follow — has also extended to numerous community groups. That includes the Women’s Business Center Organization at York College, which Randall helped found.
“She was the first person in the business community to offer help,” Randall said.
Developed bank program
Schaefer now serves on the organization’s board, as well as the boards of the YMCA of York County, Better York, the York Collegiate Council and the Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center, She also actively participates in the York Rotary Club.
Women’s issues have always held a special place for Schaefer, who was rising in the banking ranks at a time when few other women were. That passion translated into the creation of York Traditions’ Her Traditions program, which aims to help women feel confident about handling their finances.
The program includes a personality profile test that helps women, and the bank employees with whom they interact, understand and embrace their approach to money. It also features a scholarship program for young women in York County and culminates in an annual luncheon featuring addresses from influential women.
Schaefer will act as an adviser and consultant to the bank after her retirement in order to continue championing the Her Traditions program and other women’s initiatives. Between that and her varied volunteer work, she does not expect much boredom in retirement.
“When you start plotting those meetings on your calendar, all of a sudden it’s not as much free time as you might think,” she said. “I probably won’t get up as early, and I probably won’t put make-up on every single day. I probably won’t do my hair and all those kinds of things. But I think there’s going to be things to keep me busy.”