From the basement to the boardroom: how one exec became a role model for women
For Shannon O’Doherty, the signs of a career in finance showed up very early.
“As a kid, I would pretend I had my own office in the basement, and I would do anything related to numbers,” she recalls of her days growing up in Maryville, Mo. “I was always using a calculator or a typewriter. By the time I got into high school, I discovered in my accounting classes that I really enjoyed the numbers aspect of it.”
Before even finishing high school, O’Doherty was working part-time at a bank, first in the mail room and eventually as a teller. “After that, I knew I wanted to go get a finance degree,” she says. She didn’t even have to leave her home town in order to pursue that degree, choosing to study at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville.
Staying local had its benefits. “All through college, I worked at that same bank while I got my degree,” she says.
Her first job after graduation was with a bank that presented her with two options: work as a financial service representative in a branch in Kansas City, or stay in Maryville to work in a variety of departments and establish a broader knowledge base. “I was tempted to take the opportunity in Kansas City,” she says. “As a kid from a small town, it was exciting to think about moving to the big city. And the pay would have been better.”
O’Doherty ultimately chose to stay in Maryville. “I’m not sure what made me decide to stay, but I’m glad I did,” she says. “That was one of the best decisions I ever made. It laid the foundation for my entire career.”
Fast forward to today, and you’ll find O’Doherty a few hundred miles south of Maryville, living in Tulsa and serving as CEO of Commerce Bank’s Oklahoma market. In this role, she oversees all of the bank’s Oklahoma locations as well as its commercial operations in the state.
O’Doherty had spent more than a decade working for Commerce Bank in Kansas City when she was presented with an opportunity she didn’t expect. “It wasn’t on my radar to move,” she recalls. “When I was offered the role in Tulsa and I mentioned it to my husband, he looked at me with a raised eyebrow. We had no real ties here.” Once again, she trusted her instincts and accepted the challenge, taking on a new role in a new city. “I knew that was where I was supposed to be,” she says.
One person who wasn’t surprised by O’Doherty’s advancement was Kent Kirby, a senior credit policy officer at Commerce who was her first supervisor and has continued to serve as a mentor to her ever since. “I recognized early on that Shannon was a special person,” he says. “You know the phrase ‘a rising tide raises all boats?’ That’s Shannon. She becomes successful by helping others achieve their own success. She was a natural choice to take the role in Oklahoma.”
After seven years in Tulsa, O’Doherty is glad she made the move. “Coming to Oklahoma was a significant change,” she says, “but I also know that in order to grow personally and professionally, I have to step outside my comfort zone. I have to take those challenges in order to continue growing.”
Her belief in the need for pushing oneself is so strong that it’s one of the first pieces of career advice she gives to those who ask. “You have to take those risks and continue to strive for excellence,” she says.
It’s not uncommon for other women to reach out to O’Doherty for guidance, and she enjoys making the time to talk. It’s something she did recently as part of Commerce’s Personal Brand mentorship circle, one of the women’s resource group programs at the bank. She also works with events such as City Year Tulsa’s Women’s Leadership Luncheon, serving as the 2020 co-chair.
“It’s easy to look at the noticeably fewer number of women in senior roles and just assume that’s how it’s going to be,” she says. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can break the glass ceiling. We can break through.”
Her advice for young women starting their careers is equally straightforward. “Be a sponge,” she says. “Take in as much as you can, give 110 percent every day, look for opportunities, and take charge of your own development. Women will sometimes think they aren’t good enough to take that next step, but if you listen to your gut and don’t self-select out, you can succeed.”
It’s an approach O’Doherty focuses on in her own career. Finance can be a male-dominated industry – for example, a 2017 study found that only 16 percent of financial advisors were women – but O’Doherty has not allowed that to impact her mindset. “I’ve never let that intimidate me,” she says. “I’ve always just kept going like we’re all equals. There’s a little bit of a headwind there, but I don’t let that hold me back.”
Kirby believes O’Doherty serves as a role model. “Other women see what she’s accomplished and understand that it’s achievable,” he says. “It makes people feel empowered, and it shows that if you have the confidence and the capability, you can be successful.”
While there are some improvements in terms of the number of women holding executive positions, there is still a long way to go. Only about 7 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and while women comprise 46 percent of professional roles in the financial services industry, only 26 percent of senior managers and 15 percent of executives are female.
“There are more women at the table,” O’Doherty says, “but the issue is still there. I personally would love to help other women have a seat at the table.”
It’s an objective she infuses into her nonprofit work as well. “I look for opportunities to build representation of women on boards,” she notes. “When a board I’m on wants to bring on new members, they recognize that diversification is important, but I still push to have fair representation of women to help balance the room.”
O’Doherty has come a long way from her days playing with a calculator in the basement of her childhood home, and she appreciates the opportunity to help other women, whether they’re colleagues at Commerce Bank or working in a different industry.
The key, she says, is tapping into one’s passions. “If you’re passionate about what you do,” she says, “your work won’t feel like a job.”Shannon O’Doherty, who has nearly 28 years of banking experience, joined Commerce in 1999 in the Loan Review area, going on to serve as Team Leader for the Residential Construction / Development and Commercial Lending departments in the Kansas City area. In 2012, Shannon relocated to Oklahoma, serving as Executive Vice President and Manager of Commercial and Industrial Banking, and was named CEO of the Oklahoma Market in 2017. Her responsibilities include overseeing operations for all 3 Oklahoma locations, pursuing growth opportunities in the region, managing a team of commercial, industrial and energy banking officers, and developing new loan and deposit opportunities. She earned her BS in Finance at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO. She is the current chairperson for Foundation for Tulsa Schools, a member of the United Way Community Investment Panel and a board member of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, Oklahoma Center for Non-Profits, Young President’s Organization and Philbrook Museum of Art. Recently Shannon was appointed by Governor Kevin Stitt to sit on the board of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.