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For Commerce's new Director of Bank Operations, success is a reflection of consistently focusing on "what's next."

When Debbie Housh first started working at Commerce Bank, she expected it would be simply another part-time job. She was still in college, after all, and assumed she wouldn’t be there long.

Thirty-one years later, not only is she still at the bank, but Housh has developed into a senior leader and was recently named Commerce’s new director of Bank Operations. In this role, she will lead a 500-person team with a wide range of responsibilities, including payment processing, loan servicing, business analysis, software development, trust operations, bank card security, enterprise fraud and more.

It’s been quite the journey for someone who joined the bank as an hourly worker in college. “I had no intention of staying and making it my career,” she says now. “But I always had leadership aspirations, and someone took a chance on me early in my Commerce career, so I decided to stay. I didn’t know where I would end up, but I always knew what I wanted to do next, and eventually it led me to this role.”

Adding to the remarkable nature of her career is the fact that Housh is the first woman in Commerce’s history to lead the Bank Operations division — a distinction that she says is not lost on her. “I’m extremely proud to be the first female in this role,” she adds. “I also understand the responsibility that comes with it. I’m paving the way for others.” 

Housh says that Commerce has always done a great job of supporting her needs, which can often be different than that of her male colleagues. “There’s still work to be done in terms of achieving true equity, but we’ve made tremendous progress and we continue to do so every day,” she notes. “As a woman, I want to know I was selected for this role not because I’m a woman, but because I’m the right person for the job. And that’s exactly how I feel.”

Commerce has been very intentional about creating opportunity for women and people of color at its most senior levels, according to Housh. “We can’t just expect people to be ready for senior roles; the preparation for it needs to start early in their careers,” she says. “And we do that. We have leadership development programs and mentorship programs that allow us to identify people early so that we’re preparing the people who will lead us into the future.”

Housh herself has benefited from Commerce’s willingness to help future leaders gain important experience. One of the more recent examples happened when she recently spent nearly a year working on a special project for a different division within the bank, Talent Management. 

“It was very helpful because for my entire career, I had only been in Bank Operations,” she says. “I’d only experienced leadership styles there, and I wanted to get experience with other leaders to see how they handled things. The leaders in Talent Management had a very different style, and it was great for me to be exposed to that; I learned a lot during my time there.” 

Greg Nickle, the outgoing director of Bank Operations who is retiring after a 24-year career with Commerce, says Housh epitomizes the bank’s ability to develop great talent from within. “Debbie being named to this role says a lot about Commerce’s commitment to personal development,” he says. “She grew from a part-time clerical position to the point where she’s leading a 500-person division. It reflects the opportunities available here.” 

For his part, Nickle believes strongly that Bank Operations will be in excellent hands after his departure. “I’m a huge fan of Debbie’s,” he says. “She’s got the complete leadership package that you want. She has great analytical ability, but what sets her apart is the tremendous passion she has for delivering a great customer experience and for developing her staff. When people feel good about themselves and their development, they perform at a higher level. That’s the kind of environment Debbie fosters.”

Housh says she feels a strong responsibility for the people she is now leading. “It really is all about the team,” she adds. “There are 500 people whose careers and livelihood are now in my hands, and I don’t take that lightly. I’m invested in their future, keeping them relevant and helping them be successful. I’m ready for that responsibility, and I’m ready to lead the team into the future.”

Leading Bank Operations is the latest step in a career that Housh says has always been interesting and challenging. “It’s been an adventure, and it’s certainly never been boring,” she notes with a laugh. “I’ve seen the evolution of the bank over time, and I’ve been challenged in my responsibilities and in terms of the initiatives I’ve supported. It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been exciting, and it’s kept me motivated to continue to succeed.”

Housh is looking forward to leading Bank Operations into the future. “We’ve laid a great foundation,” she says. “We’re always looking for ways to add value, and we’ll continue to leverage technology and automation to make processes more efficient. From a people perspective, we’ll make sure our team is ready for the future with the right skills to keep pace with where things are headed. That’s how we’ll continue to support our line-of-business partners well into the future. There are a lot of exciting things ahead for us.”

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