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Earlier this year, I had the great fortune to sit down with one of my long-time business partners, clients and friends, Michele Landess. We spoke about her experience with leading and managing teams in a large, complex financial services institution with challenging deadlines and a highly distributed workforce.  Now that Michele has retired (or “rewired” if you prefer), she was able to share many great insights and perspectives with the benefit of hindsight and introspection.

What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

Part 3: On Overcoming Challenges

Q:Throughout your career, what do you think has been the most challenging experience you’ve had?  How do you manage a successful outcome?

A: There have been a lot of challenging projects that I’ve managed but one of the first ones, and biggest one at the time, had to do with a large bank merger. I think Harvard  University did a case study, on how not to do a merger, based on that one.   What happened was a particular application didn’t run for two weeks, after the conversion.  Which created a substantial debit balance in a suspense account. I was asked to help them clear the items. I said I’d try, what we ended up doing was clearing out a supply room, to house the 20 contractors that we brought on to clear the items.  We literally needed a whole ream of paper to print the excel reconciliation. We needed a database, which we built, and we spent about six months trying to clear out those items.

In the process, I learned how to establish a team, how to report to senior leaders when things weren’t going so well, how to try to manage the demands of delivering status quickly. When you are in a crises situation you build bonds quickly, in my case they have become life long bonds.

The collection process that people went through to try to get the funds returned was amazing, some great stories, but I think we managed to collect 90% of that huge debit balance.  We didn’t get it all, it was supposed to be a three months effort and it turned into six months – and that taught me so many things. When you do something like that, and people know you can do it, they ask you to keep doing it. So I had a lot of projects like that.

Q: Give the work to a busy, successful, productive person

A: Busy people stay busy, right?

Q: Right

A: So…that was it!

Come back tomorrow for Part 4: On Cultivating Loyalty

Michele Landess recently retired from one of the nation’s largest financial services institutions as Senior Vice President in the Wealth Management Division. In her tenure, Michele lead several large initiatives including the industries largest ever bank trust integration and most recently running a program of large transformation initiatives for the bank. Michele has always been known as a great leader and business strategist who commands respect from everyone she comes into contact with and has encouraged and supported the leadership development of her team — all while managing huge initiatives in a large, complex, highly matrixed organization.