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Theresa Wilson: delivering all the services at Wachovia

This analytically minded CIO has spent her entire career at the one company, moving through a progression of positions and standing up for diversity


Theresa Wilson: understanding the needs and wants of corporate customers.

Theresa Wilson: understanding the needs and wants of corporate customers.

Theresa Wilson, CIO for commercial technology at Wachovia Corp (Charlotte, NC), is one of the IT wizards who make complex banking look simple. Her thirty-year history with the company, including seven years running technology support for the $1.9 billion treasury services division, helps her understand what Wachovia must do to meet customer needs.

The commercial technology department provides services from software development to application maintenance for the bank's large corporate, middle market and commercial accounts. That includes involvement in lending, risk, real estate, small business, dealer financial services and treasury services products.

Sometimes Wilson's teams help large corporate clients with customized implementations. "It helps us understand their needs and wants and make sure we deliver all the services," she says.

Broad range of banking
Wachovia is a diversified financial services company that provides a broad range of banking, asset management, wealth management and corporate and investment banking products and services. It has some 95,000 employees.

Most of the general business is done on the East Coast. There are also investment banking offices in various locations, brokerage offices under the Wachovia Securities name in forty-nine states plus Washington, DC, and thirty-three international offices.

Bringing synergies to the table
Wilson is one of Wachovia's five CIOs for various groups. They join forces to increase efficiency, grow revenue, reduce expenses and avoid duplicating efforts, and report to the corporate CIO.

"There are opportunities for synergies that the CIOs can bring to the table," Wilson says. "If two groups are trying to build a product, we may be able to leverage an enterprise solution."

Techie from the start
Wilson grew up moving every year to follow her father's Army career. Both her parents excelled in math and she did, too. She entered Howard University (Washington, DC) on a four-year scholarship.

She took in a freshman Fortran class and fell in love with IT. She scooped up all the classes she could for a math major and computer science minor, and filled in time as a tutor in the school of engineering's computer lab.

"By the time I was ready to graduate, a lot of folks thought I was an engineer," she says.

Wachovia associate
When Wilson graduated in 1976 she wanted to stay on the East Coast near her family. Wachovia was launching a new associate program for college grads, and her computer experience was an excellent qualification. She was one of the first people hired for the program.

The work involved creating enhancements to daily reports on the Cobol mainframe. She'd make the changes and test to refine the application. "I started right off supporting an application by myself," she says. "I must have been pretty self-sufficient. At the time, it wasn't typical to trust someone as junior as myself."

The college grad associate program has become more formal over the years. Today Wilson serves on the program's associate board. "I have always had a lot of interest in seeing that program continue to excel," she says.

Next she spent a year on a team developing the first ATM. After that, she pursued an opportunity to become a project manager.

Her superiors thought she wouldn't like it. "They said my friends wouldn't want to associate with me if I went into management," she recalls. "I told them I was willing to take the chance, and they gave me the job."

Meanwhile she had married a software developer and started a family. The two techie parents understood the demands on each other's lives. If one couldn't be with the kids, the other was.

During her first maternity leave, Wilson used a bridge line to stay abreast of meetings at work and keep communications flowing. But she found her ambitions discounted to some extent after she returned to work, and felt sidelined into developer work. "I wasn't prepared for the assumptions people had made," she says.

She learned from that experience, and before she left to have her second kid "I made sure everybody understood what my goals were, and made sure to demonstrate that I could still do a good job." She moved up steadily in the company after that.

Treasury, a dynamic group
Wilson earned her MBA from Queens University (Charlotte, NC) in 1995. She put in some time reorganizing a department, and then devoted seven years to managing the treasury services division.

"It's a very dynamic group, and it brings about a billion dollars of revenue into the corporation," she says. Her next move up was, of course, to CIO.

Changes over a career
Wilson has seen a lot of changes in her time at Wachovia. She started out as one of the few black woman in her field. Now a lot of women have come in: whites, African Americans and others. Wilson was part of the first diversity initiatives ten years or more ago, and currently serves on the diversity council.

She enjoys her part in the company's formal mentoring program, and also makes herself available informally. "I do like to see others succeed," she says.

"As I've grown in my career, I've heard people saying I inspire them. That's nice to hear."

Through all her jobs and challenges at Wachovia, "I've always liked to do the analysis and figure out what the problem is," she says. "I like change and I like new things."


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