Lending A Hand

Hometown: Mooers Forks, NY
Family: Husband of 31 years, Gregg; three adult children and two granddaughters
Education: B.S. in Business Administration, SUNY PlattsburghOccupation: Senior Lender, Champlain National Bank
Community Involvement: Current president of the Plattsburgh Community
Housing Board; 20 years of service to the former Rotary Club of Rouses Point; past treasurer for Champlain Children’s Learning Center in
Rouses Point and the Kent Delord House in Plattsburgh

Raised on a large farm family in Mooers Forks, New York, Lisa Roberts understands the value of family, hard work and dedication. She has followed a straight career path, first studying business at SUNY Plattsburgh and then working in the banking industry. She found her professional family 26 years ago when she joined Champlain National Bank. “I love my job,” she explained, “The people at the bank are like an extension of my family. I work hard for them, and they take good care of me.”

In 2007 Roberts took a leap and applied for a promotion to Senior Lender. She knew that the commercial side of lending was heavily male dominated but her passion for helping businesses succeed did not let that slow her down. She was offered the position and has served as the only female Senior Lender in Clinton County ever since.

Roberts shared wisdom from both her personal and professional life with Strictly Business during a recent interview.

SB: What important lessons did you learn early in your career?
LR: Growing up on a farm family, I learned early that hard work pays off. My father never stopped working. He would work from the crack of dawn until seven or eight o’clock at night, seven days a week. As a farmer, it was a way of life. It was instilled in me at a young age that you get far by working hard and being diligent.

SB: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
LR: When I was a young lender, a woman who was presenting to the Rotary Club advised us, “Be impeccable with your word.” I wrote that down and thought a lot about it. She was right, and I chose to live by that. When I tell someone I am going to do something, I have to do it.

SB: Who was your most influential mentor?
LR: I have had a lot of mentors in banking that I have learned from but my biggest mentor was my mother. She taught me to be patient and kind to everyone. That has served me well, not only in my business and with customers, but also in my personal life.

SB: What have you learned by being a woman in a male dominated position?
LR: I got to where I am today because I love lending. I am an oddity because I gravitated to the commercial side where you can lend to businesses. Most women aren’t interested in that side. When we have Directors’ Loan Committee meetings, I am the only female at the table. It was a challenge at first to earn the confidence and respect of my male colleagues. Once I did that, they learned that they could depend on me. Now when I am in that committee, I feel like I am one of them.

SB: Tell us about your approach to management and leadership.
LR: I am a leader by example. I would not ask my people to do anything that I would not do myself. I have learned that if I take care of my people so they can take care of their families, at the end of the day they will always take of me and the bank. When they come to me and need time off, I always find a way to get their needs met. At the end of the day we all love our jobs, but the most important thing is family.

SB: How do you work with others in difficult situations?
LR: People know that my door is open and I am ready to listen to their problems. I try to stay open-minded, and not get upset so that we can work things out together. I’ve found that if you let people talk and really listen,
most of the time they can come up with their own solutions.

SB: What advice would you offer to someone starting his or her business career?
LR: It is not easy to succeed but you need to keep trying and follow through on your promises. Don’t give up when it gets hard. Push on, and don’t be ashamed to ask for help. I was born in a generation where asking for help was a little harder to do. Today’s generation is encouraged to ask for help, and that’s a good thing.

SB: If you could start your professional career over again, what would you do differently?
LR: I wish I had not been so easily intimidated by men. They were always in positions of power, and they scared me. It took me many years to figure out that they are human, just like me.

SB: What inspires you?
LR: I am making dreams come true for my customers. They come in here with a dream and we work together to get them approved. Then I can sit back and watch them build their dream and prosper. It makes me excited to get to the next deal. Commercial lending is so different from residential lending. Every deal you look at is so different. It inspires me to have all these different ways to help people.

SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
LR:My promotion to becoming Senior Lender for the bank was a defining moment for me. A few months before I was to take the position, we found out that my husband had melanoma. I thought about not accepting the position, because I knew my husband health would be declining, and I was not sure I could do it justice. I handled both and got through it.

SB: What is your favorite quote and how does it speak to you in your life?
LR:My mother used to say that if something is meant to be, it will be. If you are trying to make something happen and find that there is nothing more you can do about it, it will come around if it was meant to be. You just have to let it be.

SB: If you could have dinner and spend an evening with any well-known person, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
LR: Betty Little. She is retiring in the fall, but I would love to pick her brain and find out what her job has been like and what she has learned through life and her career.

SB: When you find yourself having an off day, what do you to do get back on track?
LR: Sometimes I leave the office just to get a different perspective. A short drive down the road for a coffee or a little retail therapy can really help. I also find it useful to make lists. When I am having an off day, I am usually overwhelmed with too many tasks. If I can prioritize a list and put things on paper, it makes me feel better.

SB: What do you do in your free time?
LR: In the summer I like to go boating with my family. For me, boating is like a little vacation even for just a few hours. It is a break from everyday hassles. In the winter, it’s scrapbooking and family time. We take care of my dad, who has lived alone for nine years. Every sibling is on a rotation and we take turns having him over for dinner to stay connected and spend time with him.

SB: How would you like to be remembered?
LR: Simply as a good person who always tried to help—both professionally and personally. I try to be a good friend, neighbor, daughter, wife, and mother.

SB: What is something no one would guess about you?
LR: I am the second oldest of nine children. I have five sisters and three brothers.

SB: If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you offer her?
LR: I was raised to keep my thoughts to myself. If I could talk to my younger self, I would say don’t be afraid to challenge people or ideas. In the beginning of my career I was a bit shy about disagreeing with people. You learn so much by opening your mouth and challenging others. You don’t have to be disrespectful to say that you do not agree. It has taken me
30 years to learn that.