I was born and raised in Augusta, Ga., where the Masters is held every year. Everyone in town either played golf or talked about playing golf. I never learned how to play, but in hindsight, I wish I had; it would be great for retirement.

After I graduated from babysitting at 15, I worked for Georgia Railroad Bank during the summers and in college, before checks were processed automatically. Every morning I'd go in and pull a tray of checks and remove the bad ones. Then I would make calls to the customers and, based on their answers, decide whether to pay the checks. It was a small town, so I learned that people I knew and loved could be in silent financial distress. In 1984 I graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina with a degree in international politics and economics. I thought I might go into international policy but when I was a senior, the college asked me and a few other students to travel to the east coast and promote the value of a liberal arts education. After a number of job offers I took a job with First Union National Bank, started in the training program as a commercial lender and eventually managed the commercial bank side and commercial banking for the east coast. Next I moved to capital markets to manage the healthcare banking group. I was a regional president in a community bank until First Union merged with Wachovia in 2001, when I worked on a project for the Wachovia CEO on how we might partner across the company.

In fall 2008, with Wachovia in a precarious situation, the last week of September was an interesting time, to say the least. Our advisors sit in our bank branches, so the outcome for them was unclear. On a Monday we were not sure what would happen; three days later we woke up as part of Wells Fargo. During that time, I didn't have any answers for my team of several thousand [people], but I held daily, open calls with advisors and their managers. I encouraged them to stay focused on their clients and assured them we'd sort everything out. It was important that they heard me, knew they weren't forgotten, and trusted that I'd tell them any news as soon as I heard it. People still thank me for those calls. My team says it's one of the reasons they're still with us.

During the merger with Wells Fargo, I co-led its wealth brokerage business, overseeing the eastern part of the country. In 2010 I assumed responsibility for the national business. Mergers provide important lessons. When the First Union-Wachovia merger was being planned, I didn't know if I'd have a job. First Union asked me to promote the merger by speaking to Chambers of Commerce and other groups. For six months I did. I tell people going through a dislocation that you never know what the future will bring. One of the real measures of leadership is not how you show up when you get the job, but how you show up when you don't.

As Told to Pat Olsen