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Banking on a New Era of Women Leaders

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Anita Kuchcinski is proud to be one of the first women to lead Northwest Bank’s Erie Commercial market, but she’s even more grateful to be supported by the growing number of women business leaders and owners in the region. “I’m honored to work with them and be part of the charge with them,” says Kuchcinski. “These women really exited their comfort zone to take these chances and take these leadership roles, and it’s really built this amazing network of women for all of us in Erie.”

Despite modest gains in representation over the past few years, women are still dramatically underrepresented in corporate America as a whole. Yet, Kuchcinski is encouraged by efforts by employers to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, including her own, begun by late Northwest CEO Ron Seiffert.

“Northwest is really trying to do its part,” Kuchcinski continues. “Studies show that through DEI, that’s how we’re going to have our greatest success, and I’m really grateful to be part of the transformation.”

TAKING THE LEAD

Although Kuchcinski is a dynamic leader in the regional banking industry, it may be surprising to learn that she didn’t aspire to be a banker growing up. As a matter of fact, she went to college with plans to become a certified public accountant, but during her junior year realized it wasn’t for her. In that moment, Kuchcinski remembers calling her dad and, ultimately, decided to shift gears.

“My father has been a small business owner since he was 17, and I always had an interest in helping him and how I could contribute by what I was learning in school, so I decided to finish my accounting degree and add a degree in entrepreneurship,” she says.

After undergrad at Seton Hill, Kuchcinski pursued a master’s in business administration and had the opportunity to be a bank teller at another regional bank. She worked her way through retail banking and discovered she really enjoyed the business side. It was then that a male mentor recognized her work and gave her a shot at commercial lending in 2008.

At that time, Kuchcinski’s closest peer was more than 15 years her senior. She also was the only female on the team who wasn’t an administrative assistant. “Talk about overwhelming, but being stubborn, I was like, ‘This is not going to deter me from doing this. I’m going to keep going,’ ” she recalls.

Kuchcinski says it was her mentor, coupled with her work ethic and determination that led her to become one of the bank’s top lenders. She worked at that institution for 13 years before moving on to Northwest in 2015 — the bank she now calls home.

“I had everybody and their brother asking me, ‘Of all places, why Northwest?’ And it really was the culture. I interviewed locally and at a corporate level, and I knew that coming here I was going to be seen for who I was. I was going to be respected and I was going to be appreciated,” Kuchcinski explains.

But there was more to it. “Locally, in the area market, I told myself, ‘I can make them better, I can help them do commercial lending the way that they need to do commercial lending, and the way that they want to do commercial lending.’ So, I dove right in,” she says.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Kuchcinski served as vice president of Commercial Lending for Northwest Bank’s Erie region before officially being appointed senior vice president and Erie Commercial Market executive in 2022. Since that time, she has been a visible and vocal business leader, promoting the bank and its commercial and business banking services.

“A lot of Erie doesn’t realize what we have to offer as a commercial bank, and so that was one of things I knew where we could make a difference,” says Kuchcinski.

Sara Kallner, vice president of Smith Provision Company, Inc., knows that difference firsthand.

Smith’s has been working with Kuchcinski for well over a decade, which began while she was a commercial lender for another regional bank. In 2011, Smith’s purchased and redeveloped a property in the neighborhood of 20th and Geist located in the City of Erie, which expanded its capabilities significantly as the company moved its processing operation from its location in Millcreek Township into a new, state-of-the-art facility.

“Anita served as an excellent resource as she helped Smith’s navigate the somewhat complex components of the multimillion-dollar financing package required for this construction project, which enabled Smith’s to expand, and continue to serve the Erie region well into the future,” Kallner notes.

Kallner describes Kuchcinski as a smart, competent and client-focused leader in the industry, who is passionate about understanding the needs of her clients and their businesses. “Relationships with trusted advisors that are ultimately successful are built on trust and a history of competency,” Kallner says. “Smith’s is fortunate to have such a relationship with Anita, and we are proud to do business with her.”

GREATER IMPACT

Having the right leaders in charge can have a profound impact on an organization’s success.

Katie Ruffa, senior vice president of Commercial Banking, says Kuchcinski encourages a team approach and open dialogue to find the best solutions to get the job done. “It feels like our opinions are always heard, and even though we may not be sitting at the table, I know Anita’s sharing our thoughts and ideas with senior leadership as well,” she says.

For some, this may be the need for flexible work arrangements or hybrid schedules. For others, it may be new advancement and educational opportunities within the bank.

Angie McClimans, who joined Northwest after 16 years at another bank and was recently promoted to branch manager at Northwest’s downtown Erie location, says she has found a supportive environment that encourages professional advancement. “I started as a personal banker, and I just kept wanting to grow. Now, I found the place and support to do it.”

In the area of professional development, Northwest has set its employees up for success through courses offered at the Manufacturer & Business Association as well as online offerings including USucceed and the eLearning portal Percipio. The bank also sends employees to advanced professional and specialized banking and lending schools, and utilizes iConnect Mentoring Programs to help its employees take the next steps in their professional careers.

Most recently, Northwest Bank introduced the Lead for Women Employee Resources Group, an online roundtable to support female leaders and aspiring leaders within the organization. “Workplaces where women are more supported are usually associated with better performance,” Kuchcinski states.

FOR WHAT’S NEXT

Kuchcinski is enthusiastic about the changes under way at Northwest Bank, but also the investments in infrastructure and client resources. In 2021, the bank completely remodeled its Summit Township location and continues a digital transformation as more services are available online for customers in its personal and business banking lines.

“On the technology side, we’re extremely excited to roll out a new online banking platform for commercial clients,” Kuchcinski says. “The Treasury Pro system is going to be a state-of- the-art system that is really going to not only enhance the products that we have, but also offer new electronic products while providing robust security.”

As Northwest continues to grow its products and services for what’s next, Kuchcinski acknowledges that it’s relationships that matter most. “We strive to put our customers first, hands down, and one of the biggest differences about Northwest is that we give back to our community,” she says.

This past year, Kuchcinski supported Ruffa’s idea to transform the bank’s administrative offices and host a Halloween party for low-income children at an area daycare. Fittingly, Kuchcinski dressed up as Wonder Woman.

“I’ve had fellow co-workers, clients, friends, family, even my husband, who is extremely supportive, call me that. But I am only one because the team that I have sewed my cape for me,” she says. “At Northwest, we can be willing to put ourselves out there. We can be willing to be the woman in the arena. We can be willing to step out of our comfort zone. None of us can do anything on our own, and it’s really this group of individuals who I work with that is so extremely special.”

For more information about Northwest Bank, visit northwest.com