For his part, Mr. Ross said that he remembers seeing light bulbs going off as they chatted. He went on to introduce Ms. Vrablic to the Bank Leumi team, where she was hired and became an analyst. He said that he’s not at all surprised by how far she’s gone or what direction her career has taken.
“In order to be a very good private banker, you have to be a very good credit banker, and she wears both hats well,” Mr. Ross, now the executive vice president and chief credit officer for the United States at Bank Hapoalim, remembered. “She was asking me questions about credit, and she was picking up very quickly on what I was reading. It was clear to others when she came in for the interview, and we hired her on the spot.”
By the late 1980s, she was a junior banker and a trainee at Republic National Bank. The roles and ranks of women in the U.S. workplace were shifting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of women in the labor force increased at an annual growth rate of 2.6 percent between 1950 and 2000—rising to 66 million workers. But asked if there were other women in positions that she could aspire to, especially in those early days, Ms. Vrablic said that there were precious few.
“The only woman boss I had was the branch manager at the bank where I was a teller,” she said. “She was the only senior woman I had ever dealt with for many, many years—until, quite frankly, I got to Citibank in 1989.” From 1982 to 1989, she estimated that 98 percent of the bosses and senior people she interfaced with were men—with a few women in areas like human resources. Still, colleagues like the branch manager taught lasting lessons.
“She was an older woman, who had been through 33 years of a career at that point, so she was a great role model for me,” Ms. Vrablic remembered. The perspective was that, for her, that was the ceiling. She knew she was never going to get past that, “but she ran a great branch, took great pride in that, and she was very Margaret Thatcher-like. That was the era.”
At Republic National Bank, she said, she met another important mentor—the head of the middle-market-lending group. “‘You’re going to make mistakes, and I’m going to be here to help you,’” she said she was told. “‘But there is nothing that I’m going to put you in a position to do that will hurt you or hurt the bank.’” The message had an impact, and mentoring became something that Ms. Vrablic herself loves to do. “It all attributes back to him, because I believe that, since I got that gift, I should be passing that gift on.”
Private banking came calling—literally—when a recruiter contacted her and asked her to interview at Citibank. It was a jump that she was reluctant to make. “I visited the head of the private bank at Citibank and it was, at a minimum, six interviews. They were convinced that I was good for the position, that I could do it,” she recalled. “I wasn’t convinced, because I had never done selling on my own. I had been a junior, attached at the hip to my mentor.”
Asked what was most daunting about making the move, she referenced the heightened profile—being the face of the process—as well as the delicate balance of skills that it would require.
“I knew I had the skills. I knew I understood clients,” she said. “But doing that and being a good salesperson is a huge gap. There are a lot of people who are good bankers but not necessarily good salespeople, and I think you have to be both.”
A colleague at Deutsche Bank echoed this, and added that strong relationship management skills are a vital part of Ms. Vrablic’s toolkit as well. “She’s a really good client advocate, but also someone who can balance the interests of the institution,” the person said. “She combines that with a very strong and deep skill set—across products.”
In the course of making phone calls and conducting research, in fact, the mere mention of her name yielded descriptors you’d probably want in someone handling your money. One source said she was “tickled pink” to meet Ms. Vrablic and spoke of her in glowing terms, emphasizing her down-to-earth nature. “It was like talking to a friend,” she said.