HomeCover StoryFinancial fluency: Top 100 influencer helps financial services succeed

Financial fluency: Top 100 influencer helps financial services succeed

Photo of Mary Beth Sullivan speaking with someone across a conference room table.

“Take advantage of everything Pamplin offers. Regularly attending classes is just not enough.  Engage — with professors, in classroom discussions, and with the broader Virginia Tech community. The person you become, and how successful you are, may depend as much on how you engage with this VT community as on how well you master the academics.”

This advice to current students comes from Mary Beth Sullivan (FIN ’86), founder and managing partner of Capital Performance Group of Washington, D.C.

Among her successes, Sullivan has been named one of the top 100 Financial Services Influencers to Follow by The Financial Brand and The Digital Banking Report. She is a judge for Barlow Research’s Monarch Innovation Awards in Business Banking, is frequently recruited to share her experience and knowledge at national conferences, and is a regular contributor to her industry’s thought leadership on social media platforms.

Giving back to Pamplin

Serving on the advisory board of the Department of Finance, Insurance, and Business Law from its inception in 2007 through 2016, Sullivan carved time from her demanding schedule to help ensure that Pamplin students were getting what they needed to achieve their goals.

“I love the idea of giving back to Virginia Tech, so when department head Vijay Singal called, I was delighted to be a part of the advisory board,” Sullivan said.  She has had to take a time-out the last two years due to a heavy business travel schedule but has been invited to rejoin at any time and hopes to be able to do that in the near future.

The department has benefited from Sullivan’s insights into the curriculum, student strengths and weaknesses, and areas for improvement, Singal said. “She has also helped us with placement of students.”

Noting her many contributions during her board service, advisory board chair Mike Clarke (FIN ’83) said: “Her day job places her in front of countless CEOs, finance executives, and corporate boards examining strategy and looking towards the future. As a result, she makes an impact as a strategic thinker and applies a cross-disciplinary approach.”

Growing successful banks

Photograph of Mary Beth Sullivan

(Photo credit: Matthew Rakola)

Sullivan’s firm designs and implements strategies for growth and improved profitability for banks, thrifts, credit unions, specialized financial services companies, insurance and investment management businesses, payments companies, fintech companies, industry associations, and vendors to the financial services industry.

Among her clients are Access National and Union Bankshares. Over a number of years, Sullivan has consulted with Clarke at Access and John Asbury (FIN ’87) at Union in a number of areas, including strategic planning work. “The recent merger of these two companies makes perfect sense; two strong companies with exceptional leadership coming together to be able to do even more for the communities they serve,” Sullivan said. “It will be exciting to watch this bank continue to grow and prosper.”

The making of a banker

Sullivan grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland. A favorite family anecdote is three-year-old Sullivan, whose favorite toy was a cash register, telling her mother she wanted to be a cashier when she grew up. “I ended up in banking — so pretty close,” quipped Sullivan.

She loved math and science and considered engineering, law, or business as she entered high school and began thinking about college.“But, by senior year, I had gravitated to business school — and finance in particular — in part because I wanted to live in New York City. I just thought it would be so exciting.”

When Sullivan visited her brother at Virginia Tech, she fell in love with it. “Because my brother was in a five-year engineering program, he and I actually graduated at the same time. We were the first college graduates in our family, and that remains a real source of pride for us,” she said.

Reflecting on her years at Pamplin, Sullivan said that her first finance professor, George Morgan, had a big impact on her. “The professors at Virginia Tech were and still are the very best. Because of them, I gained confidence to ask questions that provided more insight and greater understanding, learned to love learning and enjoy the work, and developed the ability to apply what I learned,” she said.

“It seemed like a big dream for a girl from the boonies in Maryland to wind up on Wall Street, but they taught me to aim high.”

Her New York City dream came true when she landed her first job at Chemical Bank (now JPMorganChase). But first, she went directly from Virginia Tech to Duke University on a scholarship and earned an MBA.

After holding a number of management positions at JPMorganChase, she moved south, joining Furash & Company in Washington, D.C., in 1998. She formed Capital Performance Group in 2001.

Learning never ends

For Sullivan, learning never ends. “As a consultant, I need to be a student of the banking industry, keeping up on current research and applying new insights to my clients’ particular situations,” she said.

“Pamplin helped to lay a perfect foundation on which to build my career,” she said. “If I could go back, I would not change a thing.”

– Barbara Micale