Banking a lifelong career for Pauly

To this day, Marilyn Pauly is best known for her roles at the former Bank IV and its successor, Bank of America. At Bank IV, Pauly became Wichita president of what was then the largest bank based in Kansas.

It was a big deal in 1993, colleagues and competitors said, because until then no woman had held a similar position at as large a Kansas bank as Bank IV, which had $4.9 billion in assets.

A few years later, after a succession of mergers between Boatmen's, NationsBank and Bank of America, Pauly became Kansas president of Bank of America.

It's a position from which she retired in 2000.

But Pauly's banking career didn't end with her retirement at Bank of America.

Her colleagues and competitors said Pauly, 59, is just as active and visible in the industry today — as vice chairwoman of Commerce Bank — as she ever was.

"We kind of bump into Marilyn fairly regularly" on various commercial, wealth management and trust deals, said Tom Page, CEO of Emprise Bank.

This year is Pauly's 40th in banking.

In 1969 while working on her degree from Wichita State University, Pauly started at Fourth National Bank — later renamed Bank IV — in a part-time position in operations processing customer deposits.

The part-time job turned into a full-time job after she graduated. Her career path at Bank IV would take her through nearly every division of the bank, from retail banking to commercial banking as well as managing the bank's trust department.

"She is a broadly experienced and deeply talented banker," said Page, also a former Bank IV executive. "Nobody gave Marilyn a damn thing. She earned everything she got."

When Pauly retired from Bank of America nine years ago, she seriously considered working in another sector of the financial services industry or in the nonprofit arena.

Instead, she took some time off to travel in Europe.

And when she got back to Wichita, she made a phone call to Commerce.

"Even before I left Bank of America I received a call from John Himmel (Commerce's former Wichita chairman) saying 'We'd love to have the opportunity to visit with you,' " Pauly said. "I thought about leaving the industry and doing some other things, but at the end of the day I knew myself well enough to know this was what I wanted to do."

Since joining Commerce in 2001, Pauly has taken on three primary roles.

She oversees the bank's commercial credit decisions and plays a part in structuring those loans. She functions as the face of the $17.8 billion bank's community relations, serving on nonprofit boards such as the WSU Foundation and making decisions on which nonprofits to support through the Commerce Bancshares Foundation.

"She is such a consistent community leader," said Rob Allison, Bank of America Kansas president from 2002 to 2008 and now president of the Wichita Community Foundation.

And she oversees a "relatively small number of high-profile customers that I personally handle their (banking) relationships," Pauly said, adding that some of them she's known for more than 20 years.

"Clients with sophisticated needs are one of the things that still excite me... getting involved in larger, more complex transactions," she said.

Though she's worked in all aspects of banking, she said her career has been heavy in commercial banking.

"Every company is different," she said. "Every management team is different. So it's the variety."

The toughest deals, she said, are the ones involving small companies.

"I find those the more difficult transactions to sometimes know the right answer," Pauly said. "It's not the sheer magnitude of dollars involved in the transaction. It's the nature of small business... knowing the decision is probably somebody's livelihood."

"You struggle sometimes, really, really wanting to make the loan but having to question whether the repayment capacity is there, whether the project will work."

John Clevenger, president and CEO of Commerce Wichita, said Pauly has a fantastic work ethic, knows the vast majority of key banking clients and executives in the area and is strong and experienced at analyzing commercial credit deals that "keep our risk profile appropriate."

Her value to Commerce has become more clear since she joined the bank.

"For us, her actual contribution has far exceeded her reputation," Clevenger said.

Even though Pauly still works 60 hours a week, she doesn't regret her decision to return to banking.

"What I do day to day is what I find satisfying and enriching," Pauly said. "It's the variety in banking, the opportunity to feel like you're making a difference in the lives of clients."