A Life in Balance
Shaza Andersen is the CEO and founder of WashingtonFirst Bank, which she started in 2004. Her bank recently opened its 17th branch, located in McLean, Virginia. Andersen has been named one of the Top 25 Women to Watch by American Banker and a Top Banker by SmartCEO. She has made several Washington Business Insider lists, including their Power 100, Women Who Mean Business and Most Admired CEOs. Andersen lives with her husband of almost 24 years, Marc, and their two children, Katie, 18, and Danny, 14.
NV: YOU STUDIED EUROPEAN AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY. HOW DID YOU GET INTO BANKING?
SA: I’d always known that I wanted to learn management and be in some sort of management-training program. Companies came to interview students at George Mason and most that had formal management training programs were banks. I applied to four banks, and I got four offers, and I picked one—Crestar Bank. They’re now SunTrust.
NV: HOW DID YOU WORK YOUR WAY UP?
SA: I decided to learn how to manage branches. I worked my way up the ladder at Crestar. I was with them for about six years and then got recruited to Century National Bank, a one-branch bank in DC. I was there nine years and I became the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President. I helped take them from one branch to eleven branches, and from $80 million in assets to about $420 million in assets. We sold that bank to United Bank. That’s when I started thinking about starting WashingtonFirst.
SA: I had a lot of energy to continue all the great stuff we had started at Century National Bank. It was basically a continuation of the work we had already started. We knew the customers. We knew how to build the new bank. We knew how to service our customers. We opened our doors in April 2004 as WashingtonFirst Bank and really hit the ground running. As the founder and CEO, I’ve taken it from $0 to $1.4 billion in assets.
NV: IS THERE A SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS?
SA: I’m a big planner. Any idea is a great idea, but without a plan, how do you take it from an idea to implementing it? You have to have a plan of how to get from A to B to C. Without it, you might get there, but it’s going to be a lot harder. So, it’s hiring the right people. It’s getting the right board organized. It’s getting the right advisory board. It’s getting people in the community to be your ambassadors and do business with you.
NV: HOW DID YOUR BANK WEATHER THE RECESSION?
SA: We didn’t do anything very risky. Part of it has also been that we’re in a good market. But from a banking standpoint, we didn’t do the 110% mortgages and the riskier loans. I think that ended up paying off for us, because as the market crashed, our portfolio stayed solid.
NV: TELL US ABOUT THE WASHINGTONFIRST YOUTH FOUNDATION.
SA: We started it in 2010. We’ve been able to raise money and help a lot of children’s organizations like Youth for Tomorrow and Children’s Hospital. We’re getting ready to have an event for the cancer ward at Inova Children’s Hospital. Being part of a community means giving back. I believe that if we can help one child, it’s better than helping none.
NV: YOU HAVE TWO CHILDREN OF YOUR OWN: KATIE, 18, AND DANNY, 14. HOW DO YOU BALANCE WORK AND FAMILY LIFE?
SA: It’s not a balance. My family always comes first. I think that planning and organization is the key to life. Not just in business but in your personal life as well. You end up being able to multitask. My kids grew up with parents who work. And they have learned what it takes to work, achieve, and be able to finish what you start. I think that there are lots of things you can give your kids, and one of them is to be a good role model.
NV: AS THE CEO OF A BANK, DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU ARE A WOMAN LIVING IN A MAN’S WORLD?
SA: Banking is definitely a man’s world. There are fewer women in senior roles. I think I’m used to it. When I sit in a room and I’m the only woman, I think I can hold my own. Part of it is the experience and part of it is in knowing what I’m talking about. Having been in banking for so long, I can sit down and discuss any subject with knowledge.
NV: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF WORK?
SA: I like to travel and I like to travel to warm places. We have a place in Palm Beach that we try to get to a lot. And we definitely like to experience new places. I like to read, to shop.
I feel really blessed and lucky to have a job that I love, a team that’s really been great here at the bank and to have a great and supportive husband and great kids.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRACI BROOKS