GBA Member Profile

Gayle Woolard
Senior Vice President
AB&T, Albany, GA
Member, 2022-2023 Women in Banking Committee

Q: What was your first job, and was there a lesson you learned there that you still use today?
A: My first job while in high school was in a high-end gift shop where we helped people plan parties, designed and printed invitations and sold other sundries. The experience taught me at an early age the importance of customer service, which we emphasize today with our team. The principles of clear communication, not making assumptions, how to be engaged and engaging with customers, attention to detail, and going back and checking everything have made a huge difference in my career. Having someone take the time to engage with you as a customer and make you feel like you matter is so important.

Q: What was the most important thing you learned early on in your career from a mentor?
A: A little background info to set the scene: I knew I wanted to be a banker at a very early age. In my senior year at Georgia Southern University, I had an internship lined up at Wachovia when I found out my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma. I had to change gears quickly and figure out what I needed to do to come home and help my family.

I ended up getting an internship at First State Bank & Trust. Throughout that early exposure to the industry, I worked in various areas of the bank with so many intelligent people, including Luke Flatt, who showed me what it is like to lead by example and give 110%. Luke is definitely one of my mentors. I always say “Work with me, not for me, because we’re better together.” He taught me that we’re only successful because of a cumulative group effort; it’s never about just one person.

I was blessed to be exposed to so many different areas of the bank at an early age and have someone like Luke to lead the way. I learned from him to have poise during tough times, how to handle difficult conversations, and to always roll up your sleeves to help your associates. I’ve been in banking for 26 years now, and he is the reason I got my chance.

Q: Tell us about one experience you’ve had that exemplifies being a banker, such as a service story that really helped a customer or a quirky story.
A: I’m a commercial lender and private banker, so I provide a high level of service, almost like a concierge approach. A lot of my clients are in the medical field.

One particular customer is a physician whom I helped leave a large medical group and go out on his own over 20 years ago. It was a leap of faith and he has been tremendously successful. We’ve continued to develop a relationship over the years that has generated more opportunities. Not only do I continue to bank him and his wife, but now I also bank his three children, one of which has started their own business recently.

Another physician moved here about 20 years ago after residency and went to work for a local hospital. He was young (in his early 30s), and I specifically remember delivering a check to him on a Saturday to help him buy his first “real” car and when he got his first “real” job. That was 20 years ago and we still laugh about it; I bank his family to this day.

It’s the personal relationships that I find so valuable in this industry. My clients are often surprised when I offer to come to their house, but that level of service is necessary to differentiate myself from the competition.

Q: First tap/click of the day?
A: The first thing I check on my phone in the morning are my notifications. This lets me know what I need to tackle first thing that day, and really, I’m looking to see if a client has reached out. My son is about to be 16, so I also look to see if there’s anything going on with school, teams, etc. If I’m in the clear, I give myself 30 minutes to sit on the porch and watch the sun rise. I keep my phone by the coffee pot, not in my room.

Q: What’s your most treasured possession?
A: Both my mom and dad passed away when I was a young adult, so my most treasured possession is my mother’s engagement ring. It’s something that reminds me of the two of them and has sentimental memories. When I look at it, I feel a sense of hope and love.

Q: What’s your greatest domestic hidden talent?
A: I’m not great at it (“greatest” might be a stretch) but during COVID, everyone was trying to figure out what to do. We never worked from home but my husband is a high school teacher and my son is in high school so they started watching a lot of videos on YouTube, which I never got into previously. One day I saw a video about a woman who was making candles. My catchphrase around the house and with my husband is “it can’t be that hard - we can figure that out,” so I figured out how to make soy candles. I make them for my colleagues. I haven’t burned down anything yet and nobody’s has exploded, so I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job.