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Baltimore Sun’s 2021 Business and Civic Hall of Fame honoree: Sabina Kelly

Sabina Kelly, who recently retired as the Greater Maryland market president of Bank of America, is a 2021 inductee into The Baltimore Sun's Business and Civic Hall of Fame.
Sabina Kelly, who recently retired as the Greater Maryland market president of Bank of America, is a 2021 inductee into The Baltimore Sun's Business and Civic Hall of Fame. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

When Sabina Kelly began her career in banking, women were not commonly groomed for a professional career. She was one of the few offered that path when she started her first job at Suburban Trust Company as an assistant manager in the financial centers and later performing credit analyses on loan applicants.

And it was perhaps even more remarkable when she showed up at another division within Suburban’s successor bank, Maryland National, seeking employment as a relationship manager (banking talk for someone who keeps commercial clients personally informed on such matters as financial services and investment opportunities). The division head was shocked that she’d made an appointment to speak with him given that there was no current opening in his office. “I’m here because I want to work for you and if a position opens up, I want you to think of me,” she told him. Three months later, that’s exactly what happened, and she had the job.

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That combination of assertiveness and relationship building has been a hallmark of Sabina Kelly’s four decades in Baltimore banking. She retired in March as Greater Maryland market president for Bank of America, essentially the local CEO of the region’s largest bank and the nation’s second largest. That achievement alone would be significant for anyone, let alone a woman who grew up in working-class Gardenville. After graduating from St. Anthony of Padua, a Catholic elementary school in Northeast Baltimore, she enrolled in the all-girls Western High School, graduating in 1975 and then attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County expecting to earn a degree in chemistry. She discovered economics and “fell in love.” Oh, and she also met her future husband, whom she married in 1982.

What friends and colleagues will tell you about Ms. Kelly is, first, how positive the second child of Ed and Dolores Haywood is, how supportive of colleagues and clients alike, how knowledgeable of finance and how deeply committed to her work, but also that she had long held the view that she had a responsibility of service to others that extended far beyond banking. “Sabina is always welcoming,” says Michelle Whelley, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, where Ms. Kelly served on the governing board. “She’s always engaged and engaging on a personal level as well as professional. You never get a sense that she’s too busy to talk. She’s very accessible.”

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During her 41 years at Bank of America, Ms. Kelly worked in risk management studying balance sheets in addition to her time as a relationship manager. She developed a health care specialty practice on both the national and local level that supported hospitals, nursing homes, biotech and life science startups, and many others. She learned the business and learned the company. But along the way she also served as a mentor to countless others, “I have mentored them even if they didn’t want to be mentored,” she laughs. Her goal was always to get others to where they need to be faster than she was able to do for herself. And she reached out beyond her employer to help others do the same.

Through her work at the Greater Baltimore Committee, Ms. Kelly helped create the Women’s Advisory Board, which conducts regular meetings to help local employers and their workers learn how to attract and retain the female leaders of tomorrow. The combination of networking, relationship building and mentoring has gotten broad support and strong attendance over its first three years. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings conducted remotely by computer videoconferencing attracted crowds of 100 participants or more.

“She brought years of experience and a lot of genuineness and her ability to connect with people” to these meetings, says Christine Aspell, managing partner of KPMG’s Baltimore office, who still co-chairs the board. “After I started working with her, I felt I’d known her forever. That’s the kind of person she is. She’s genuine, and she wants to help others.”

Janet Currie, who took over as Bank of America’s Baltimore market president after Sabina retired at the end of March, marvels at Ms. Kelly’s “passion to succeed” as well as her passion for other women to succeed. She was also very good at banking and was able to advance in her career at a time when women were badly underrepresented in the field.

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“She is incredibly motivated and is willing to take on challenges and stand up for what she needs to, when she needs to, and she does it with grace,” says Ms. Currie, who knows a few things about breaking barriers as the first African American woman to supervise the bank’s Maryland operations. “That’s the lesson in my mind. How can one be assertive and graceful simultaneously?”

Ms. Kelly has a slightly different description of herself: “I have grit.” Some of that probably can be credited to her parents, some perhaps to the nuns at St. Anthony of Padua. Although she claims to be enjoying retirement “happily,” she also admits to looking around for opportunities to help others. Not shareholders, not coworkers, but, perhaps, simply to do “good work.”

“Bankers have an opportunity to influence a community in so many ways,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoyed helping other people with their careers and their communities and really enjoyed working with clients to help them be more successful. I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish. And I’m proud to have used the opportunity to do good things.”

Sabina Kelly

Age: 63

Education: Western High School; B.A. in economics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; M.B.A, Loyola University Maryland

Hometown: Baltimore City

Current residence: Baldwin

Career highlights: Recently retired as Greater Maryland market president for Bank of America, where she served in several senior leadership roles in global commercial banking

Civic and charitable activities: Served on the board of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, the Greater Baltimore Committee and Dyslexia Tutoring. Led Power of 10 groups at Bank of America, empowering women for success in careers and life

Family: Husband, Joe; three children; one granddaughter

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