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Jacqueline Howard, Ally Financial | Most Powerful Women: Next

Senior director, corporate citizenship

For Jacqueline Howard, Ally Financial’s focus on the issue of economic mobility is personal.

Her interest in helping close the wealth gap — a 2016 Federal Reserve study showed the median net worth for black families is about 10% that of white families — prompted her to steer Ally toward a more concerted effort on this front.

“We have a responsibility in banking to drive money mindfulness and help people understand their finances,” she said.

As senior director of corporate citizenship, Howard, who is African-American, has created a strategy for the Detroit company around helping underserved consumers build wealth. This includes various financial literacy initiatives, charitable giving and volunteerism.

But, even more, she has tied these efforts together into a holistic corporate social responsibility program.

Her work has earned her a spot as one of the 15 women on our inaugural Next list. (An extension of our Most Powerful Women in Banking program, the list is meant to highlight high-achieving women in the leadership pipeline who are age 40 and under.)

Ally’s partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and entertainer Sean “Big Sean” Anderson is one recent highlight. Through the Moguls in the Making competition in March, 50 students from historically black colleges participated in a weeklong challenge, where they devised and pitched business plans to a panel of judges. Winning teams received prizes and a chance to intern at Ally, with the latter meant to expose diverse young people to banking careers.

Ally’s shift away from “checkbook philanthropy” to a more thoughtful approach entailed getting other areas of the company involved, from investor relations to marketing.

People are increasingly looking to do business with companies that do good, and Ally needs to be able to share how it is positively impacting the world, Howard said.

“Jacqueline is an enterprise thinker who coordinates cross-functional working groups. She seamlessly works across the company with employees at all levels.” — Alison Summerville, business administration executive

“We are looking at it less of just being philanthropic with giving grants and volunteering, because it is so much bigger than that,” Howard said. “Investors and customers are demanding it.”

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Howard, 38, serves as an inspiration on a personal level. She is open about her own life challenges, including losing her mother at age 12 and being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30. “Having survived that, it took away a lot of my fear,” Howard said. “I am willing to go after what I want, success or failure. Those experiences taught me to live in the present.”

Nominating executive: Alison Summerville, business administration executive

What she says: Summerville is impressed with Howard’s leadership skills, which she said are evident in how Howard went about shaping Ally’s corporate social responsibility program. Her approach: Articulated a long-term vision. Established strategies to achieve it. Inspired followership. It helps that Howard is “a clear and concise communicator,” Summerville wote in nominating her for the Next list. Howard used that skill well, first to win the support of C-suite executives and the board of directors for her ideas, and then to get employees excited about executing on those ideas. “Jacqueline is an enterprise thinker who coordinates cross-functional working groups. She seamlessly works across the company with employees at all levels,” Summerville said.