Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > ‘Don’t Let Anybody Tell You You’re Not Smart Enough’

‘Don’t Let Anybody Tell You You’re Not Smart Enough’

May 28, 2024 John Gallagher _ Business Writer.Staff byline mugs, Wednesday, April 4, 2012.

John Gallagher | Business Columnist, Detroit Free Press

Sandy Pierce Reflects on Trailblazing Career in Banking

When Sandy Pierce stepped down last year as Huntington Bank’s top executive in Michigan after a 40-year career in banking, she dampened any attempt to use the dreaded word “retirement.”

Instead, Pierce is simply directing her considerable energies and talents to a host of other roles. Pierce’s commitments already include serving as chair of both the Detroit Economic Club and the Henry Ford Health System Foundation. In late 2022, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed her as a trustee of Michigan State University. And she also serves on the corporate boards of Penske Automotive, American Axle & Manufacturing, and others.

There may be even more roles in the future as she continues to look for ways to contribute to her hometown of Detroit and the state of Michigan.

“I’m looking at different opportunities, but I’m being very intentional taking my time with it,” she said. “I’m not in a rush. I’m not in a hurry because I’m really busy with all of these community commitments. It’s a lot, but it’s all good.”

In her many roles, Pierce brings a career-long focus on strong and effective leadership.

“To me what defines great leaders and what I emulate is to care more about others than yourself,” she said. “To really listen and learn and not assume that you have all the answers,
because you don’t.”

Detroiter Magazine graphicIt’s a lesson she first learned from her mother and father. Pierce was the youngest of 10 children of working-class parents who owned a bar in Detroit.

“Everybody you meet in life is going to know something you don’t,” they instructed her, and she took the lesson to heart. “I’ve taken golden nuggets from every single person I’ve watched, both inside my organization and outside,” she said.

As a young bank teller at the old National Bank of Detroit, Pierce was once told she was too nice to make it in management. She didn’t let that stop her from pursuing a management training track, even if everyone else in her class already had the master’s degree she was working toward. She later became one of the first women to make senior vice president at the bank.

“I really encourage people choose your path and don’t let anybody tell you you’re not smart
enough, you didn’t go to the right school. Don’t let anybody tell you any of that,” she said.

Persevering in the face of setbacks, either in one’s career or in business strategy, requires a
firmness of purpose and a large dose of patience. That’s the focus she brings to her new role
as MSU trustee, where she says the university’s governance has stabilized after some troubled

“Understand that not every decision is going to be a perfect decision and we will make
mistakes,” she said. “It’s how we recover from those mistakes that’s important. Move on and
don’t let them stop you. It takes time. It’s persistence. It takes consistency. Great leaders don’t give up.”

Sandy Baruah

“When I think of Sandy Pierce, I think gratitude, inspiration, and friendship. Sandy served as Chamber chair when I was hired. Knowing that someone of the quality, passion, and high standards of Sandy believed in Detroit’s future, made the decision to move from Washington, D.C. easy.

Her journey from her family’s bar to the top of corporate America is an inspiration to all – men and women alike. Those of us who know her, know that despite the heights of her success, it is her family and her husband, Tom, that take precedence.

Countless people count Sandy Pierce among their closest friends. Lisa and I are proud to be among them.”

Sandy K. Baruah, Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Regional Chamber