May 1, 2011

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Paul Thome: Banking on Experience

Dan Sorensen

May 1, 2011

Paul Thome: Banking on Experience With more than 37 years working in the banking industry, it’s hard to find someone with more experience than Paul Thome. Thome was recently named president of Utah-based Sallie Mae Bank, the nation’s largest financial services company specializing in higher education. Thome began working as a teller while in college. Since then, he has held many executive positions at a variety of financial intuitions, including his most recent title of senior vice president of business finance and procurement for Sallie Mae (the parent company of Sallie May Bank). Being at the top of a company managing $7.4 billion in assets is no easy task, but Thome, who is self-admittedly competitive, shows a tenacious attitude to the large task and has big plans for the company in the coming years. He is also very confident in those around him and chalks up much of his success to the teams of people working with him at the bank. “I’ve always been good at developing people and letting them fill their natural roles,” he says. “People in general, but certainly leaders, all have different styles that evolve over time. I think you have to always look at where they came from—the different experiences they’ve had—to understand them.” As changes have occurred in the banking industry, Thome has modified the bank’s strategy to maximize new technology and products as they are created and released. “You have to continue to reinvent yourself and push yourself out of any comfort zones you’re in,” he says. “If you don’t, you will become complacent.” Change is something Thome has seen much of throughout his career—he has literally witnessed the development of credit cards, the creation of home equity loans and many other ups and downs in the banking industry. Most recently, the federal government passed legislation that ultimately ended Sallie Mae Bank’s main product line: bank-based federal student lending. But since then, Thome has reinvented Sallie Mae Bank’s strategy, which has included providing new product lines for student lending, such as the Smart Option Student Loan, which helps students receive better interest rates and save 30 to 50 percent in interest paid over the lifetime of their loans. The banking and finance industries will continue to change. But with Thome’s long resume, he should have no problem adapting, finding balance between different areas of business and modifying the strategy as needed.
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