Women’s History Month honors the contributions women have made across society. We’re taking a slightly different approach to commemorate Women’s History Month by celebrating the life of Melanie Dressel, who made a tremendous impact on our history and culture. Her altruistic vision and relationship-based approach to leadership illustrate the values that have come to personify Columbia Bank.
She was genuine: Countless employees fondly recall Melanie’s unwavering focus on building an enduring culture, including a highly-anticipated annual company tour where she spoke directly and listened to fellow employees about the state of the bank and community. During her 24 year-long career at Columbia Bank, Melanie was known for leading others with integrity and compassion, and we’re all the better for it.
She had a tremendous work ethic: Melanie was always willing to go the extra mile and to do what it took to get the job done. Moreover, the prioritization of customer happiness remained paramount in her decision-making process. “If we take good care of our customers and our employees, then our shareholders will benefit,” she said to Seattle Business Magazine in 2011. She also proudly stood behind the decisions she made – whether during the good times or more challenging moments of her career.
She was a problem solver: When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, Melanie ensured Columbia Bank came out stronger than before the economic collapse by keeping the bank, its customers and employees, focused on what was important: doing the right thing. She brought a creative, problem-solving mentality to every challenge she faced by using feasible alternatives, taking initiative and assuming responsibility for her actions and those of the bank. As a result of her leadership, Columbia Bank weathered the economic crisis with a firm stability and grew exponentially in the years to follow.
Melanie had a strong sense of community: Melanie’s dedication to giving back is strongly reflected as community involvement is a widely-recognized cornerstone of our culture. She endeavored to provide her time, money and expertise to several organizations, including but not limited to, the Washington State Historical Society, Washington Bankers Association, Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation, Tacoma Art Museum and United Way of Pierce County. She held the belief that we are only as strong as the communities we serve, and made it her mission to enhance the livelihood of every neighborhood in our footprint.
She was a natural communicator: From her annual visits to each branch to mentoring new talent, Melanie was a master at keeping everyone informed and up-to-date. “They’re amazed I answer my own phone,” she told the Seattle Times in 2011. She also understood that being a great communicator also meant being a great listener. Her example led our development as a company that emphasizes taking the time to actively listen and regard every person with importance.
She was passionate about learning: In and out of the workplace, Melanie committed herself to gaining knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis in order to serve others. “I’m just a life-long learner. I’ve always loved to read and I’m inquisitive and that caused me to really want to understand a lot about banks,” Melanie told South Sound Magazine in 2013. Her dedication to lifelong learning resonates across our workplace as employees are encouraged and expected to continuously learn about the ever-changing landscape of the banking industry and the communities we serve.
She was a team player: Despite being named by American Banker Magazine as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking seven times, Melanie always operated as a team player. She was quick to allocate credit for any recognition or accolades she received back to the team because she knew those achievements required a group effort. Her devotion to Columbia Bank’s core values instilled a sense of comradery and loyalty that anchors our renowned style of banking.
She inspired others: As a longtime civic leader, Melanie inspired a generation of women and bankers to lead. “She believed helping women in banking, and in business in general, was important,” her son, Robert Dressel lll, told American Banker Magazine. Melanie’s leadership and achievements would earn her several awards, including Seattle Business Magazine’s inaugural CEO of the Year Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Washington Tacoma Milgard School of Business.
Melanie encouraged us all to listen to and learn from one another through communication and respect. She will be fondly remembered for her mindful leadership, loyalty and love for her community. We are grateful for our time with her, and for the opportunity to continue her legacy.
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