LaKendra McNair Gatekeeper of Opportunity, Champion Advocate for Business and Community

By Janelle E. Taylor

LaKendra McNair has been a gatekeeper of opportunity and an advocate of small business and community empowerment.   McNair is a recognized community hero with a solid reputation as Change Agent Champion for turning visions into realities. Her transformational leadership is deeply rooted by two decades of practice as a business development coach, diversity and inclusion advocate, and curator of equitable engagement in society. McNair has served in multiple capacities in banking throughout her career, one as of late was Vice President and Business Banking Relationship Manager at M&T Bank with a focus on Minority, Women, Veteran, and the Economically Disadvantaged owned business community in the District of Columbia. Even with her notable banking expertise, McNair proclaims, “I’ve never been so impactful in my community from an employer perspective. I’m in a place in my career where I can be more authentic, and M&T Bank gives me the tools necessary to do my job well.  The purpose that we support cannot be done alone, which is why at M&T Bank, I’ve had the support from our corporate culture, community of resources and the entire team. This mission is bigger than me and M&T Bank… it’s about the community we serve.”  

Commanding through advocacy, purpose and authenticity is McNair’s mission while maximizing employee engagement is her consistent bottom line.  She empowers business leaders and entrepreneurs with tools, information and resources to transform and sustain their businesses.  As a practitioner, she fiercely guards the integrity, ethics and policies of the banking profession while balancing the scales of disadvantage and growth.  McNair states that “our society can never have enough advocates, ally’s and sponsors for inclusion” as she reflects that “the reality that there is a disparity gap in social and economic resources, including students not being able to find jobs, current rises in mental illness and communities feeling isolated of which much of these issues are caused due to non-inclusion and or not feeling a part of something.  My goal is to duplicate efforts beyond what I deliver on a daily basis.”   

With over 20 years of accomplished government banking experience in the Greater Washington Area, McNair is an overseer of resources that empower businesses at every stage of their journey.   Leading as a driving force of transformation through multiple roles, McNair serves on the board of Life Pieces to Masterpieces, is Co-Chair of the Women in Business Committee of the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce; and serves as Co-President of the Women in Network’s National Chapter.  She has served on the boards of National Forum for Black Public Administrator’s District of Columbia Chapter and the Greater Washington Area Government Finance Officers Association. Additionally, she is President of the Greater Washington Area Women in Network Resource Group at M&T Bank.  

McNair currently serves as Vice President at M&T Bank. As an African American woman, she serves at the forefront of financial business decisions in a role that is statistically held by white males at more than 86.4%. Further, according to data collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), racial diversity decreases as banking professionals move further up the corporate ladder.  M&T Bank is dedicated to empowering their workforce and customers by encouraging career growth and augmenting supplier diversity, which transcends across communities. 

M&T Bank currently operates more than 780 branches in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. M&T Bank is ranked 462nd on the Fortune 500 list and maintains its corporate culture of giving back to communities by showcasing local business customers through their Spotlight Shop, investing in driving change by finding new solutions to lending and adapting to clients’ needs. M&T is acquiring People’s United Bank, which will give it more branches in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states in the Northeast. 

For small business owners, making the decision to apply for funding can be discouraging since there are multiple barriers to entry including not having a line of credit for the new company and taking on risk of debt that depend on positive cashflow success to repay the loan successfully.  A startup must also have a solid plan of action and a scalable business model of which investors can depend.  Thus, for a financial institution and team, providing funding for a new entrepreneur is no easy undertaking due to high risk of both the bank and the stakeholders.  One of the first items lenders try to determine when assessing business credit is the owner’s capacity to repay the loan. They’ll consider household income, business revenue, cash flow, outstanding debt, unused credit lines, and the amount of money the owner has personally invested into the business.  Therefore, M&T Bank, its representatives, and the community it serves must rely on hard data, dedication to working toward a common goal, ability to dream and consistent engagements of mutual trust. 

McNair understands this assignment, as this vigorous combination of an inclusive, endowing financial institution, aligned with a spearheading Vice President obliging its mission, is undoubtedly a powerful catalyst to a sustainable track record of successful growth results for people and organizations.   As an employee of M&T Bank and a representative of its tenacity for outreach, McNair excels at her super-power of listening to customer’s stories at M&T Bank. She pays attention to learn their corporate culture and to understand the business owner’s mindset.  McNair reflects that “by observing their activities, interactions with people, determining their preferred social activities, and which resource groups they are associated, I collectively understand these key indicators of customers internal and external influences. When a customer walks into the bank, they have a story waiting to unfold and it is my objective to learn where they are and how we as a team and financial institution can drive their success using tailored adaptations that fit their needs.  You have to care to understand the problems of the community, it’s not just having access to capital, you have to understand the access to information, access to tools, and programs and resources. Social capital is also a key aspect to what we create including the level of communication with clients.” 

M&T Bank supports and trusts its employees to make high impact decisions. Each business journey is unique and requires dynamic support to fulfill specific requirements, financial needs and customized resources to fully invest the effort and time needed to deliver the power of an entire organization.

McNair proudly asserts the long-standing achievements that “M&T Bank is an award-winning and customer centric financial institution that makes itself available through direct outreach by providing resources for education, networking, platforms for building relationships and meeting customers where they are.” She further advises that “banks should focus on equity and inclusion as a standard, not as an exclusive minority segment but as a global revolution that affects all people and every business.”  

She also challenges entrepreneurs to uphold a duty of “finding a culturally inclusive and impactful financial institution by carefully examining the business.” McNair advises that “companies must do their homework and research a financial institution from its website cover page, to its history and background.” “  Vendors must seek out live clients, verify real stories, examine methods of innovative solutions offered and take note on how much the institution focuses on flexibility for not only their clients but the community it serves.” “Everything is about relationships, so you have to keep banks and yourself accountable. Businesses should make the effort to find out a bank’s customer base and the institution’s culture.”  

McNair combines the power of M&T Bank’s resources and education with her best practices of expert client empowerment.  This dynamic foundation of institutional support and corporation culture is the ultimate game changer for so many businesses that would otherwise not be able to demonstrate and scale their growth potential.  McNair proclaims that “in 2022 and beyond, she will continue to help influence others and also learn more about how to positively impact trailblazing men, women and corporate entities that are willing to collaborate to sustain social impact. Further, in an effort of continuous learning, she noted, “ I will also invest more in myself to become further educated in learning about more scalable solutions, examining various case scenarios to take back to our teams in order to duplicate and master efforts that work. “

As an African American and a woman, McNair represents two groups of both race and gender that have a historical bout of disparity in society. Reflecting in her statement, “each day, I consider the reality that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a journey and not a destination.  When I think about the possibilities of our community, we must also be reminded of how important it is that we are willing to do the work. In this process, we have to learn that if we focus on the negative, we dismiss so much of what we have accomplished. We must use our power to control what we can.”

“I will continue to share stories of our customers, advocate and encourage sponsorship.  The stronger I am, the stronger an impact I can make on the community. As we rise, we shall continue to bring others with us and understand that banking relationships should not be transactional but transformational.” 

Most recently McNair was promoted to Senior Vice President, Community Activation Lead for M&T Bank’s Mid Atlantic region where she will use her experience in sales activation and community engagement to contribute to its community banking strategy.  

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