Mentorship is key to becoming a CFO

First Horizon’s Hope Dmuchowski never saw herself as a CFO. One key meeting changed her mind.
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Hope Dmuchowski

· 5 min read

Women CFOs are still rare in banking. Of the nation’s top 50 banks, only three have female CFOs.

First Horizon’s Hope Dmuchowski is one of them.

Dmuchowski told CFO Brew she didn’t believe she could become a CFO until just a few years ago. She grew up in a small town in New Jersey and was raised by a single mother. “I consistently saw her going to work, trying to live, generally, paycheck to paycheck,” Dmuchowski told CFO Brew, while making sure she and her sisters had the things they needed.

Most of the women Dmuchowski knew growing up who had college degrees were either nurses or teachers, and, in college, she pursued a teaching degree before switching to business. She was hired into the Leadership Development Program at Deutsche Bank, where she recalls being one of “five to seven” women in a group of about 100. Members of her cohort had Ivy League pedigrees and parents or grandparents in the banking industry.

Dmuchowski used that fact as inspiration. “It gave me a reason to excel,” she said. “It gave me reason to say, ‘Yes, there’s only a few of me, but I’m going to be the one that makes it.”

Pivot point: While working at BB&T Bank, Dmuchowski considered leaving after a reorg, and spoke with then-CFO Daryl Bible, telling him she didn’t see avenues for career progression in her new role.

“He said, ‘Hope, I’ve moved you into this role because I believe you’re the next CFO of the bank,’” Dmuchowski remembers.

Initially, she was dumbfounded. “I didn’t see people with my career background as a CFO,” she said, referring to the fact that she didn’t come up through accounting or treasury, nor did she see many women CFOs or CFOs with her economic background. But Bible advised her on how to prepare for a CFO seat.

Dmuchowski and her family had recently moved to Charlotte when she was recruited for the CFO role at Memphis-based First Horizon Bank, and she initially wasn’t interested in relocating.

“The executive recruiter said, ‘This bank is different,” and pointed out its many female executives. Dmuchowski said. Today, First Horizon’s executive leadership team is majority female, with 7 of 13 seats being held by women.

Passing it on: Dmuchowski is intentional about mentoring other women. One of her mentees is Keva Latham, SVP and director of FP&A and corporate development at First Horizon. Dmuchowski recruited her for the role from an HR position she held at the bank, Latham said, and gave her opportunities to lead and grow teams.

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As a mentor, Dmuchowski gives “very honest and candid feedback to help you grow professionally,” Latham said. “Hope won’t tell you what you want to hear; [she] tells you what you need to hear to grow and be effective as a leader.”

She describes Dmuchowski as “high-energy” and cites her signature strengths as her ability to “create synergies and cultivate the culture”—attributes which proved useful when a planned acquisition by TD fell through in 2023. Dmuchowski had to rapidly develop a budget and a strategic plan for “what we’d look like as a standalone organization,” Latham said. In the space of a month, Dmuchowski put together an investor day presentation intended to help restore investors’ confidence.

Some 600 people attended the investor day either live or virtually, during which Dmuchowski and other members of the executive team discussed the bank’s balance sheet, key attributes, and goals, she said. In the last six months of the year, she said she and other executives went on the road, speaking with more than 350 investors “reaffirming the First Horizon story and where we were going.”

Getting to the C-suite: Dmuchowski advises others who aspire to the C-suite that landing such a role isn’t easy, regardless of your gender or background. The numerical odds alone are against you, she points out, noting that only 13 people out of First Horizon’s 7,500 employees are on its executive team. “Go in being aware that you are going to have to outperform your peer group,” she said.

Be willing to take on different roles or earn more degrees or credentials, she said, noting, “I think the best thing I did to prepare to be a CFO is having done multiple different roles.” CFOs must cultivate agility and adaptability, she said, pointing to events like the banking crisis and the raising of interest rates that she’s had to weather as CFO.

And, Dmuchowski says, it helps to have a “kitchen cabinet” of three to five mentors. “You can’t just have one mentor that you keep and will get you all the way to the C-suite,” she said. “As you grow you will have different experiences” and you’ll need to find the right mentors for each place and time.

Ultimately, though, her advice is to “find a mentor…who’s in the seat you want next because they’re best prepared to tell you how to get there.”

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News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.