Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week, time for CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law*. This week’s mama spotlight is the lovely Highland Park mom of three super-charged kids and Senior Vice President with Bank of America, Susan Birnberg. Susan is sharing how she started learning about the business world at the age of eight, how she’s passing that early entrepreneurial spirit down to her young kids, favorite Highland Park and Highwood family spots, the work/life/sacrifice ballance and, of course, the trajectory of her 19+ year career at Bank of America. Yep, she’s worked there since college! Welcome, Susan!
Hi Susan! Please introduce yourself. Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
Hello! My name is Susan Birnberg and I am originally from Northbrook. I did not venture too far as I now live in Highland Park, which is close to my family and my husband Jonathan’s family, which resides in Glencoe.
You’re a mama! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
Ready for this one? I have 3 kiddos – a boy who is nine and boy/girl twins that are seven and a half. Yup, 18 months apart – at the peak of diaper changing, we were changing 21 diapers a day.
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I started a business when I was eight years old – “From Sue to You.” I sold artisan hairpiece scrunchies with lots of fabric tied to them. I bought fabric from a local store and I sold the scrunchies mainly to V&S Variety Store in Northbrook (loved that store, which is no longer there ☹ ). That is when I first learned about business, accounting (my dad made me keep a ledger), and what an elevator speech was. I’m so proud to be helping my eldest son do the same now. Micah has been running MB Seasonal Treats (formerly known as MB Cones), which brings seasonal goodies like hot chocolate and snow cones to birthday parties, local sporting events, sledding hills (new for 2022!), and other locales around the North Shore.
That is very cool and inspirational! What are your favorite local places to spend with the family?
The North Shore has so much to offer but I will try to condense into some top faves:
- Longitud315 in Highwood – authentic Latin American food and has indoor/outdoor dining as well as a chef’s table in the owner’s apartment!
- That Little French Guy in Highland Park – I meet here at least 1x week for business coffee and take the kids here weekly for morning pastries. Everyone has their favorite pastries but the cravate is mine.
- Ravinia Festival – You can find us here on many summer nights for adult concerts, kids concerts and Fiesta Ravinia, the daylong celebration of Mexican music and culture.
- Rosewood Beach in Highland Park – This is a slice of heaven…For the family (there is a covered playground for the super-hot days), for adult yoga (through the Park District), and for the winter (you can find icicles and secret igloos that form).
- Highwood Pumpkin Festival – It doesn’t get better than this – carnival rides (make sure to go at times when you can get wristbands for unlimited rides!) and pumpkin carving. Oh, and you can walk around with a beer…I think…No one has scolded me.
You’ve worked at Bank of America your entire career so far. Tell us more about your tenure there – any title changes, etc.
Yep! I have worked at the same place my whole career – strange, I know! I began my career at Bank of America in 2003 (started at LaSalle Bank, which was acquired by BofA in 2007) as a Credit Analyst and progressed to Underwriter and Credit Officer. I then changed roles to my current position as a Relationship Manager. I have always been in Commercial Banking covering Illinois Middle Market companies (those with revenue between $50 million and $2 billion) and helping them with their financing, treasury and strategic corporate needs.
What have you sacrificed for the success of your career?
That’s a hard one as I really try not to sacrifice – I live by the motto “You can have it all but not all at once.” I am very realistic in my expectations of my family, my work and myself. In order to make my career work, I outsource where I can so that I don’t have to sacrifice, but also not feel guilty. For example, we have loving grandparents who are willing to help out and I am completely fine with them being at a basketball game instead of me. I also have a nanny that has become part of our family and I trust her immensely. I revere and embrace the fact that my children get to learn from different people and their perspectives, as I don’t have all the child-rearing answers.
Additionally, the pandemic taught me how to outsource grocery shopping. And as much as I like to do my shopping, I can be found ordering groceries online from time to time!
Also, I try to incorporate friends within my work day. “How?” you may ask. The train! I take the Metra to work and have ‘train friends’ which have become true, lifelong friends. We laugh, we cry, we celebrate promotions, we figure out how to have tough work conversations, we remind each other to sign up for kids’ activities, we talk about how to make life work without sacrificing and we empower and support each other in a judgment-free zone. These gals are my working mom warriors.
And above all, I don’t have to sacrifice because I have an amazing husband who has been by my side for 21 years (we started dating in college). We have the same life goals and in order for both of us to achieve these goals, we chip in equally (well, ok, not equally as moms are inherently going to do more!) to make our world go round. It helps that he is a darn good cook, so that is something I outsource to him!
What does a typical day look like at work?
“We plan, God laughs!” Although this is a Yiddish saying, it is one that my father-in-law uses often and I have underwritten, as well. There isn’t a typical day for me because as much as I love to plan, my clients’ needs come first. If they call with a potential acquisition, all hands on deck – my team and I will help to construct the optimal capital structure for them. If they call with questions on how to safely sell to a new international customer and ensure collection of their receivable, we are helping them with trade terms.
But, in general, my daily plans include talking with existing clients, reaching out to prospective clients, and understanding each company’s unique needs to deliver strategic financial guidance and solutions. I have a tight knit team that helps each client, and we coordinate and plan each day as to how to deliver the best-in-class solutions that fits the company’s needs. Hottest topic I talk about daily: digitization and optimization of the flow of funds.
Who are your influencers and/or mentors in the field if any?
Besides my influential and amazing parents (love you, mom and dad!), two professional mentors I have had are a past credit manager (Chuck Hagel) and my existing manager (Renee Metcalf). Chuck honed my credit skills into the best mix of client friendly solutions while maintaining the risk appetite necessary for our line of work. Renee was a woman before her time, a true culture leader who “Leaned In” well before Sheryl wrote about it. I have lived some of my toughest times as a working mom under her leadership, and she encourages me to bring my authentic professional self to work each day.
As SVP with BofA, you’re in charge of a team. How do you keep those around you motivated – how do you keep up morale?
I am fortunate to work with a smart, client-focused team who brings their all – with a smile – to work each day. We don’t have curmudgeons. We challenge each other, brainstorm, and are agile in our thinking. We don’t have pool tables or ping pong at the office (gosh, we are still a bank), but we do have fun. I try to find the funny/irony in situations so that even when times are tough, we can have a chuckle. All that being said, it isn’t hard for my team to stay motivated because we all lift each other up. I strive to be the best version of myself at work and encourage others to do the same. I remain consistent in how I deliver to my team and my clients, and by doing that I try to live by example and hope others will follow.
What’s on the horizon for your career?
On the business front, I hope to continue to grow my network so I can be a resource, a connector to my clients and others. I hope to help companies grow their businesses by providing working capital, treasury services, M&A financing and other banking services so that they can employ more people. As these companies grow, they have more ability to help their communities, the environment, and make an impact on the world, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, if I was able to contribute in a small way to that larger impact, I have accomplished my continual goal.
On the personal side, my husband and I have goals to expose our children to various perspectives and to be constant learners. They are part of the Highland Park school district’s dual-language program, spending half of each day speaking Spanish. In 2023, when I reach my 20th anniversary with Bank of America, I hope to spend my month-long sabbatical in a Spanish-speaking country with my family. Hopefully this virus thing will be over by then ☺
About Our Meet a Mom Sponsor
A very heartfelt thank you to CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor, Lake Forest mom of three and owner of Gifford Law, a solo Estate Planning Firm (wills and trusts). Mary, we appreciate your support of local moms in our North Shore communities! Learn more about Mary by visiting her Meet a Mom spotlight here!