When Emily Abbas was in fifth grade, each of her classmates received an award as they prepared to leave elementary school and begin middle school.

One classmate was awarded Best Smile. Another Best Artist. Abbas’ award?

“I got the ‘Always Has Something to Say Award,’” said Abbas, who in 2020 was named Bankers Trust Co.’s chief retail banking and marketing officer. 

“At the time, I’m not sure it was a compliment,” Abbas said about the award.

Time has not erased memories of receiving the award. In fact, receiving the recognition likely has helped Abbas be a better leader, she said.

“If we’re in a meeting and we’re trying to get to the best solution, I don’t always want to be the first one to speak and I don’t because others then might not share their opinion,” said Abbas, who was named a Business Record Emerging Woman of Influence in 2016 and was part of the publication’s 2005 Forty Under 40 class.

“I might call on someone and ask them what they think even if they’re not ready to speak up, because I know they’ve got good information. I think that’s something that’s always helped me be successful.”

Part of being a leader is being self-aware, Abbas said. 

“I don’t know how self-aware I was early [in my career] and understanding that you don’t have to be the first to speak and understanding that you don’t always have to have something to say,” she said. “I’ve learned it’s more about picking the right moment to speak or adding to the conversation to get others thinking.”

The announcement in 2020 of Abbas’ promotion at Bankers Trust came as the world’s economy was shutting down because of the pandemic. In her new role, Abbas was tasked with overseeing areas once managed by five executive-level leaders: chief of staff, chief marketing and communications officer, community relations and charitable investments, chief retail banking officer, and chief regional banking officer.  

Originally, Abbas had planned to visit the company’s branch offices and various departments in an effort to learn more about unfamiliar areas of Bankers Trust and meet employees. COVID caused that plan to be scrapped. Still, she wanted to learn more about the jobs done by Bankers Trust workers. She remembered a segment by a former local television news personality who would do other people’s jobs and began doing something similar. 

Abbas said she had dozens of requests to do the jobs of other Bankers Trust workers. She has shadowed a mortgage loan originator, a loan processor, a loan closer, and workers who interact with customers at the branch offices. 

“I noticed that they have lots of tabs opened at once on their computer monitors,” Abbas said. “Having all those different tabs opened on just one screen makes it hard to follow. … We got all of our bankers dual monitors.”

As she moved up the management ladder at Bankers Trust and the other companies at which she worked, Abbas said she focused on showing her bosses what she could do.

“At some point, you figure out that ‘It’s not about me,’” she said. “It’s about doing greater, bigger things collectively and with others and with bringing out the best in others.”

Education: Bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and master’s degree in communication leadership, both from Drake University 
Hometown: Des Moines
Family: Husband Cory; two teenage sons, Rowen and Crey
Age: 46 
Hobbies: Mentoring, traveling, attempting to improve at golf

“A strong woman stands up for herself. A stronger woman stands up for everybody else.”

Three Areas of Influence

Emily Abbas added an initiative called “Hey Emily, do my job!” at Bankers Trust, during which she does the jobs of other employees for a day, which has helped her to learn the responsibilities of various positions within the company.

She is involved in fundraising for several organizations, including the United Way of Central Iowa’s Tocqueville Society. As co-chair in 2019, she helped raise $14.8 million, an amount that accounted for nearly one-third of the total raised over a two-year period.

She is active in several Des Moines-area organizations, including the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center’s board of directors and quality and value committee, and the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University.