The office of the president of Bank of America Missouri is the type of place that just breathes with success. It’s just what you would expect: polished, wooden walls, a massive board room table and a stunning view of downtown St. Louis. The person who occupies this place is one of the most influential and powerful people in the city. She is Patricia Mercurio.
In the business of big time banking, the word ‘she’ is very rarely used to describe the person at the top. But more than 35 years ago, Pat Mercurio set out to break through the glass ceiling. “All I ever wanted was an opportunity,” she says. “There was a time at the bank when women had to wear gloves and couldn’t smoke in the building but men could (laughing), but I’m not sure that was an advantage!”
Mercurio has gotten the last laugh. She did take advantage of every opportunity and worked her way up to one of Bank of America’s top spots. She is the only female member of Civic Progress, as well as a top board member of United Way and was recently named Woman of the Year by Variety the Children’s Charity. Mercurio’s journey is even more remarkable considering a somewhat humble beginning. Since she’s a native St. Louisan, my first question had to be, Where’d you go to high school?
“St. Thomas Aquinas, class of ’67,” she answers, and is delighted when I tell her that I went to McClure, the school just on the other side of I-270 in North County. We both know that where you go to high school in St. Louis tells other locals a lot about who you are. Aquinas or McClure usually aren’t considered overly impressive, but Mercurio believes her more common roots played a role in her success. “We were just a middle-class family growing up in North County. Mom and Dad both worked, and I put my way through SIU-Edwardsville.”
Mercurio has a big smile on her face when she talks about her early days living in Florissant and Ferguson, and the smile grows even more when she talks about college days and the classic concerts at the Mississippi River Festival, “I saw Bob Dylan walk on with the band, but let’s not get sidetracked.” She earned her degree in philosophy but she took a job as a part-time drive-up teller at a Mark Twain Bank to pay the college bills. The banking culture fit her well and she was quickly promoted.
Ten years later, the part-time job led to a full-time position with Boatmen’s Bank in 1984. At Boatmen’s, which eventually became Bank of America, Mercurio made one good impression after another. Ultimately, CEO Hugh McColl made the move that put her into that impressive corner office overlooking downtown. She says McColl was determined to make sure merit and results were rewarded. “They started letting women have jobs that had control of budgets and revenue because your numbers speak for you—it’s just not somebody’s opinion, it’s did she meet the goal or not?”
Mercurio says she has been graciously welcomed into the ‘old boys clubs,’ including Civic Progress. “I think Civic Progress sometimes gets a real bad rap. Some people think it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors but its not,” she says. “It’s all for the good of the community—the economic welfare, development and education.” She praises the group for its civic accomplishments but says St. Louis overall has more work to do to remain a top-tier city. “I think we need to be more innovative, more entrepreneurial.”
Mercurio is doing her part by leading Bank of America’s charitable efforts and investment strategies in St. Louis. The bank donates more than $3 million a year to local charities, and millions more are invested in business development, commercial and personal loans. The coveted office of the president of Bank of America Missouri is undoubtedly a more vibrant place because of the person who breathes success into it. By the way, she also likes the view. LN