October 26, 2015
2015 Outstanding Women in Business

2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Susan Gunnell, Southbridge Savings Bank

Matt Volpini
Susan Gunnell Executive Vice President & COO Southbridge Savings Bank

VIEW: 2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Susan Gunnell, Southbridge Savings Bank

Over the course of 35 years, Susan Gunnell has made Southbridge Savings Bank her home, rising through the ranks from teller in 1980 to the company's second-in-command as executive vice president and chief operating officer today.

"First of all, she is really, really smart," said Hannah Gunnell, director of marketing for the United Way of Central Massachusetts and Susan's daughter. "Second of all, she cares a lot about everything that she does."

Working in all sorts of roles throughout the years from assistant bookkeeper to accounting manager to human resources manager and working on the bank's technology, Susan Gunnell has received recognition for initiatives such as expanding the company's training program. Her community work has resulted in many letters of thanks from organizations such as the United Way.

"She is never afraid of change," Hannah Gunnell said. "If she finds a way to make something better, she is very adaptable."

Gunnell plays a significant role on the Southbridge Savings Bank Charitable Donations Committee and is involved in decisions on donations and sponsorship for many local nonprofit organizations. She is a member of the Harrington Healthcare System board and the Rotary Club of Southbridge, and is an advisor for the Dudley-Charlton Education Foundation.

Who is your most influential role model?

I grew up locally on our family's farm, and my dad expected us to work hard and always do our best. My mom expected us to be kind to one another and to talk out our problems to find compromise instead of fighting. We also played lot of sports and games with neighborhood kids and extended family. We loved competition and winning!

My husband and children have taught me to relax more and see the humor in things. As far as my banking career, early on I was mentored by Kathy Tremblay, a very dynamic woman of faith who was the accounting manager at the time. She was direct, honest and had a very strong work ethic.

What has helped you achieve success in your career?

First of all, I work and have worked with some very dedicated and talented individuals who have been part of our team and part of my success. I really couldn't do my job every day without them.

Along with my strong work ethic and genuine desire to do the right things, I have had the opportunity to work in many different areas of the bank, including the teller line, accounting, technology, human resources and retail banking. I never had aspirations to be COO; it just progressed naturally as I threw myself into each role I was given.

What's your primary motivation?

Mutual respect for others and being part of an organization that strives to be better motivates me. I do my best work when I can understand the big picture and believe in the end goal. My primary motivator is the belief that what I do in life or work could ultimately help someone else, whether it be my family, my friends, employees who strive to work hard and do the right things, customers needing great customer service or products, or the community. My faith has helped me to trust that I always will be provided with what I need and that my primary motivator should never be money or accolades.

How do you give back to the community?

I feel very fortunate that I'm given the opportunity to work in an organization that wholeheartedly believes in giving back. Our employees are willing to contribute in so many ways. I am active with our charitable donations committee here at Southbridge Savings Bank. We decide on charitable donation requests and sponsorship opportunities within the areas that the bank serves. We encourage and support our employees in event participation and volunteering efforts. We also promote drives for school supplies through Catholic Charities, drives for local food banks and local heating assistance programs.

I serve on committees at the Harrington Hospital, and I am a member of the Rotary of Southbridge. In the past, I have served on boards such as United Way, Last Green Valley, and Dudley Charlton Education Foundation.

I'm active in my church music program, and I sing in the choir and participate in many other volunteer roles there.

How do you ease stress?

When stress gets too high, I try to do something enjoyable with family or friends. My husband and I have been happily married for 31 years. His love, humor and friendship help reduce my stress. We like to travel, paddle board and spend quiet time at home. We also like to get together with our daughter, her husband and our son, who all live in Worcester. I also relieve stress through singing, attending church, and spending time with my extended family and my church family. I also enjoy an occasional ice cream or Klondike bar (no sugar added of course).

How have you tried to balance your career and your personal life?

While I find my career rewarding and challenging, and often find it hard to leave at the office, I love spending time with my family and friends. Over the summer, we've taken short trips to different ponds and lakes in the area to picnic and paddle board. We went to Costa Rica in January and spent time on the beach and in the rainforests.

Meet the rest of the 2015 Outstanding Women in Business

Roberta Brien, vice president of projects, Worcester Business Development Corp.

Linda Cavaioli, executive director, YWCA of Central Massachusetts

Susan Lawrence, co-owner, Pepper's Fine Catering

Naureen Meraj, senior global director, NTT Data

Joyce A. Murphy, executive vice chancellor and chief executive, Commonwealth Medicine

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