Tiffany Eubanks-Saunders has ascended the ranks of corporate America to hold the prestigious title of senior vice president at Bank of America, but she doesn’t let it define her. Spend any time with the Charlotte native, and the conversation can likely shift from the upbringing that led her to North Carolina A&T State University to her journey as a breast cancer survivor to her weekly self-care routine that includes DVR with a glass of wine.
She’s candid about her time as a student at South Mecklenburg High School, where she was one of very few minorities among her peers during the days of school integration. So, when Eubanks-Saunders got to A&T, she welcomed the HBCU experience.
“I could turn to my left and turn to my right and see people who were like me,” she recalls. Plus, she comes from a long line of Aggies.
The busy exec preaches self-care because she recognizes how it saved her life. In January 2016, during a routine mammogram, doctors discovered a tumor that went unnoticed because of its position against her chest wall. She was diagnosed with two aggressive forms of breast cancer.
“I had a double mastectomy, and what was supposed to be six chemo cycles over six months ended up being 28 cycles over 18 months,” Eubanks said of her treatment at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The cancer warrior continued to work in the bank’s Baltimore office while rocking a bald head and stilettos.
During her year in Baltimore, she connected with a network of supportive women who also worked at Bank of America.
“The common theme was these wonderfully talented women who were driving a lot of value for the company and killing it in their jobs, but (they) felt isolated,” she recalled. “I said, ‘before I go back to Charlotte, I have got to pull these ladies together.’ So, we did.”
That December, Eubanks-Saunders spearheaded the bank’s inaugural women’s empowerment summit called Black Women Ready to Lead. The daylong event was about the importance of women taking care of themselves and building a sisterhood for those days when life became too much. The summit has spread across the country, expanding to a multicultural event in some cities.
I recently met with Eubanks-Saunders over breakfast for a Q&A session about her career journey, work-life balance, upward mobility and more.
How did your career journey land you in your current role?
When I was in high school, I was in a program called INROADS. At the time, it was the only program that placed academically talented minorities in businesses and industries, intentionally. We went out to UNC Charlotte and took classes in the summer to prepare us for college, because many of us came from households where we were the first going to college.
I started interning at North Carolina National Bank [now known as Bank of America]. I interned the four summers that I was in college. It gave me an opportunity to spend time in areas that I knew I didn’t want to go into, but also exposed me to opportunities that I had never even knew existed. I was offered an opportunity to enter into the management trainee program.
I have done everything from lived and worked internationally to working in most of our lines of business, in many instances, being the first, and sometimes the only, Black. It was always instilled in me that if I don’t take the opportunity to shatter the glass, who will?
Talk a little bit about your relationship with HBCUs.
I am a proud product of an HBCU. I went to North Carolina A&T, along with most of the people in my family. I’m constantly out and about speaking on behalf of the bank and talking to audiences, particularly Black audiences, about the need to think long and hard about where you send your kids to school.
The other thing is staying in school and graduating. I sit on the Executive Advisory Council at A&T in the business school, and one of the things we’ve been talking about is the fact that we have to support these kids because many of them are first-generation college students.
When you think about A&T, and just a little bit further, [North Carolina] Central, and our very own Johnson C. Smith here in Charlotte, I think [HBCUs have] contributed to ensuring that North Carolina as a whole, but specifically Charlotte, has a really strong representation of well-educated professional Blacks, which to me, only contributes to the betterment of the community. It impacts the culture of North Carolina, and in a very beneficial way.
What are your thoughts as a person of color, particularly a Black woman in a corporate executive space, when you hear the talks about upward mobility?
I think anywhere you go, you will have a tale of two existences. With upward mobility, I think the question then becomes, what are we going to do about it? For organizations where you have people who aren’t living that existence and don’t really understand what it is, the question is: What are they willing to do to move the dial and create change?
You’re one of this year’s honorees for United Negro College Fund’s Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon. What was your reaction?
Very shocked. I must admit, I don’t know if I was more excited about the honor or the fact that Oprah Winfrey was going to be at this year’s event.
What has been the best advice you’ve received, and where did it come from?
The best piece of professional advice came from a gentleman named Kieth Cockrell. I used to work on his team; he’s been one of my longtime mentors. Earlier in my career, he said, “you’ve done a lot of great things in your past, but who are you going to be in your future?” The point of that was to tell me, you can’t rest on your laurels. You always have to be thinking about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and who knows about it.
The second piece of advice — I’m sure women who I’ve admired have said it to me enough times to where it has become my motto — don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s counterproductive to everything that you want to do, and it’s not productive to anything that you need to do.
Your day typically starts at 5 a.m., and you have a pretty busy schedule. When you’re not working, what is Tiffany up to?
When I’m not working, I’m just trying to enjoy family. Also, cancer has taught me to make sure that if I’m going to be here to do work for others, or to support others, I have to take “me time.” So, I try to get some good rest.
Do you feel like that’s easier said than done?
At a certain point, you have to have the self-awareness and maturity about your life to say it’s not an option. And then, figure out how to make it happen.
When I go and talk about women and wealth to different audiences around the country, oftentimes, I draw the correlation to the fact that if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have to worry about not having any money to spend…because you won’t be able to spend it.
Katrina Louis is managing editor of qcitymetro.com who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.