Banking on a love for the business, one woman works her way to the top.
As is very often the case, the best advice Fabiola Brumley ever got was from her father: “Nothing is too easy, and nothing is too hard.” It’s the kind of evenhanded aphorism you’d expect from one of South Florida’s most successful—and oddly serene—businesswomen.
As Southeast Region Business Banking executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, she is the head of business banking in a 10-state area, ranging from Maryland to Florida. She’s also bank president for Palm Beach County, serves on countless business and nonprofit boards (see sidebar) and has received all manner of accolades and honors, including South Florida Business Journal’s Palm Beach County Ultimate CEO and Top 100 Power Leaders, Sun-Sentinel’s Excalibur Award, and United Way’s Leadership Award. In short, Brumley is a big shot, although she’d never say so herself.
Brumley in action at the bank is not remotely imperious; she is a trim, attractive woman in a tai-lored gray pantsuit, impressive stilettos and a man-ner so disarming you’d think she was about to roll up her sleeves and start making cookies at her desk. But there is something else too, a sense of resolve. A polite but purposeful accounting of what it has taken to come this far.
Now 50, Brumley worked her way up the bank-ing ladder from a part-time position at a small com-munity bank near Fort Lauderdale during college. With a bachelor’s in accounting and an M.B.A. from Florida Atlantic University, she says simply that she “fell in love with banking.”
Throughout the 1980s, as banks were acquired, changed names and got bigger and bigger, Brum-ley moved up to controller, then chief financial officer, eventually landing in her current position. She credits some of her success to a work ethic inherited from her parents, who immigrated to South Florida from Lebanon in 1971 to start a life of greater opportunity.
“What I really like about banking is that it is about financial solutions. My father taught me well. He was a very disciplined accountant—and he was also very ethical. In banking, the element of trust, and really understanding the client, is very impor-tant. Maybe it’s my background—we’re very social people. These relationships mean a lot, so banking is an opportunity to put together what you know about numbers with the relationships you build.”
Brumley’s fascination with entrepreneurs is evident, but it becomes a passion when you factor in those facing formidable odds. Which is how she feels about the work she does as Global Ambas-sador in partnership with Vital Voices, a global nonprofit established by former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.