By Kierra Ransey
“Failure is not an option,” Che Clay stated matter-of-factly.
That is her motto. The people who work with her laugh because she says it often; but those aren’t just words to her. Success is and has always been a way of life for Clay.
That motto mixed with Clay’s strong work ethic catapulted her from a bank teller in Sulligent, Alabama to the Senior Vice President & Chief Compliance Office of BancorpSouth.
“I have a very strong work ethic,” Clay said. “It was instilled in my from a very young age by my grandmother, Alean Stewart.”
She certainly needs a strong work ethic to thrive in her work environment. As the Chief Compliance Officer of a bank that serves eight states, she interacts with everyone at the bank from tellers to the Board of Directors as she coordinates and oversees regulatory compliance. There is not a typical day in her field, but that is what she loves about her career.
“I like a challenge. I feel like what I’m doing makes a difference,” Clay said. “I constantly learn on this job. I learn so much about the company and our people.”
When she began her career as a bank teller in 1993, she had no clue how far she would rise in the banking industry. She didn’t even think she would stay in banking. She left the position as a bank teller because she felt as if she hit a glass ceiling and she did not look back until she started at BancorpSouth in 2001.
“Even though I have not always been in banking, every job I have ever had in my life prepared me for the next job.” Clay said.
Clay owes her current professional success to her family and upbringing. Even though she grew up in small-town Sulligent, Alabama and didn’t have many material possessions, she still felt complete.
“We didn’t have much, but I never felt like I was missing anything.” Clay reminisced.
Even though Clay’s mother never graduated high school, she pushed Clay to get an education. Clay remembered a time when her mother wouldn’t let her get a factory job even though people around her were working there.
“She absolutely forbid me [to get that job],” Clay said. “She said that she was afraid that if I started working full time and making money, I would pass on my education. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now. “
She also received many of the traits that made her successful in her career from her mother and grandmother. Clay’s mother taught her how to be independent and self-sufficient. She didn’t want her child to be dependent on anyone. Her grandmother taught her about the value of work. Her grandmother got Clay her first job cleaning houses.
“I couldn’t even drive,” Clay said, speaking of her first job. “My grandmother took me to and from work. She taught me how to work, earn, and how to take away all excuses.”
Clay has come a long way from cleaning houses and none of it has been linear or traditional.
“I was really good at math, so I thought that accounting was a natural course,” Clay said. “After two years as an accounting major, I decided that I didn’t want to be an accountant. I had no clue what I wanted to do. I went to work at a small law firm years later and had a ‘eureka’ moment.”
After marrying Darrell Clay and becoming the mother of two children, Darrell and Jasmine, she decided to return to college to get a Bachelor’s degree so she could attend law school.
So Clay went to law school as a wife, a mother, and employee. Even though the three years she spent in law school were difficult, the law degree introduced her to many opportunities that she would have never been exposed to. Surprisingly, a lot of those opportunities that opened weren’t in a law firm, but at BancorpSouth.
“I learned that there was so much I could do with a law degree and being at BancorpSouth exposed me to those opportunities,” Clay said.
So now she is the Senior Vice President of a large corporation. She is one of the few females and minorities who hold such a high position; however, she refuses to be limited by her race and gender.
“I have not put myself in a box of being a woman in a position or a minority in a position,” Clay stated. “I would not want to limit myself in that way.”
Even though she is aware that some aspects of her job are challenging; she refuses to let those challenges overwhelm or stop her.
“I don’t discount that it is challenging to be a female in certain careers,” Clay said. “I refuse to allow myself to use it as an excuse for anything. Someone else may want to create a stumbling block, but I refuse to let someone else’s problem become my problem.”
Clay started at BancorpSouth as an employee in the Central Loan Operations area and her education and hard work elevated her to the role of Senior Vice President. Her story is the epitome of BancorpSouth’s dedication to diversity.
“We want to make sure that we are not only recruiting in a diverse manner, but we are also interested in the career development of the people we hire,” Clay said. “We want to make sure that we have a well-qualified, diverse workforce.”
Clay did the hard work and went to school, but the management team of BancorpSouth introduced her to the new opportunities that were open to her once she increased her education. Clay is definitely a success story in BancorpSouth.
Clay has no idea where her path is going to end at, but one thing that BancorpSouth has taught her is that the opportunities are limitless.
“I don’t know where I’ll end up,” Clay said. “I don’t feel like I have any limitations.