Pat Kandziora banks on experience in helping women

There’s a proverbial “glass ceiling” that women in business encounter, impeding their advancement up the corporate ladder.
For some women, however, the struggle isn’t to break through the ceiling but to simply get through the door and into the room.
Milwaukee’s Pat Kandziora wants to open that door to more women. And her efforts to do so have caught the attention of the Wisconsin District of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which named her this year’s winner of the Women in Business Advocate award.
It’s a spotlight she’s not entirely comfortable with, but one which others say she certainly deserves.
“Both professionally and personally, Pat has committed herself to helping women business owners,” says Kathryn Cairney, program officer for the Helen Bader Foundation, who nominated Kandziora for the SBA award.
Kandziora can empathize with those she helps – she’s been there, too. And while she shuns the limelight, she’s willing to take center stage for a bit if her story will help inspire others to be advocates for women, or just improve their lives.
Kandziora is the vice president of private and business banking for Associated Bank in Milwaukee, working out of the office at Kilbourn Avenue and Milwaukee Street downtown. Her practice today focuses on developing new accounts in Associated’s private banking business as well as developing relationships with established companies with sales between $1 and $5 million dollars.
Throughout her 20-plus-year career in banking, Kandziora has always felt a special kinship with women business owners.
“I was able to empathize with the various roles women business owners face, having faced that myself,” she says. “So many of these women business owners are not only trying to start a business, but they’re often times going to school or raising kids or they have a spouse. I guess I seemed to have more of a corresponding role because I know as a mother, and a woman and a professional that we [women] have to wear so many different hats.”
Kandziora knows what it feels like to juggle multiple roles. At the age of 40, as a divorced mother of two, she decided the only way to improve her career prospects was to go back to school and earn a degree.
After starting out at 18 as a secretary in a savings and loan, she found whenever she changed jobs she was always starting at entry-level positions with entry-level paychecks. After going through vocational counseling to find what her interests and strengths were, she enrolled in MATC where she found the support and encouragement she needed to pursue an associate’s degree in business management.
It wasn’t long before she determined that the associate’s degree wouldn’t carry her career to the heights she aspired to. She enrolled in Mount Mary College’s Business Advantage program. Ultimately, she received her bachelor’s degree and associate’s degree in four years.
She balanced school, kids, volunteer work and two jobs all at once. In addition to working full-time during the day, Kandziora worked part-time at a retail clothing store to build her professional wardrobe.
“Sometimes I look back at that and I don’t know how I did it,” she says.
She gives her two children, Scott, 27, and Kelly, 22, credit for suffering through her college years, noting that children can either be resentful or supportive when a parent tries to better himself or herself.
“If I had to define why I advocate for women, I think a good part of it is because I have gotten the help, the direction and the guidance that I needed,” she says. “I now feel that I’m in a position where I can help others. And that’s no noble thing – it’s truly what I believe. So often women face doors that they can’t open, and if there’s someone that can turn the doorknob for them, maybe it’s something I can do – whether it’s finance or education.”
Cairney notes that Kandziora has always gone the “extra mile” when dealing with her clients. If Kandziora cannot help clients, she not only refers them to another institution, but also follows up with each client and institution to make sure the client’s needs have been met.
“I would say she has the tenacity of a detective to find creative ways to find financing,” adds June Schroeder, president of Wisconsin Women Entrepreneurs – Metro Milwaukee Chapter (WWE). “She brings encouragement and enthusiasm to our membership. She’s fostered the entrepreneurship of others even though she’s not an entrepreneur herself.”
Kandziora’s work with women business owners extends well beyond her role at the bank. She has worked extensively with groups such as Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. (WWBIC), WWE, Women’s Exchange, the Women’s Fund Educational Committee, and the Milwaukee Women’s Center as well as being responsible for initiating a Women’s Scholarship Program for nontraditional students at Mount Mary and Alverno colleges.
In her roles as banker, lecturer and mentor she is constantly preaching to women to clean up their credit.
Instead of sending would-be borrowers packing when their poor credit history is discovered, Kandziora takes the time to instruct them on how to fix their credit rating.
“I think women are very disciplined, and once they know what the game plan is, they’ll follow it,” Kandziora says. “But if they never know, and no one’s ever stopped long enough to explain it to them, they just say, ‘Sorry, you’re denied.’ Well, now what do I do?”
Despite her own humility, those who know Kandziora believe the SBA’s award is well deserved.
“She does it because she cares,” Cairney says. “She doesn’t do it for the recognition. She would rather have the people she’s helping be in the spotlight than to receive the recognition herself. And that’s why I’m glad she received this award.”
Position:
Vice President – Private/Business Banking, Associated Bank – Milwaukee
Greatest Business Motivation: Developing and competing for new banking relationships
Greatest Business Challenge for the Coming Year: Increase Associated Bank’s private banking visibility and increasing new business 20% by the end of 1999
Greatest Satisfaction from Business: Referrals from customers and professional resources
First Job: Secretary at Mitchell Savings & Loan
Education: Mount Mary College, B.S. in Business Administration; MATC, Associate in Business Management
Hometown: Milwaukee
Family: Son, Scott, 27; daughter, Kelly, 22
Interests/Hobbies: Travel, roller blading, race walking, flower arranging, friends and family, investment research, gourmet cooking and entertaining.
Favorite Vacation Spot: Cancun, Mexico
Favorite Magazines: New Choices, (Reader’s Digest) Food & Wine, Milwaukee Magazine.
Favorite Charities: St. John’s Cathedral, Mount Mary College, The Women’s Fund
Favorite Fish Fry: Benedetto’s

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