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Alumni Stories: Stephanie McHenry '84

Banking With A Social Conscience

by Rebekah Rombom '08mchenry

Like many economics majors who graduate from Dartmouth, Stephanie McHenry ’84 went into banking.  But the work that the Arkansas native does at ShoreBank in Cleveland is not just the work of a traditional commercial bank. 

ShoreBank Cleveland operates with the three-pronged goal of aiding in community development, maintaining environmental responsibility and making a profit.  Though there are now several ShoreBanks throughout the country and the corporation works with clients worldwide, for McHenry, the President of ShoreBank Cleveland, these goals mean providing support and lending to residents of Cleveland proper, particularly in areas in the upper east side of the city that have high poverty rates and high percentages of minority inhabitants.

“You can’t survive if the city isn’t healthy.  There’s no such thing as doughnut development,” McHenry says.  “I’m committed to Cleveland.”

The blending of service for the community with a very real profit potential have led McHenry to realize that there are rewarding opportunities outside the traditional corporate structure.

After McHenry moved to Dallas following graduation, she was contacted by a man who was interested in using ShoreBank as a model for an Arkansas foundation to help rural neighborhoods support entrepreneurship and affordable housing.

“The guy called me up and he gave me the big brain drain guilt trip,” McHenry says.  She took the opportunity to intern with ShoreBank in Chicago, then went back to Arkansas.  Six years later, in 1994, McHenry was recruited to start ShoreBank’s nonprofit initiative in Cleveland.  She worked with the nonprofit arm of the corporation, ShoreBank Enterprise Group, from 1994 to 1998.

“I think Cleveland is a city that has a lot of upside potential, and I think that we will start to see, I mean we’ve already seen, some success and revitalization,” McHenry says.  She became president of the Cleveland branch in 2004.

The bank assists the area in several ways, including support and lending for real estate entrepreneurs, a program in which McHenry says she takes particular pride.

“[They] buy these buildings that have suffered from lack of attention for a number of years and do a quality job of rehabbing them,” McHenry says, which creates quality low- to moderate-income housing in the area.  The bank also underwrites the development to ensure that the living conditions in the refurbished buildings are up to par.

“We don’t do slumlords,” she says.

In addition to helping revitalize the neighborhood and providing quality affordable housing, McHenry says this endeavor is particularly profitable for the bank.

“A lot of the big banks are terrified to lend in some of the neighborhoods where we work,” she says.

Her standing as the head of a profitable bank has allowed McHenry to form constructive relationships with area businesses and larger corporations, many of whom make up the bank’s most significant investors.

“They really want us here,” she says.  “They don’t see us as a charity, they know that we’re a real business over here, with a specialization that has an important impact.”

McHenry herself has had an impact as well.  Before joining ShoreBank, she was senior director of minority business development for the Greater Cleveland Growth Association and has been executive director of the Northern Ohio Minority Business Council. McHenry was on the “40 under 40” lists in both Crain’s Cleveland Business and Kaleidoscope Magazine, a publication focused on diversity.

“I would say that around many of the tables where I sit, I am among the youngest people there, and it’s just sort of a testament back to ShoreBank, what ShoreBank has allowed me to do, and the fact that I’ve gotten myself ingrained in this community as well as the business community,” McHenry says.

While McHenry credits her "graduate school of hard knocks," – the experience she's gained working in the industry – for much of her success, she believes her economics degree from the College "has helped me to sort of understand the 30,000 foot view of what it is that I do." McHenry is justifiably proud of obtaining her economics degree in four years since she didn't attend "prestigious private schools like many of my classmates" before coming to Dartmouth. McHenry says the most valuable part of her Dartmouth education was the confidence she gained.

"I came out of public schools in Little Rock, Ark., so the fact that I was able to [make the "40 under 40" lists], and do it in the 40 years that I was supposed to be able to do it in, it taught me that I can step up to challenges," she says.



Last Updated: 6/21/12