Alastair Borthwick

CFO, Bank of America

Wise, decisive leadership isn’t just about what we learn in the classroom. It is as much, or more, about the way we work with, talk to, and treat people.

By Adam Sylvain

Perhaps surprising coming from someone with his financial bona fides, Bank of America CFO Alastair Borthwick T’93 says the most critical business skills he has learned are the intangible ones.

“In business, we regularly find solutions by working with teams of people,” he says. “So, it is vital to learn and refine teamwork and leadership skills. My own journey began at Tuck with everything I learned from my professors and classmates about kindness, empathy, and confident humility.”

After earning degrees in statistics and economics from the University of St. Andrews and spending two years on the Wall Street trading floor, Borthwick says earning his MBA broadened his understanding of what it means to be an effective leader.

“I think it is safe to say I wasn’t the first student to arrive at Tuck as not a particularly wise person. Or even as much of a leader for that matter,” says Borthwick, a member of Tuck’s Board of Advisors. “Like many, I showed up as pretty raw material and Tuck helped me understand that wise, decisive leadership isn’t just about what we learn in the classroom. It is as much, or more, about the way we work with, talk to, and treat people.”

While at Tuck, Borthwick also had ample opportunities to sharpen his financial tool kit. The combination has helped him build a successful leadership career in the financial sector, with the last 17 years spent at Bank of America.

Before CEO Brian Moynihan tapped him to become the firm’s CFO in September 2021, Borthwick spent the previous nine years as president of Bank of America’s commercial banking business. The impact of that work was never more apparent than during the prior year as local businesses confronted the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We banked the hospitals. We banked the pharmaceutical companies. We banked the toilet paper makers,” says Borthwick. “Most importantly, we helped ensure that millions of American families remained employed and had access to health care during a very difficult time.”

Bank of America was the first major bank to accept applications under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and delivered more than 490,000 PPP loans to businesses—totaling roughly $35 billion in funding. The PPP loan program, which ended May 31, 2021, provided full loan forgiveness for companies who used the funding for payroll and qualifying non-payroll costs such as operations, rent, and utilities.

Borthwick says the most satisfying aspect of commercial banking is witnessing the impact it creates for not only individual businesses and families, but communities as well.

“We get to work with clients across the country who may have launched a business 30 years ago and because they treated their employees and their clients the right way, they have since grown to become a really big company,” shares Borthwick. “They may now be the biggest employer in town. They may be the biggest philanthropist in town. And we help fuel their growth.”

Now as CFO, Borthwick finds the same satisfaction in the work, but on a broader scale. Instead of focusing exclusively on commercial banking clients, he is responsible for the overall financial management of Bank of America’s eight lines of business.

The new role has brought its own challenges, most notably the continued volatility in capital and financial markets. Borthwick expects the economy and supply chains to continue a path toward relative normalcy with the potential for some short-term setbacks.

“You expect some volatility because of the interdependence of our global economy and supply chains, both of which are so easily disrupted by events throughout the world,” he says.

Despite the uncertainty, Borthwick remains motivated by all the company has accomplished and the commitments it continues to make to its people and the communities they serve. This includes expanding its support for employee childcare expenses and a promise to contribute $1.25 billion to help address issues related to racial equality and economic opportunity. Bank of America also became carbon neutral in 2019 and pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“I am really proud of the way we treat our employees and our commitment to being a good community member and stewards,” says Borthwick. “That we can also play a role in improving financial lives—helping people pursue their dreams—makes the work even more meaningful and fun.”

This story originally appeared in print in Tuck Today.

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