When US Banker looks in the executive offices of banks around the country for the 25 most talented and powerful women in them, two of its picks are Calvin grads. 

Michelle Van Valkenburg Van Dyke ’85 and Mary Tuuk ’86, both officers with Fifth Third Bank, again this year made the magazine’s annual list of “The 25 Women to Watch.” Though each now describes the other as a close friend, the two mid-’80s business majors don’t remember meeting at Calvin. 

They took different paths to their corner offices. At the age of 7, Van Dyke told her parents she wanted to own a bank; by the time she was a senior at Calvin she was working in one. Tuuk first worked as a lawyer and didn’t settle on banking until her 30s. She moved up through risk management positions to become Fifth Third’s chief risk officer, responsible, in her words, “for enterprise risk management, which includes the areas of lending, market trading, liquidity, compliance, and operational and reputational risk.” By contrast, Van Dyke is clear that, “The credit side of the business is not my strength.” Starting as a branch manager, she rose through the retail side of the business to become regional president responsible for five affiliates in Michigan, Indiana and St. Louis, Mo. 

But their differences are surface, while their similarities run deep: a like-minded approach to being leaders in an industry not known for female executives. 

Start with the emphasis they place on building healthy professional relationships. 

Here’s Van Dyke: “Banking is not necessarily a numbers business. It is all about people. It is all about relationships—with customers and employees. To me, the magic in this business is figuring out how to engage customers so they really want to bank with us and how to engage employees so they love to come to work every day.” 

Here’s Tuuk: “Relationship building has to accompany technical competency for success. I’ve spent a great deal of time making sure I have strong working relationships that are based not only on competency, but also on a more holistic, personal engagement with co-workers. That’s something I enjoy most about my job, and it’s been important to the expansion of my responsibilities.” 

Both women credit their strengths in collaboration, team building and proactive communication—within a corporate culture at Fifth Third that values those qualities—for helping dissolve any glass ceilings at the bank. In fact, they say, banks are now rewarding precisely the skills women more often and more naturally bring. 

“Twenty-five years ago, I knew intuitively I had to win the hearts of the employees at my branch,” Van Dyke said. “We’ve now figured out as an industry that the foundation of employee engagement leads to customer satisfaction and bottom-line results.” 

Yet she and Tuuk do see how few women sit in executive meetings with them, and they’re taking pains to remedy that— giving serious attention and time to mentoring, for starters. 

“I think the most important part I can play here is as a role model to other women,” Van Dyke said. “I tell young women business majors to run a line of business, something that actually drops net income to the bottom line. Women have tended to shy away from profit and loss. As we see more women running businesses, that’s when we’ll see them ascend.” 

Besides mentoring women at the bank, Tuuk is working with Calvin’s business department to find ways to expose young women to a wider range of business opportunities and female business leaders. 

“Often their world isn’t as large as it could be,” she said. “I want them to dream big about where their life journey could take them. It’s too easy for us to impose limitations on ourselves, and that doesn’t cultivate the talents and abilities God has given us.” 

Both women found their God-given talent for business mightily challenged in the financial crisis of the past two years. Calm to ride out that storm—enough even to help turn around their bank’s bottom line—came for both in their deepest commonality. 

“Michelle and I often talk about how the strong foundation we have in faith and family and friends gives us a built-in advantage,” Tuuk said. “We have a stability that makes it a lot easier to deal with volatile and traumatic times. On the worst days, I would remind myself that every challenge is purposeful in terms of God’s master plan. And I would remind myself that it was just one day in a very long journey—not just a professional journey, but a life journey.”