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March 31, 2017 Women in Business 2017

Morris puts customers, employee engagement first

Photo | Steve Laschever

Webster Bank Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Dawn Morris is devoted to employee engagement and anticipating customer needs. She started her career on the front line before seeking a job in strategy at the corporate level in the early 2000s.

“I just discovered a love for strategy and getting under customer insights and customer needs and really listening to the voice of the customer and designing either products or customer solutions for them that hadn't existed before. That unlocked this passion of mine to pursue more of a strategy role,” she said.

In 2010, she joined Citizens Bank in Boston as a strategist for business. Less than two years later she became the first to receive the Partner of The Year award for a line of business from marketing. Morris credits that success to extensive research, delving into the minds of small business owners and really learning about their concerns.

She also started a routine at Citizens that she carried over to Webster Bank — volunteering. It built teamwork, and employee engagement skyrocketed. Scores came back for her team at 100 percent engagement, which was unprecedented.

“I think that, in terms of a professional accomplishment, it is really a great representation of what the team did and how we all worked together to make work meaningful and to make people understand, 'If I work hard at this, I have these other opportunities,' ” she said.

Morris joined Webster in 2014. She focused on insights — what's most important to customers, how to develop products, and how to market to them. “Personally, what I loved [at Webster] was so much was focus on the customer. And that's just my passion too,” she said. “To see companies that are doing the right thing for the customer, and then if you have that philosophy and it's supported from the top, the customer is always going to respect that and know that. Then you'll be rewarded.”

One of the first things she tackled was the Living Up To You initiative with the goal of “winning the hearts and minds” of internal employees. “You can advertise anything, but if your employees aren't really supporting it, it's not going to work because the first time a customer comes in, if they don't experience what you've been saying it's going to die,” she said.

According to Webster Bank President John Ciulla, Morris' marketing vision has paid off. “I am impressed with Dawn's big-picture thinking; she's taken our marketing in a new direction,” he said.  “This different way of thinking brought together our vendors for a brand summit, integrating and aligning our strategies, helping us better serve our customers.”

The 2016 brand summit was the first of its kind at Webster. Everyone involved shared their insights on the various lines of business, customer insights, marketing measurements, etc., in one place. It enabled those involved to see common threads and work to make Webster's brand promise even stronger. “It was probably the most powerful 48 hours of my career,” Morris noted.

Morris has also been part of an initiative to develop a women's network at Webster. “I really think it's provided opportunities for learning exposure that women perhaps didn't know they could get at Webster or didn't have the opportunity before,” she said. “And it's developed relationships with people about how they can start mentoring too, to really help out and give advice on careers.”

Outside of Webster, Morris, who has two daughters, ages 18 and 20, serves on the board of The Hartford Stage, Marketing EDGE and the Girl Scouts of Connecticut. “I'm very passionate about the Girl Scouts, and how I try to make a difference is maybe applying more of the strategy point in terms of who we're trying to serve, what are the needs of girls, how are we marketing, and how are we getting membership. It's almost taking business principles and applying them to a nonprofit.”

In addition, Morris is the co-chair of the Governor's Prevention Partnership, whose aim is to prevent substance abuse, underage drinking and violence among young people. Joseph F. Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, serves with her on the board.

“Dawn just has a very winning way with people. She's very open to suggestions. She's got a great personality and works well with a variety of different people. I think that helps her accomplish her goals and encourages others to work hard to support her,” Brennan said. “Her commitment to the cause, taking care of children, keeping children safe, and preparing them for the workforce is something that she shows a real passion for.”

Morris said her proudest accomplishment professionally has been taking opportunities in different companies and being able to drive changes for them in terms of increasing revenue or increasing customer satisfaction.

What legacy do you want to leave after your career is over?

Paying it forward has always been an important aspect of my life, so in many ways it's less about a personal legacy and really more about a 'we' legacy, as life is so much about teamwork. From an early age, my parents instilled in me a sense of teamwork and giving back and it's something that I've carried with me throughout my life, no matter where I lived or worked.

Teamwork, helping people develop personally and professionally, and mentoring our youth, are all part of my DNA. For instance, after I graduated from West Point, as junior Army officer, I joined with my fellow soldiers in working with Habitat for Humanity. To this day, I remain passionate about Girl Scouts and have served on the board in North Carolina, Eastern Massachusetts and now Connecticut, as I believe this organization builds character, as well as leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

What are your keys to maintaining business success?

The key is to constantly learn. Failure isn't such a bad thing. It is how you tweak it so when you try again, the outcome is different. When something doesn't go right, I try to always ask, 'What did I learn?' I take that learning and change my approach next time. So, it's constantly learning, being curious — both at work and in life — ask a lot of questions. Our founder, Harold Webster Smith, always said, 'Take care of the customer and the rest will take care of itself.' What was true in 1935 still works today.

What are your keys to maintaining work/life balance?

I try my best to 'unplug' and since my family is very supportive of what I do, that helps me be able to step away from work. Today everyone is connected, so for me unplugging is more than not being attached to my iPhone. It's eating right, exercising and making sure I'm connected to my family and friends. I try to take care of myself so I can give the best of myself to ones I love.

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