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Episode 70: Walk the Floor - Matt Linski

We interviewed Matt Linski, the President of Bank of America – Kansas City, on location at his office in downtown KCMO.

Matt loves supporting local organizations and takes pride in the Bank of America innovative volunteerism and workplace giving programs. Associates are consistently incentivized to give back in their own neighborhoods.

He talks about Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders program that helps nonprofits address critical local needs.

And Matt knows his audience. He talks about the importance of networking and listening to make an impact within his community.

We were moved by Matt’s stories of those who have influenced his life, including his late father. He credits his dad for teaching him the leadership value of “walking the floors” to connect with team members.

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Read the transcript below

Hey, it’s Jen V. This interview is with Matt Linski, the President of Bank of America Kansas City. We interviewed him on location in the Bank of America headquarters in downtown KCMO. He talks about the innovative volunteerism program to incentivize their associates to give back in their own neighborhoods.

He talked about the Neighborhood Builder Award and funding for multiple nonprofits. Matt knows his audience and he talks about the importance of how to know your audience and how you network. We were very moved by Matt’s stories of the people who have influenced his life. Take a listen to today’s episode, Matt Linski from Bank of America in Kansas City. Here’s the episode.

Most people don’t know, I’m 0 for 4 in jobs I applied for at Bank of America, that I truly applied for. Various reasons I didn’t get those roles, but they all led to the opportunity and the role I’m in today. So, I’m grateful. When I became market president about six years ago, for me that was the moment to say, the work is just beginning.

Welcome to the Speak with Presence podcast. I’m Jen Vellenga and I’m Jennifer Rettele-Thomas. On this podcast we believe perfection is overrated, leaders listen, and we all speak up to influence change. We exist to show the stories of powerful leaders who have used their voices to inspire change. So, what’s it going to take for you to use your voice?

We are on location today, JRT in downtown Kansas City at Bank of America – Kansas City Headquarters, where Matt Linski, the president, is here with us. We invited him to be on our podcast because of how, through Bank of America, he advocates for change within our community. And change means preserving arts and culture and partnering with organizations like KC Current, one of our faves.  They’re a member of the National Women’s Soccer League, United WE, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Nelson Atkins Museum at Union Station.   And there are so many more. 

Jen, this only touches the surface of Matt’s achievements. Matt, your actions and stories have inspired us to consider what we can achieve. And thanks to Bank of America, we are proud to say we are working on our certificate in women’s entrepreneurship from Cornell University. And, we have to say, Matt, you’ve truly created change for us. Thank you. And welcome to the podcast. You’re welcome.

Alright, Matt. I don’t know if you remember this. I’m sure you do. A little over a year ago, Milwaukee Deli. Yes. Okay. I was with one of my favorite humans, Nancy Whitworth. One of mine, too. You stopped by to say hi to Nancy and made an introduction. And within a couple of weeks, you and I hopped on a phone call, talked a little bit about what we do. And you introduced us to United WE and invited us to their event in the fall. 

I don’t think there are words to describe to you the impact that you had on us. You simply stopped by a table to say hi. You made a connection and you’ve done nothing but open doors for us and connect us to people here in Kansas City. And you’ve truly made Kansas City home for us. So, please know the power of you and the power of your connections to us. We hope we will continue to do that for Kansas City.

I love that. That is awesome because that is what we and myself, Bank of America, is about.  The power of connections.  It’s taking opportunities that exist in front of us every day because we could always choose to walk past somebody. We can always choose not to hold a door or go on our separate ways, put our ear pods in and walk around.

But I’ve always had the opportunities blessed by others, blessed by leaders around me, the company that’s afforded me the chances I am doing today. And it’s all about taking the moment. Well, you did it. And, as you said, you’ve created change for a lot of people, and it’s our job now to pass that forward.

We’re here because of you from the very beginning. So, Matt, I want to get into questions right away and ask you to describe some of the attributes that you think make a company a good leader inside of a community. It’s a great question. And, you know, to be a company that speaks loudly, but actions speak louder than words in our case. You have to listen to your associates. You have to understand what the team that is driving the engine every day for you is thinking. We live in a beautiful city, in a wonderful city. And my teammates are from all over the city. And that kind of diversity of where they’re all from allows us to understand what’s important to them. And then it allows us to really think about, when we look out at our lens to the city, what’s important to the city.

Then you have to take stock. We cannot do it all. No one can. No one corporation can. We have to be laser focused in our pillars to understand where we can be of most value to our teammates, to our customers, and to our community.  And if we do that well, and we focus on that, we will drive change in the areas needed. And we can’t continue in those areas forever. We have to diversify and make changes and pivot. And we’ve done that as a company.

Linda Lenza, who’s been a wonderful leader and an inspiration to me, and to our company, to Kansas City for 30 years is doing this and has done that very thing.   She’s taken opportunities to make investments, to make bold moves and changes. And so, as president, my job is to help carry out those, and also make sure that our associates understand the why behind it and the community understands there’s a we behind it.

How many associates do you have across the city, or employees for Bank of America in Kansas City?  About 580 today. There are 98 markets today across Bank of America in the U. S. and 98 market presidents. And so, I’m fortunate enough to be one of those. I’ve been in that role coming up on six years. I’ve loved every minute of it. And we continue to expand markets. Omaha, Nebraska was a market that we expanded this year and added a president.

And Louisiana was another market. We’ll continue to make these strategic investments in our company that align to the community and to our customers’ needs. I mean I follow you on social media. We have met members of your team. What you said is completely true. They ooze this mentality of it’s all about the city. It’s all about creating change and how do we use our voice to do better. 

I mean that that is representative across the board.  So, great job to you and to everyone. For me and for Jen, as we have made Kansas City our home, we are always intrigued to learn more about where Bank of America is making their investments. There have been plenty over the last couple of years since we became introduced to this great city.  How do you go about with so many needs where you strategically are making those investments?

That’s the hard part. That’s generally what keeps us up every night when we’re making this philanthropic community investments. And so, we go through a couple of processes. Sometimes it’s just having our 580 teammates be the bodies there led by Jen Alexander and Ryan Radecki. With help, in the past, from Marion Mills. We’ve had a community volunteers’ group. And to date, almost to this day, we have almost 70% of our associates in Kansas City volunteered at least one hour. And most of our associates volunteer 50 and 100 hours a year. Because if you volunteer 50 hours, Bank of America is going to give you a $500 grant to give to any non-profit of your choosing.  Do 100 hours, you’re going to get two $500 grants. It’s a way to provide our associates with the opportunity to go out and make an impact in what they feel is important by volunteering. And also get a check behind it to make a donation.

We’ll go to organizations, and we will do different things, like we just did a school drive. Guadalupe Center was featured on Fox 4 News. I want to say, last Friday. Those very things, that’s just a matter of us teammates coming together and having some fun in our office challenges on what we’re going to do and who’s going to find the most markers and crayons and different things to ensure our students in the community have the same chances that a lot of us had as kids growing up.

The other ways are the dollar side of it. That’s the hard one. Because in this day and age, there’s constant need coming out of the pandemic. New changes for how organizations are funded, In some cases, less funding. More opportunities because more people were impacted by the pandemic from mental health and everything else that comes with it.

As a company, we have to be laser focused on our pillars, what makes Bank of America tick. And so within that and through that lens, we choose to make our investments. We’re big into the arts. Job creation is a big part, diversity and inclusion. You mentioned a few of our partners, but World War I Museum, the Negro Leagues Museum, Union Station. There’s countless others that have won grants through us and awards.

Our biggest and signature philanthropic award is the Neighborhood Builder Award. We’re actually getting ready to go through that process next week to select the winners. We’ll do an event on October 11th at the KC Current Practice Facility where we’ll announce those winners and have those winners present.  Two non-profits are going to get $200,000 in unrestricted funding over a two-year period, $100,000 each year. And, because you both are great leaders, we’re going to send people to leadership training and create that opportunity for them to network, meet other leaders, and hone their skills.  That’s something that changes every year.  Every year we pick two non-profits in Kansas City making an impact.

So other things we get involved in, KCRise. Darcy Howe, who’s amazing. It took two and a half years, but we became an equity funder in their latest fund. It took her patience along with Ed’s to help us get through with the things we would need to in order to be that catalyst.  Then we were able to make introductions to new investors for her to help them drive the success of the fund that’s got a focus on taking dollars and investing right here in Kansas City to those in diverse neighborhoods, diverse backgrounds.  Even with diverse skill sets and products coming out of their inventions and their entrepreneur work. It’s exciting to be a part of those things and really it’s just a team effort for us to understand what people need in the community and where we could pivot.

What a fascinating job to be able to say yes when there’s need. As somebody who spent my life in the arts, I was always on the side of asking and to think about where you sit in a place of being able to say yes when someone asks.  That has to be very fulfilling. It is. And I think the pandemic was something. Some of the things we sponsor, Shuttle Cork at the Nelson and things at Union Station through our Bank of America gallery. 

Well, lots of our partners that have gotten grants from us, and some of the grants are small, some are larger, but we didn’t stop during the pandemic. We actually increased our grant making. We did special grants to Big Brothers Big Sisters that year. We did a grant that was involved with several leaders that were focused on hospitality workers and making sure that they had opportunities to work and we could then get food to first responders and those that were really out there on the front lines fighting the pandemic.

But all through that, a couple of leaders came to me probably six, seven months after and said they worked with other organizations that cut funding and we didn’t.  What I’d say to that is, those other organizations didn’t cut it because they wanted to. They had to make tough choices to ensure that their livelihood and survival hood was there.

We were fortunate that we were in a position led by our CEO, Brian Moynihan, to make the right investments in the community and continue there and be there when others were having to focus on their own houses, if you will. Good position to be in. That’s a great position to be in. Very fortunate.

Matt, to build on that, you have to use your voice a lot in your job and a lot of it is creating change. It could be creating change in the workplace. It could be creating change in the community. What is some advice that you would give to emerging leaders about using their voice with confidence or taking the risk to use their voice to create change?

For a lot of emerging leaders, I think. And I put myself in that category still because I learn every day. I learn from you too, and how you’re going about your business and the success you’ve had here in Kansas City. It’s also your past careers. For me, it’s telling them, take an opportunity to network and get to know your audience.

If you’re in a position like myself, where I have news to deliver in the community, internally, within direct teams, it’s not always pleasant. You know, things change and are challenged in our world. Take stock of who you’re going to be delivering that message to, prepare yourself for their feedback, put yourself in the shoes that you’re going to be delivering the message to you because you got to be prepared for how they handle it. 

For me going through a true emerging leaders program that Bank of America had in 2016, I went through it. It was these eye-opening moments where I understood that out of a 100 of us that were selected, there was a certain percentage, a small percentage, that kind of fit my mold. Which are more reactive and willing to just go with the flow and have the conversation.

I learned more about analytical and how people process information. So it helped me understand my audience.  Because when I deliver a positive speech at one of our company events, or if I’m giving an update to my leadership team on some things we’re going to have to deal with next year. Headwinds.  Making sure I understand how they all process it, so I don’t put somebody on the spot to answer a question that they need a day or an hour to think about. And so those types of things, making sure you understand what you’re getting ready to say and the impact it’s going to have. Not only on them at work, but are they going to go home to their families and their friends and their loved ones with that weighing on them? And how has that impacted them the next couple of days and understanding that this is a process. 

To be a leader, you have to be candid. You have to be authentic, and you have to understand that everyone’s human. And we all are going to take the news differently, depending on how our morning started. Were we stuck in traffic? Did we get coffee spilled on us in line at Starbucks? Whatever happened. It’s just taking stock of that.

We have found you to be a very authentic leader and you’re obviously a strategic thinker and a big thinker. You are a very traditional looking leader. You are a white male, who’s a bank president, which is what most people would think leadership looks like. We know you as someone who is very invested in underrepresented populations. And I wonder if you have either a story or some philosophy you can share with us about what it’s like to be someone who is in the majority who is trying to create change for those who aren’t.

You know, something I think about often is I’m very fortunate to be in the role I’m in. I’ve been at one company my entire career. Bank of America has invested in me since I was an intern, up and through countless roles and to be president. Most people don’t know I’m 0 for 4 in jobs I applied for at Bank of America, that I truly applied for. And various reasons, I didn’t get those roles. But they all led to the opportunity and the role I’m in today.

So, I’m grateful. But I never gave up. I never took it as a negative that Bank of America didn’t want me to do something next. It just wasn’t the right time, wasn’t the right opportunity. Things I think about, when I became market president about six years ago, for me that was the moment to say, the work is just beginning.  Because if I’ve got the responsibility for my 580 local teammates and the responsibility of the community and the clients that we serve. And the clients we hope to serve. I need to make sure I’m doing my job to do everything at the level to deliver one company, one brand, one committed brand.

So for me, when I do different meetings internally, I don’t see title. I don’t demand anything special for my role. I do a lot of things on my own because, you know, I want teammates to realize we’re all in this together. Yes, certain things have to come to me for decisions and certain things I get involved in, like an exciting podcast, that others might not get to.

But for me, we’re just one team. I just happen to be the quarterback right now. And someone else will be quarterback in the future. And if it’s someone out there that just joined Bank of America two years ago, that listens to this podcast and that I help inspire over the next five years to take my role, well then, I did my job.  And I’m happy with that. 

That’s amazing. I love when leaders talk about how if someone leaves their organization because they helped them grow and they’re ready for the next chapter, then they’ve done their job. There’s too many leaders or even organizations who punish people for moving on when really that’s just part of their journey.  I love that you say that.  I’m sure there are people out there listening, thinking I’d like to be in that position.

What if it’s someone who doesn’t look like you, who wants to be in that position?  Is there room at Bank of America for those people as well? I know your president in Chicago is a woman. We met her. Rita Cook. Yes, there is absolutely room. I think if you were to look at all the market presidents, a lot probably don’t look like me. And, you know, that’s not necessarily, 100% intentional bias. We surround ourselves with great talent and great talent finds it’s way to get into roles that seem to make the most sense. 

In my situation, it made the most sense for this role. It wasn’t the four previous roles I actually looked to apply for. And so, for us, those individuals have the chance and they will have the chance.  They just have to be patient. They have to understand that it might not be their time. And if they continue at it and continue networking with leaders, understanding our one company philosophy and living our purpose, then they’ll get their opportunities in different fashions.

Who has made the greatest impact in your life? Was it a mentor? Was it a family member? Who helped make the Matt that we see today? Big list. I’m going to forget countless others. Not that I forget them. It’s just, I can’t make the list in the short of a podcast. My father, who passed away in April 2000, right before I graduated high school, clearly.  He was a head of engineering at a manufacturing facility. I interned for that facility a couple years later during college, but I also worked on the line lifting wheels for this plant. People came up to me that knew I just lost my dad. Brain aneurysm, so it was abrupt. Went to school one day and later that day, he wasn’t here. People come up to me that summer, because my mom moved to Atlanta. I’m 18 years old, getting ready to go to Missouri State in Springfield, and I’m living by myself. Kind of out of shock, but she was going to Atlanta for family purposes. People said your dad used to come in early and go and buy a couple of donuts for people. He’d walk the floor and talk to associates, and it was that kind of leader he was. So, huge inspiration. He’s driven me to create the scholarship foundation I created in his honor at Missouri State.

My mother, who at a young age of 46, had to deal with everything, including me, including my older brother. She persevered on. She was taking care of her mother who had health problems. And, you know, it was challenging, but she is a wonderful mother and an unbelievable grandmother. Nana is what we call her.

And then my wife. My wife, Teresa, has just really allowed me to do what I need to do. I’m an early riser and she would attest to that. I get up early, leave the house, and when we had young kids, she was doing a lot of the hard, hard work. I was driving downtown, listening to 20 minutes of music, getting a moment to clear my head.  And she was the one that took on a lot of the things needed so that I could continue doing what I was maybe destined to do.  At least, I hope destined to do.

And then individuals like Mack Bowen. Been at Bank of America 44 years this October. I first started as a credit analyst working under him. He still works here today. He’s a great mentor, great person. Ran Kohler in Chicago. He was the one that taught me to be intellectually curious. There’s countless others. Michael Viazzoli, who’s left our company and went on to do different things in Boston. Michael Lawrence has been a great mentor to me. At a very, very young age, he took me on his board at Big Brothers Big Sisters when I didn’t have two nickels to rub together to make a donation.  But he saw something in me and I think our partnership has been one that’s blossomed, and I think he’s benefited from it. But not, nowhere near as much as I’ve benefited from it.

Lots of great friends out there that really just helped inspire me. I just took bits and pieces of how I saw different people. And I tried to mold myself into things, what they did, but then where I’m me. What makes me tick? Generally, for me it’s I walk the floor every day, countless times a day. I’m sorry for those that I walk the floor on, but I do walk the floor and I just talk. I just want to get to know what’s going on. Because I’ll spend my time getting my job done. I need them to know that I’m here for them. What can I remove? Or what do they just want to get off their chest to me? Good, bad, personal, the weekend, whatever it may be.  

I just said to a client the other day that you have to be willing to remove obstacles when you’re a leader. So I love that you said that. From that very day that you were walking the floor in Milwaukee Deli, where you met JRT with Nancy Whitworth until today, we are just so grateful to know you and excited to see how your journey takes you to the next chapter. Matt, we’re just really excited to continue to see the kind of impact that you make in Kansas City. And we’re here to support you along the way as well. So, thank you so much for being on the podcast. We really appreciate you being here. 

Well, super grateful for both of you and for letting me interrupt your lunch. Because again, the power of connections is what it’s about. And it’s been fun, right? To see you both and do selfies with you at the United WE Events.  And then just to follow everything on social media. You know, the interview you did with Allison Howard, who’s been here now for 15, 16 months. I feel like for a while, I was talking to Allison three or four times a day as we were working through contract negotiations. 

But people like Chris and Angie Long, that are just unbelievable, right? I mean, I aspire to be 1/100th of what they’ve done for our city. So, I thank you both for making the time for me today. This has been a ton of fun. Well, we appreciate it, Matt. Thank you.

Just sitting here today, you have put such a new perspective on some things for me. And I just want you to know that I don’t think you’ll ever know the impact of your words on today’s podcast interview and the people that will listen to them here in Kansas City. Especially as Jen and I both have boys that are in college. We need more leaders like you that have this belief system. We can’t create that change in the workplace without people sharing their voice and their words with others so that they can see that sometimes it can be done differently. So, thank you.


Jen V. & JRT

Jen Vellenga and Jennifer Rettele-Thomas are the co-founders of Voice First World®, a communication and executive coaching company. They train executives and leaders on the Presence Paradigm™, a communication technique created from Jen V’s decades of training actors to perform authentically, with presence, on stages, on audio, and video. If you want to learn more about how to speak and lead confidently, book a discovery call at

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Jen has been magical in helping me to identify my voice and my VOICE! The ways that she has holistically addressed my strengths and my areas of improvement have all made me feel so much more confident.

-Cate R.
Politician, Chicago, IL