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Adewale Soluade represents inclusion for Commerce Bank

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:05 am

Adewale Soluade’s whole life seems to revolve around diversity – not only professionally, but personally as well.

He’s feeling right at home at Commerce Bank as the its newest Diversity and Inclusion and Organizational Development Representative, a position he began in June. His responsibilities include providing leadership, coordination and strategic planning for diversity and inclusion initiatives, facilitating diversity and inclusion training, fostering strategic alliances with diverse organizations in the community, and supporting the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Council for Commerce Bank’s St. Louis market.

“While building a diverse workforce has been a priority for Commerce Bank for several years, our formal program was started in 2010 when we launched our Diversity and Inclusion planning process that led to the formation of our council, the development of a business plan, and the hiring of a team member to help coordinate and expand our efforts,” said Sara Foster, chief Human Resources officer of Commerce Bancshares, Inc.

“We feel confident in our strong foundation of diversity and inclusion practices at Commerce and look forward to expanding our efforts in the coming years.” 

Soluade intends to be a part of that expansion.

“Diversity and inclusion are two separate things,” Soluade said. “You can hire a bunch of diverse people, but if you don’t know what to do with them and how to foster that, then you’ve really just wasted your time.”

He comes from a diverse background, hailing from Nigeria. “There are over 250 different ethnic groups, which has created a country with a very rich, diverse culture,” he said of his home country in West Africa.  

After graduating from high school in Nigeria at 16, he began researching colleges stateside and in the United Kingdom. He attended the University of Central Missouri (formerly CentralMissouriStateUniversity) near Kansas City, where he earned a bachelor’s of science in Business Administration. He then obtained his MBA, with an emphasis on Leadership and Management, from FontbonneUniversity.

After living in the region for awhile, he has had time to observe and rate how well St. Louis recruits and retains diverse banking professionals. On a scale of one to 10, he scored it right down the middle.

He said that St. Louis is comprised mostly of small banks geared toward a specific clientele; however, in some cases, the composition of those in leadership positions doesn’t reflect the communities these banks serve.

“Most branches are diverse when it comes to tellers and bankers,” he said. “When it comes to corporate banking, institutional banking or even just retail management, I think that is where the opportunity really lies.”

Diversity and inclusion initiatives at Commerce Bank create and support opportunities for growth and development of its employees, which is accomplished by sponsoring participation in community leadership programs, Foster said.

Soluade is an alumnus of two such programs, the St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative Fellows and the Emerging Leaders Program, one of the leadership programs offered by FOCUS St. Louis. He’s a member of the Urban League Young Professionals of Metropolitan St. Louis and Regional Business Council – Leadership 100, among numerous additional affiliations.

He previously served as assistant vice president-branch manager at PNC Bank. Prior to that position, he was an assistant branch manager at PNC Financial Services. There, he was promoted to assistant vice president-branch manager from assistant branch manager after only three and a half years with the bank.

“I’ve always been really focused on what I want to achieve and where I want to be at certain points in life,” he accounted for his success. “I focused on making sure I was building the right relationships and really learning the things I needed to learn.”

It was at PNC Bank where he gained most of his professional diversity-related experience. He led PNC Bank's African-American Employee Business Resource Group for St. Louis. He served as the bank’s liaison on the St. Louis Regional Unbanked Taskforce steering committee as well as the St. Louis Metropolitan CRA Association. He engaged himself with the community, educating low-to-moderate income communities on financial literacy.

Commerce Bank’s St. Louis market encompasses nearly 182,000 households throughout the St. Louis region, that include seven counties and the City of St. Louis, Foster said. The Missouri-based company, with headquarters in Kansas City and St. Louis, operates in five states throughout the Midwest. Commerce Bank ranked eight on Forbes’ 2013 Best Banks in America list. This is the fourth year in a row Commerce Bank has ranked in the top 10.

“At Commerce, we are very intentional about creating an inclusive workplace and maintaining a culture that supports that commitment,” Soulade said. “We are engaging leaders across the organization in the conversation and equipping them through ongoing workshops that continue to build their self- and other-awareness, capacity and competency.”

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