Cathy Bessant: 10 You Didn’t Know

Learn More About the New FFTC President & CEO, Cathy Bessant

Foundation For The Carolinas recently hired Cathy Bessant, longtime Bank of America executive and former FFTC board chair, to join the team as our next president and CEO, after a 40+-year career with the bank.

“Longtime bank executive,” though, only tells part of Cathy’s story – she’s had quite the life’s journey, from helping make professional golf history to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Let’s get to know Cathy better with 10 facts you might not know!

1. Foundation First

We kick off this list at the obvious place: Cathy is no stranger to Foundation For The Carolinas and has partnered with us in many ways. In fact, she is the longest-serving chair of Foundation For The Carolinas’ Governing Board, where – among her many achievements – she helped secure FFTC’s home at 220 North Tryon St. in Uptown Charlotte. She also supported the restoration of the Carolina Theatre, leveraging gifts from the bank and giving generously of her own personal resources.

2. Challenge Accepted!

Cathy is wholly committed to lifelong learning. She knew little about dancing but competed in “Dancing With the Stars Charlotte” to raise funds for the Novant Health Cancer Institute and Charlotte Ballet (she raised $225,000 – a record). She also had no experience scaling mountains when she decided to train to summit Mount Kilimanjaro – the world’s tallest freestanding mountain – which she did in 2018.

3. Inclusion For All

A lifelong supporter of diversity and inclusion, one of Cathy’s first positions at Bank of America was as president of Community Development Banking, where she built a $5 billion lending, equity and strategic program. In this role, she developed significant housing and small-and minority-owned business investment opportunities, advocating and working with regulatory partners to ensure positive outcomes for low-income communities across the U.S., including Charlotte’s First Ward and Fourth Ward neighborhoods.

Her work continued as her role in the bank expanded: As the executive sponsor of the bank’s Disability Advocacy Network, she helped improve advocacy, sponsorship and mentorship of people with disabilities and their families. A committed LGBTQ+ advocate, she was executive sponsor of Bank of America’s LGBTQ+ Executive Council and its Pride Global Ally program, and she also received the Out & Equal Champion Award for championing equal treatment of LGBTQ+ employees.

4. Champion of the Cause

Cathy Bessant

Longtime Bank of America Executive Cathy Bessant will take over as president and CEO of FFTC in January 2024.

Cathy is a vocal advocate, fundraiser and philanthropist for the causes she holds dear – education, cancer research, social justice and sports, among many others. She co-chaired (alongside Gene Woods) the recently adopted Charlotte Mecklenburg Homelessness Strategy, chaired the North Tryon Implementation Plan, co-chaired the CMS Task Force with Harvey Gantt, led a $28 million capital campaign for Providence Day School and co-chaired a successful $60 million campaign for Novant Health’s Weisiger Cancer Center – just to name four examples.

As a breast cancer survivor herself, she has become a passionate advocate, even serving as the grand marshal for the 24 Hours of Booty cycling fundraising event. Her nonprofit experience is extensive: She chaired the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, served on the board of Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and was a member of UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees, to name just three local examples.

5. AI Before AI Was Cool

Long before ChatGPT, Cathy was leading the discussion on artificial intelligence. In 2018, she spearheaded the creation of the Council on the Responsible Use of Artificial Intelligence, which was launched with Harvard’s Kennedy School. Convening cross-industry leaders to address issues related to the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence, Cathy also arranged for Bank of America to provide initial funding for the Council.

6. Around and Around They Go …

Although not a “Petty,” Cathy has a long history with NASCAR. She led community efforts to launch NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte and served on its Advisory Board. Oh, and she also helped create NASCAR’s Bank of America 500. No big deal …

7. Ms. Bessant Goes to Washington

Cathy is no stranger to Washington D.C. and the national spotlight, having appeared before congress several times. She also served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and was chair for the Subcommittee on Meeting National Needs for STEM Education and a Diverse, Multisector Workforce (2018-2021). She attended the May 2018 White House summit on AI for American Industry and once turned down President Clinton when he asked her to stand for confirmation to join the Federal Reserve board. And Cathy advocated Congress to support the renewal of the Community Reinvestment Act.

8. And the Banking Awards Goes to …

Recounting all of Cathy’s banking awards requires a deep breath – over her more than 40-year career in the banking industry, Cathy has compiled quite the list of achievements. Let’s start with this: She ranked atop American Banker’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking list for three consecutive years. The magazine honored her “hat trick” by inducting her into its “Most Powerful Women in Banking” Hall of Fame in 2020.

A pioneer in her field, Cathy was named to Barron’s “100 Most Influential Women in US Finance” list and received Waters Technology’s Women in Technology and Data Trailblazer Award in 2019. The same publication named her Best CIO in 2012, while US Banker named her the No. 1 Chief Marketing Officer.

9. Now for the Speed Round …

Five random facts from Cathy’s bio:

  1. Her first job was at McDonald’s where she learned the valuable lesson: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”
  2. She led efforts to bring the rescued “Miracle on the Hudson” plane to Charlotte as part of an exhibit at the Carolinas Aviation Museum.
  3. Cathy made it possible for Annika Sörenstam to become the first woman to compete in a PGA event.
  4. As a member of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Advisory Board, she founded and continues to support the Catherine Pombier Bessant Scholarship Fund, which enables women from small, rural towns to access a world-class business education.
  5. The Bessants are a field hockey family! Not only does Cathy serve as chair of USA Field Hockey’s board of directors, but her family donated $500,000 to match donations to build Bessant Field, a state-of-the-art field hockey facility at Queens University.

10. Chief Executive Mom

Last but in no way least: Along with her husband, John Clay – a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran – Cathy is a proud parent to Meredith and Hayden. She is famous for her willingness to interrupt any meeting to take a call from her children. In fact, she was named to Working Mother magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Working Moms” list.

As you can see, Cathy has had quite a remarkable professional and personal life! The Foundation looks forward to seeing what Cathy adds to her list next when we welcome her to the staff in January 2024.

Timothy Hager is Vice President, Communications, at Foundation For The Carolinas.