Katie Saez

Purpose-driven leadership

A written reminder of Truist Georgia Region President Katie Saez’ personal purpose statement is always within sight on her desk – make a difference.

Katherine “Katie” Saez (BSBA ’99) became a Gator long before she started at the University of Florida as a freshman in the mid-1990s. After moving to the United States from Cuba in the 1930s, her grandfather Octavio Garces (’42) became the first Gator in Saez’ family. Octavio’s son and Saez’ father Larry (BSBA ’73) followed in his father’s footsteps, inspiring Saez to continue the family’s Gator legacy.

“Being a Gator is part of my identity,” Saez said. “I spent my entire childhood going to Gator games and hearing about the value of a Gator education.”

Octavio Garces, Katie Saez and Larry Garces

Three generations of Gators: Octavio Garces, Katie Saez and Larry Garces.

After moving from her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to Gainesville, Saez was constantly busy studying as a pre-med honors student, working to support herself financially and networking with her sorority sisters in Zeta Tau Alpha. Despite working tirelessly to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, her second unsuccessful round of organic chemistry forced Saez to reconsider medicine as a career.

Saez’ father, a graduate of UF’s Warrington College of Business, recognized the widely transferrable skills that came with a degree in business and encouraged her to consider a foundation in the subject.

Today, looking out the window of her office on the 29th floor of Truist Plaza in downtown Atlanta, Saez agrees that her father’s suggestion was the right choice. After being promoted into 11 different roles across 23 years, Saez now serves as Georgia Region President at Truist.

“I had no other aspirations other than to be a doctor, and really never thought I’d have a career in banking,” she recalled. “I can absolutely say that the great thing about a degree in finance is that you can do anything with it. As a college student, you really think about finance and banking as leading to one or two kinds of roles, but there are so many more career paths out there.”

Throughout her time at Truist, from her initial role in a bank training program straight out of college to her current leadership position, Saez has focused on two areas, commercial banking and payments. After spending the first few years of her career in commercial banking, working directly with clients across multiple industries and in various leadership positions, the payments space was an exciting new challenge for Saez.

“The pace of change that comes with technology development is incredible,” she said. “It’s thrilling and fast paced.”

One of Saez’ most challenging yet rewarding projects while focusing on payments came during the 2019 merger between BB&T and SunTrust. While the two companies were in the process of building what would become Truist, Saez served in a series of roles integrating the technologies of the two banks. Set against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic, Saez recalls that despite working with unfamiliar teams who were primarily remote, the bank integration was successfully completed in 2022.

“There is something special that gets built when you’re forced into a challenging situation like that,” she said. “There were unique circumstances, but we were able to build the trust that enabled us to be successful.”

With a significant successful merger project and many other accomplishments under her belt, Saez was promoted into her current role, focusing back on her original career area – commercial banking.

Saez notes that she’s particularly proud of this role because of its legacy. She is the third consecutive woman to hold the role of Truist Georgia Region President, the senior-most leadership position in the state at the nation’s seventh largest bank.

“When I first started in banking, women only wore skirts and had to wear pantyhose,” she recalled. “Many of those cultural barriers are evolving and women in finance are thriving. I am walking on this path that was paved for me by other women, and I strive to continue building this road for others.”

Even with two decades in the banking industry, Saez has never lost her passion for helping clients accomplish their goals. A picture frame on her desk holds a written reminder of her personal purpose statement – make a difference.

“Every company we work with has a unique story and unique needs,” she said. “Truist is a purpose-driven company, and it’s a privilege to work with our clients and be a resource to them. When you get to tour a factory and see how some of these businesses really work, that’s the everyday reminder of the American Dream in action – a reminder of what my grandfather came to this country to pursue.”

In today’s economic landscape, Saez’ dedication to making a difference is imperative to the continued success of clients. She notes that the regulatory and economic environment we currently face has forced banks to make changes, like being more disciplined about how they compete and deploy capital.

Even in the face of significant shifts within the banking world, Saez notes that leaning into relationships will always play a critical role in helping people get through tough times.   

“In going through the Great Recession and the pandemic, when I think about those times, what helped was not focusing on the big challenge,” she said. “Instead, it’s about the relationships, the trust and the care built between the people you work with.”

In line with that mentality, Saez recommends the importance of building your own personal board of advisors who you can turn to in times of change and opportunity.

“As a leader, I find value when I’m able to talk through approaches with others, especially before making big decisions,” she said.

Overall, Saez noted that some of the best advice she can share is to be thoughtful about your definition of success. For Saez, success in her career is only one piece of the puzzle. Her complete fulfillment comes from serving on boards at the Junior Achievement of Georgia, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Woodruff Arts Center, taking her two sons to and from their travel baseball games, hiking all over the world with her husband and racing half-marathons with her running group.

“Success ebbs and flows,” she said. “There have been times when I’ve been ‘more successful’ than others, but unfulfilled. Consider other things like, do people want to be on your team, are you sought after for advice and friendship, do clients trust you? All of these are things that don’t show up on a trophy but are just as important to what makes you successful.”