It may be trite, heck, it may even sound sexist, but sometimes, you can tell the character of a woman by her handbag. In the case of Tiffany Cason, it was a large, light green leather satchel with one word on its catch: TOMS.
The shoe and apparel company TOMS, founded by the Arlington native Blake Mycoskie, was built on a social good/business philosophy that seems to also guide Cason in her daily life. But she’s a banker.
The self-professed “Fort Worth girl” is a rising star in the DFW banking scene, recently taking over the helm of Dallas market president for Capital One in Texas, one of the major markets in the country for the bank. In 2016, Cason was named to the Top 40 under 40 in Fort Worth by the Fort Worth Business Press and again this year in Dallas by the Dallas Business Journal.
How did the beaming 38-year-old, born in Waco and reared in Fort Worth, rise so quickly through the ranks? She started with good genes. Cason’s mother, Cheryl Isom, was a banker for 13 years, mostly in Fort Worth, rising to branch manager of one of the first branches in the city with Texas American Bank (formerly Fort Worth National), then onto vice president at Equitable Bank.
“I always had a great role model in her,” Cason said. “She was a woman in banking and a woman in business. She was phenomenally inspirational. I didn’t know there was another option besides going into business — it was installed in me early.”
Isom said Cason was always good at math while attending All Saints Episcopal School in Fort Worth from kindergarten through 12th grade. But it was her ability to reason that really caught her mother’s attention.
“In banking, you have to have both math and reasoning,” she said. Cason also has a financially savvy side. As salutatorian of her class at All Saints, Cason received offers from colleges in and out of state, but she said she chose Baylor for a very practical reason. “They gave me the most money,” she said with a smile, but also noting she is in her family’s third generation as a Baylor Bear.
Cason graduated in Baylor’s business honors program with a finance/marketing degree and a minor in corporate communications. A decade later, she augmented that with an executive MBA from Pepperdine University.
“I was attracted to Pepperdine’s MBA program because it was based on the concept of ‘servant/leadership,’” she said. “It’s not exactly the opposite of command/control, but it teaches that in order to lead you have to serve others. I can really appreciate that. It helped in formulating what kind of leader I wanted to be.”
Brought up in a household that routinely volunteered, Cason said it was instilled at an early age to give back. “When you are able to marry volunteering with work — it doesn’t get much better than that,” she said.
Those who know Cason are quick to highlight her genuinely good nature. “It’s rare to find a combination of drive, a need for results and iron-clad integrity, all in one package,” said Robert J. “Bobby” McGee, Cason’s first boss at KBK Financial in downtown Fort Worth. McGee now is chairman and CEO of U.S. Growth Funds in Fort Worth.
Their paths crossed initially just by her reputation at Trinity Episcopal School, said McGee. “She was several years above my eldest at school, but her reputation was well-known,” he said. “She was a standout young lady from that time on in her life.”
A chance benefit dinner brought McGee and Cason’s mother to the same table just as Cason was finishing her undergraduate education. Isom took the opportunity to talk up her daughter, and by the end of the night, McGee was sold, handing Isom his card and telling Cason to give him a call.
“She had several offers — there was a track for college graduates in banking she could have taken that would have been the safe and easy way,” Isom said. “But Bobby gave her an opportunity she couldn’t have had in any other place. It catapulted her career.”
KBK Financial focused as an equity partner in management buyouts, investor in debt of companies led by private equity firms and a provider of capital directly to private and small public companies. Cason was immediately thrown into training to be a loan officer, which entailed 50-page report write-ups and presenting cases before a committee in oral arguments.
McGee said he was instantly impressed with Cason’s writing skill and ability to defend her work before a seasoned loan committee at such a young age, but it was her intellectual honesty that really set her apart. “She established a remarkably high level of trust with her colleagues,” he said, that translated into a “stabilizing force” at the company.
For Cason, the job was love at first sight. “It was an intriguing, outside-of-the box way of doing commercial banking. An amazing training ground,” she said. “I found a true passion for what I did. I was so blessed to have a number of mentors at that company.”
Cason didn’t plan on becoming a salesperson in banking, but the job fit her personality well. “I’m a natural extrovert, and I like to talk to people and understand where they are coming from, understand what they want to do, hear them out, understand where they want to go and ultimately help try to provide solutions for them,” she said. “I enjoy helping clients. It’s more about strategy than product.”
And as a special side benefit, Cason said she gets to sit down with the movers and shakers of Fort Worth, and now Dallas. “I get to be in front of some of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever met and solve for something I can help them try to do,” she said.
From KBK, Cason moved to Wachovia, BBVA Compass, and then to Capital One, where she rose to the level of market president of Fort Worth. “I knew a leader at Capital One, and she called me and asked if we could have a cup of coffee,” Cason said. “From there, I met the head of the state for Capital One, Kent Eastman. His vision for where he wanted to take the State of Texas coupled with the fact that the bank is founder led made the offer very attractive.”
Cason was immediately drawn to the bank’s motto, “Changing Banking for Good,” and its two pillars of business, “Excellence” and “Do the Right Thing.”
“It’s a top-down approach in Capital One’s culture,” she said. “We are trying to live by our pillars in everything we do. A lot of companies have good intentions. I happen to be lucky enough to be with one that is living by it. It’s been fantastic.”
In February, Cason was named president of the Dallas market, while continuing her role as the commercial executive in charge of middle market banking for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
The team lead by Cason serves North Texas companies with incomes from $10 million to $500 million, Cason said.
“Here’s what I love about the middle market — you get to talk to the CEOs and senior level staff who have built or bought their company and maybe are struggling on where they want to go,” she said. “You can offer them a solution. It’s rarely cut and dry.”
Cason admits some companies are just looking for the lowest rate from banks on their loans. “But the best companies value the advising nature of what we do, helping them create a strategy versus just rate shopping,” she said. “The best bankers take time to study their craft and study their client’s business and industry so they can think about options and solutions.”
On Capital One’s philanthropic side, the bank has committed $150 million over five years to Future Edge, a program to help Americans, especially youth, better succeed in the digital age, Cason said.
The bank also partners with Junior Achievement. Recently, Cason taught a course on budgeting to a group of juniors and seniors at Eastern Hills High School. “They were an incredible group of self-motivated, eager-to-learn students, and I walked away very impressed with their budgeting choices and decision-making process,” she said.
Although Cason moved on to other banking jobs, McGee has kept in touch. Recently, he sponsored Cason’s nomination onto the Davey O’Brien Foundation board, where he is president. The foundation honors a college football quarterback and provides a $30,000 scholarship to a local high school senior annually in the name of the beloved TCU quarterback.
“A lot of people wanted her on the board,” he said. “She can diffuse any issue with charm and grace and laser beam focus.”
It also helps that she loves football, especially the Cowboys. “I am pretty sure the Dallas Cowboys are in my DNA,” she laughs. “I’ve been cheering for America’s Team for as long as I can remember. It stems from a long family history of riding the good and not-so-good times with the team.”
Connecting community needs with those with the means to help is a special talent of Cason’s. She would argue that the people who can help need the outlet as much as those in need.
“I very intentionally try to network the right people to the organization — clients, colleagues, my circle of influence,” she said. “I do my best to listen to the needs of the organization, then network the right people in to help. It is a crucial component of what we try to do. For me, it’s trying to make sure I’m working the best and surest connection based on what the organization needs and what my friends and colleagues need.”
That networking has made a huge difference at Communities in Schools of Tarrant County, where Cason serves as the chair of the CIS Foundation, said Mike Steele, who recently retired as president and CEO.
“She made an absolutely key introduction for us with our founding donation board member,” said Steele. In 2013, James Webb, a Dallas connection with Cason, donated more than $300,000 to CIS in his wife’s name to honor her after she died of cancer.
CIS helps children in local public schools in danger of dropping out by funding the salaries of social workers to identify and help connect the children and their families to community resources. In total, CIS is in 57 schools in nine school districts in Tarrant County.
“Tiffany introduced our donor to us knowing our story would touch his heart,” Steele said. “It’s a perfect example of what she brings to everybody she touches. She has a huge heart and a fierce determination, but is very gentle.”
That gentle arm-twisting has increased CIS’s endowment exponentially. “We started off with $250, and now we have $1.2 million,” Steele said.
Other non-profits that Cason is currently involved with include serving as vice-chair of the American Red Cross of North Texas and on the president’s advisory task force for Texas Wesleyan University. She has previously served on the Child Study Center Foundation, the Ladder Alliance board and the Kupferle Texas Health board.
Cason said she tries to limit her board obligations to just three positions at a time in order to also tend to work and her family, which includes her husband for 10 years, Ron, and two daughters, Landry, 7, (named after Tom) and Presley, 8, (named after Elvis). But she admits that the need to give back is strongly instilled in her.
“When I think about why and where to get involved, there comes a time in my executive life where it can’t be all about you. It has to be about a greater good. Where can I make the most impact?” she said.
How does she bundle raising two girls with her husband, volunteering extensively through the community and running a big division of a big bank? “It’s no secret that I am young for what I do,” she said, adding a paraphrase of Luke 12:48: “For whom much is given, much is required.”