An Unwavering Passion for Doing and Being Better

Raquel Filmanowicz—mother, female executive, and philanthropist—has built upon her mission for continual improvement in all aspects of her life by developing innovative and successful community outreach programs for BMO Harris Bank

Raquel Filmanowicz, Director, US Community Affairs BMO Harris Bank (Photo: Sheila Barabad)

On a Friday night when there are no social, work, or family commitments on her schedule, Raquel Filmanowicz can be found curled up cozily on her couch, piece of pizza in hand, watching a classic French film on her iPad, and unwinding from a long week of work. On a weekday morning, however, she’s juggling a thousand things—from packing school lunches, to scheduling meetings with nonprofits, to checking in with her husband on household responsibilities. It’s never the same day twice, and she likes to take time for herself during the week by running on the treadmill or cooking a new recipe.

Filmanowicz has always had an interest in cooking. Growing up, her mother taught her to make traditional Mexican dishes in her childhood home in Chicago. Cooking was her opportunity to bond with her mother, talk about her day, and discuss the issues going on in her daily life. She can still cook most of those spectacular family recipes by heart. Her mother worked in the Chicago public schools and because she worked long hours, Filmanowicz ended up helping raise her younger sister.

Filmanowicz didn’t have the typical linear journey into the workforce. She got married shortly after high school and had her first child by the age of 20. She had one year of college under her belt before she decided to take a break to be more present for her daughter. When she did go back to her college, she was working in sales at the same time, and her professional success led her to an opportunity to work in the community relations department for a Fortune 500 company before finishing her education. She says that it was harder to go back to school once she left, and she doesn’t recommend it to anyone. But it gave her a different perspective.

“I was a mom,” Filmanowicz says. “I had a family. I looked at  life from a different lens. It wasn’t about me. It was about being an example for my daughter and my family. I’m grateful, now, for that path, but it wasn’t easy.”

Today, her unique perspective benefits thousands of men and women looking for higher education. As BMO Harris Bank’s director of community affairs in outer regional markets, Filmanowicz ensures the bank serves as a good corporate citizen to local communities. One of the facets that feeds Filmanowicz’s soul, she says, is providing graduate level scholarships to the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee (HPMG) organization. Graduate school scholarships are a rare find, and to support Hispanics and minorities in these coveted opportunities, puts BMO at the forefront of giving back to the community.

She’s also particularly proud of a program that partners with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Marquette University. BMO Harris provides support to the Boys & Girls Club to provide youth development leadership for high school juniors and seniors. The bank  also provides scholarship support for students entering Marquette University. The joint partnership with the university supports those who are the first generation in their family to go to college.

Filmanowicz says she sees a lot of herself in those students. “They are underserved students from minority backgrounds, and that’s what I was when I was seventeen, hoping there would be an opportunity for me to further my education,” she says. In May, she saw the first group of students from the program graduate. She smuggled a box of Kleenex in knowing it would be an emotional event. She feels she has succeeded in seeing these young adults progress from their first days at Marquette to graduates going off into the world. Being given the tools to make a difference is what makes her role at BMO a perfect fit.

Her position provides her with the resources to connect to her passion for community enrichment. Filmanowicz develops integrated community affairs plans, including  giving strategic grants in communities and placing senior executives on local nonprofit boards. She manages the company’s outer markets in seven different states. She works closely with two relationship managers to make tailored plans for each area.

“I was a mom. I had a family. I looked at life through a different lens. It wasn’t about me. It was about being that example for my daughter and my family. I’m grateful, now, for that path, but it wasn’t easy.”

“We are a customer-based company, and we know that our customers expect us to invest in their local communities,” Filmanowicz says. To do that, the company seeks partnerships with a wide group of nonprofit sectors including economic development, affordable housing, health services, education, and arts and culture. “We’re working to help to move the needle on issues that matter most to each community. What might be a pressing issue here in Milwaukee might be very different in Kansas City or St. Louis.”

Outside the office, Filmanowicz strives to be a good member of her community by serving on board of HPGM and by being a role model and mentor to her three children, as well as to other Latinas in the industry. She’s been involved with TEMPO, a women’s professional networking organization for senior-level executives, for eight years. Recently, she nominated an employee from BMO Harris Bank to the organization’s emerging leaders subgroup, which handpicks women who need more years of experience before they are ready to join TEMPO. For Filmanowicz, that’s the heartwarming side of her work. She’s grateful to be in a position to lift others as she goes along on her path. Eventually, she wants to be on the board of a Fortune 500, public company.

“Women have a major impact on the economy,” she says. “There have been strides to recruit women for corporate boards and I want to see more done for women of color to be represented.”

As her oldest daughter finishes her sophomore year at Marquette, Filmanowicz sees the impact of her work at BMO Harris Bank come full circle. Her daughter, Cassandra, started getting involved with HPGM. Filmanowicz says it’s both interesting and fulfilling to serve on the board while her daughter uses it as a resource for networking and development. She gets a two-sided perspective at every juncture.

Filmanowicz teaches her children the importance of respecting people, regardless of their social or economic status.

“It takes hard work and determination to overcome challenges,” she says. “I want to leave the world a better place.  I’ve been fortunate to link my passion with work, and to show my children that it is possible to do what you love.”