Nancy Robles-Guess on Stepping up Outside of Your Comfort Zone

At Eastern Funding, executive vice president Nancy Robles-Guess knows that taking on tough challenges is what leads to greater opportunity

Nancy Robles-Guess, EVP of Operations and Compliance Officer, Eastern Funding (Photo Courtesy of John-J Sheridan of One21 Productions)

Nancy Robles-Guess is not afraid of pressure, and she’s not afraid of taking risks. When she looks back on her years of ascending up the ranks at Eastern Funding to become its executive vice president of operations, she sees this as the greatest reason that she has been able to play an influential role in the company’s growth.

“Where others may see tough a challenge, I see an opportunity. Rather than shying away from something I don’t know, I will go and look for whatever resources I need,” Robles-Guess says. “I know that I can gain the knowledge and skills I need to tackle the tough challenges.”

She also sees challenges as opportunities to prove what she’s able to do, which is part of what led her to join Eastern Funding in 2005. Having worked in roles in larger banks for five years prior while also earning a bachelor’s degree from Berkeley College, she joined the organization after realizing that working at a smaller company would allow her to use more of her skill set. And because Eastern Funding was looking to grow to the next level, they welcomed her ideas.

“Because it was such a small company in its early growth stage, the culture was that everybody did everything,” Robles-Guess explains. Having started off by managing all of the company’s contracts and contract loans, she was also able to make structural changes, create a new documentation team, and train different employees. As Eastern Funding continued to grow, she took on new responsibilities throughout the company by overseeing other departments as they gained new employees and by taking charge of many HR functions.

Part of the reason she was able to wear so many hats was because she wasn’t afraid of the challenges, and she was willing to take on projects, which posed complex challenges. This led her to take on one of the biggest projects at the company: overseeing the operational implementation of compliance after Eastern Funding merged with Brookline Bancorp in 2006. For Robles-Guess, who didn’t have any formal compliance training at the time, this meant making sure that she was communicating with all of the right people. “I had to really work closely with consultants, Brookline Bank’s compliance department, and Eastern’s management team to make sure that we were able to put all of the right controls and procedures in place,” Robles-Guess says.

After her early success with that project, Robles-Guess took on more of a leadership role—managing, hiring, and guiding team members across various bank-wide projects.

Giving back to the community is important to both Robles-Guess and Eastern Funding. In addition to her personal fundraising efforts for autism charities, she has encouraged employees to participate in volunteering and giving back. She has led the company efforts in initiatives such as Habitat for Humanity projects and fundraising for MS. She also sits on board of the Berkeley College Foundation, and she mentors at the college regularly.

In building teams, Robles-Guess has focused on making sure that everyone is always taking on new challenges. “I help people to step out of their comfort zones so that they’re able to grow,” Robles-Guess explains.

Giving back to the community is important to Nancy Robles-Guess and to Eastern Funding. In addition to her personal fundraising efforts for autism charities, she has encouraged employees to participate in volunteering and giving back. (Photo Courtesy of John-J Sheridan of One21 Productions)

Taking on new challenges resonates with her personal life, having immigrated to the United States from Costa Rica at age eight and growing up in a low-income single-parent home. As the only minority and female partner at Eastern Funding, Robles-Guess recognizes that her experiences are a large part of what has made her so capable in her current role.

By the same token, she also champions diversity, largely by focusing on skill sets, rather than employees’ backgrounds. “There have been a lot of government studies that show that the lack of diversity has affected the finance industry negatively,” Robles-Guess says. “When you walk into Eastern Funding, it’s one of the most diverse finance workplaces you’ll encounter. The reason for that is that we simply hire the best people because of their skills. When you do that, diversity happens organically.”

As Eastern Funding has grown, Robles-Guess has assembled a team that is both highly capable and willing to push themselves. Many of her team members have been promoted from within, which has come into play across a variety of challenges. One particularly memorable experience for Robles-Guess was in 2012, when Eastern Funding was converting its core banking system, a project that stretched over many weeks. Robles-Guess created a team of five team leaders from different departments—with no conversion experience—that traveled to Rhode Island to manage the process while managing their respective teams remotely.

As the project stretched out over the summer, the challenges grew and the team grew increasingly exhausted. As Robles-Guess recognized the signs of the team’s breakdown, she gave them a pep talk that consisted of empathy and motivation.

That got them through the homestretch. “Being able to connect with them and have a real conversation about what was happening meant that we were all able to identify with one another,” Robles-Guess says. “At the end of it, the conversion went over great. They did an amazing job.”

Challenges are something that Robles-Guess could identify with as a mother of five who is juggling a demanding career, family, and personal growth. Always aiming for more, Robles-Guess is pursuing a doctorate in leadership while continuing her leadership role at Eastern Funding.

Having a team that is able to identify with one another, Robles-Guess adds, is part of what has made Eastern Funding so successful overall. “The most valuable asset we have as a company is our people, and it’s important to be able to have real conversations and relationships,” Robles-Guess says. “Here, people go above and beyond. It’s not simply because of compensation; it’s also because they’re committed to the company.”

We wish Nancy the very best in recognition of her unique skills and the fruits of her very hard work. We at Eastern Funding and Brookline Bancorp have all benefited tremendously from her efforts. The best, from your friends and colleagues at Brookline Bancorp.