When Ramon Cepeda was in high school, he didn’t know that he would one day pursue a career in banking. He did, however, get a taste of the kind of work he didn’t want to do when he took a job in a factory.
“They had me working on heating up these big coils, and it was awful,” the senior managing director of wealth management remembers. “It was like one hundred degrees in there all the time because we had these big furnaces going. I decided I didn’t want to do that, and I got a job as a teller at our local community bank. So, in high school and through college, I was a bank teller and that’s how I paid for college.”
He was considering a career in law enforcement but changed his mind when he met the woman he would later marry and decided that kind of work wasn’t a good fit for the life he wanted.
“The bank president was kind enough to say, ‘You have your college degree, so we want to give you an opportunity to do something different,’” Cepeda recalls. “That’s how it started.”
Back then, his work focused on loans in Little Village, a prominent Mexican American community in Chicago, where he grew up. Cepeda also gained experience in other types of loans and eventually left that small bank for a position with LaSalle Bank in Chicago.
In 2007, he joined Northern Trust, where he led both the commercial real estate lending team and the professional services team within wealth management. His expertise was key to the real estate team’s work with high-net worth families and individuals, as well as the professional service team’s focus on regional and national firms within the legal, accounting, and consulting practices.
“I came over to start the group that eventually grew to a very large commercial real estate department,” Cepeda shares. “We had a lot of success, so it was a good move on my part. At the time, I had many offers to sift through, and I ended up taking less money to come here because it felt like a better fit.”
Cepeda noted that the commercial real estate practice has grown to twelve people and a portfolio of $3 billion under his stewardship.
“As with any organization, when you’re successful at one thing, they want to give you more things to do,” he explains. “I took on another team that is called a professional services group. I was leading those two efforts for a long time, pretty much the whole time was here, and then, in March of this year, we did a reorganization of some teams.”
That led to his current position at Northern Trust as senior managing director of wealth management.
Cepeda says Northern Trust is not a typical bank and is more of a wealth management outfit.
“Our core business is lending to ultra-high net worth individuals and families, so the teams that I was running before were built up to serve that client base in wealth management,” he says. “After the reorg, I was pulled into a multidisciplinary team that has banking, trust, and investments. My team has those twenty people, and we’re able to cover any client need.”
That team includes attorneys, investment professionals, and private bankers who serve some of Forbes’ richest families in the areas of investments, trust, and banking.
“A typical day for me is going out and meeting some of the families and having generational meetings, where we talk about succession planning, trusts, and ways to help manage their wealth—not only for the next generation but for the generation after,” Cepeda explains. “We think long term as a bank.”
Some of the initiatives he is working on include assuring clients that the bank has their best interests in mind and supporting fast-growing areas, including Nashville Tennessee.
Cepeda credits much his success to his wife of twenty-nine years, Anna. He remains connected to the community in his home city by helping nonprofits that work in housing and social services in their areas of finance and auditing.
Especially important to him are his efforts as a member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.
“Education has been a really big cause of mine,” he states. “Making sure people in our community have access to first-class education at an affordable price is a big part of my role in the University of Illinois.”
He’s especially proud of the increasing number of Hispanic and Black students attending the university.
“You really feel like you’re making a huge impact,” Cepeda says of this work. “It’s been very satisfying to be part of the growth of the university and helping folks out in my old communities. That’s been really fulfilling.”