By Alexandra Jocham, RBI and Ivan Tolić, Raiffeisenbank in Croatia |

Women are still rare as CEOs of companies. We talked to Liana Keserić, CEO of Raiffeisenbank in Croatia, about her path, glass ceilings and her motivation.

Liana Keseric, CEO Raiffeisenbank in Croatia

You have been the CEO of Raiffeisenbank in Croatia (RBA) since 2020 and are one of the few women who have made it to the top of a bank. In your opinion, how good is the RBA work environment as a career building platform? 

You’re right, the number of women managing banks in Europe can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Fortunately, Raiffeisenbank has always been a place where everyone indeed has an equal chance. I have been part of such an environment for 20 years already and I have to say that I am proud of how progressive we are.

My first project at RBA was to design and implement every step of creating the RBA Internet Banking. I recall spending most of my hours in the office with clients and IT staff and honing in on every part of the process. As customer needs were the essence of everything we did back then – and they still are today.

Already at that time it was evident that we are an environment welcoming new ideas.

A good idea was always appreciated as a good idea, irrespective of whether the colleague was female or male. We feel this equality internally, and I am especially proud that now it can now be seen externally as well.

What advice would you give to a female university graduate who is just starting out in her first job? Does the glass ceiling exist and how can it be broken in your view?

I believe that the issue of glass ceiling is a matter of mindset. The glass ceiling exists only in your mind. If you believe it, you then start to limit yourself. You start hindering your development even before it begins. And, nothing is impossible to a willing heart! Do not acknowledge routine practices, do not accept that as long as there’s something to reach for, something you want to learn, something to make you grow. That is your victory. Your knowledge, effort and will cannot be taken away by anyone.

Regarding the first part of the question: definitively, leave your comfort zone. Constantly learn, relentlessly look for growth opportunities and do not settle just for the average. Naturally, always put in your maximum. I like to say to my colleagues – deliver your very best every day; and be brave in your choices. That is what I believe in and this advice is my life experience. As far as the business environment is concerned, we often cannot choose. But we can seek sincerity, honesty, and integrity in others. Surround yourself with such people because any job you do relies on teamwork.

You often highlight care for the employees. You’ve been with the bank for 20 years, but now in a decision-making role. How important is employee satisfaction for you? What does RBA represent to them?

I’ve been working with RBA for nearly two decades and I know most of the colleagues. I dare say that I can feel the pulse of the company. And I am fully convinced that people are our single most important resource. The irreplaceable one and we need to take care of them the most.

What makes our bank a successful collective is the collaboration culture and the strength arising from us being able to rely on one another. When we do internal research, this is the main thing popping up year in, year out — relationships among the people are the key satisfaction factor.

It would not be fair for me to say what RBA represents to my colleagues. I hope that to them it represents a place where they feel accepted, where they are empowered and encouraged to express ideas, make decisions and stand by them, where they know their voice is heard and has an impact.

Have you noticed any changes in the perception of women in business since you started your career?

Of course, changes in business are very much felt. For example, the ability to network, empathy, providing directions, focus, which used to be considered feminine traits somehow, are today the very values that make the difference between the good and the great employee. 

Male colleagues have started to adopt this, to learn from their female colleagues.

I believe it has ceased to be relevant who is who, but rather which competences you bring to the team. I would even call it a new level of respect.

What are your tips for women who want to take their careers into their own hands?

My personal perspective is that you should be aware that choosing one thing leads to not choosing something else. It’s very simple, you can’t be the best in class in everything. Think about it, make a decision, but definitely don’t regret it later. Also understand yourself – who you really are and who you want to become, try to identify your priorities and decide which fights are worthwhile and which you want to give up in time. Decide, and go – that’s it. No regrets.

Liana Keseric, CEO of Raiffeisenbank in Croatia

From the perspective of maternity leave and childcare, it would seem that women in the CEE region are at an advantage compared to women in the West. How do you see this? What is RBA doing to empower women?

First of all, in these regions we have always nurtured equality, be it in education, healthcare, socially, in any way. Personally, I grew up with my dad. And he raised me in such a way that I never perceived gender differences.

When speaking of RBA, the most important thing is that here we have a completely identical treatment of all our female and male colleagues, no differences. This is a place where you build your career according to your credits, achievements, and values that you bring. As much as you are ready to invest yourself, commit yourself – that’s how much you’ll gain in return.

The figures of our Croatian RBA bank show this as well: 50 per cent of the Board members are women, 67 per cent of the management and over 77 per cent of the staff are women, and there are also 29 departments with over 90 per cent of women. This is reflected also in our business – we have a women’s entrepreneurship program Ona zna za RBA (She Knows About RBA), through which we support all those who choose to swim in entrepreneurial waters.

Who or what inspires you and why?

I am very inspired by getting good feedback about our bank from a person who does not know who I am, or where I work, or what I do. I like it when I can talk openly about everything to my colleagues, both current and former.

Also, music. Good music is my everlasting source of inspiration because I love rhythm, I love a good flow and as long as there’s good rhythm. And, of course, my son.

What are some books or music that you are reading these days?

Currently I am reading “I Am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, “Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership” by Michael Ventura and “The Invisible Gorilla” by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. With my morning coffee I regularly listen to TED talks and when it comes to music it’s all about a good electro beat. Depending on the time of the day, I will be listening to Jan Blomquist and his “The space in between” or Ben Bohmer, but I also love Coldplay.

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