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Margaret Keane ’81C, ’87MBA

Although we probably don’t know it, most of us are connected to Margaret Keane ‘81C, ‘87MBA through the plastic in our wallets.

As President and Chief Executive Officer of GE Capital Retail Finance, Keane oversees private label credit cards, promotional financing and financial services for consumers.

“We provide private label credit card programs to retailers as well as private label credit programs, promotional and installment lending, bankcards and financial services for consumers through dealers; contractors; manufacturers; healthcare practices; and service providers across roughly 20 industries,” she explained. “Our clients are companies like Wal-Mart, Lowes, and The Gap.  We issue credit cards with their branding, but handle all the financing and support around that card.”

Prior to assuming her current position, she was Vice President of Retail Operations for Citigroup, an organization for which she had worked since her days as a part-time collector for Citibank during her Junior year at St. John’s University. Like many of her fellow students, juggling the demands of a stringent academic program with the responsibilities of a part-time job was a necessity rather than an option.

“I’m a very typical St. John’s alumna,” she noted. “I was the first in my family to go to college. My father was a New York City Police Officer and my parents worked hard to raise six kids. St. John’s gave me a sense of being at a major university while still living at home. I felt like I got the best of both worlds. I was able to continue working and helping my mom after my dad got sick, while still being part of the bigger community at St. John’s and feeling like I was away at school. I was grateful for what the University had to offer, and I took advantage of it.”

Although working and going to class can be a daunting experience, Keane never felt overwhelmed. She believes that balancing a multitude of responsibilities at the same time helped her to develop a strong work ethic, a quality that became a valuable asset while she was pursuing her M.B.A. and throughout her professional career. It also helped her to successfully juggle the sometimes conflicting demands of being a committed business professional and a devoted mother, a situation faced by many women executives.

“I talk to people about this all the time,” she said. “It’s about the different choices you make along the spectrum of your career, about what you’re willing to do or not do given your family situation. One size doesn’t fit all, and everyone needs to arrive at their own solution. You have to really believe that your family situation is settled to be successful at work. I think if you don’t, you’ll probably end up a little bit upside down. It’s not always easy, but it can be done.”

In addition to her two degrees and strong work ethic, Keane cherishes something else from her time at St. John’s, namely, the Vincentian commitment of service to others that lies at the foundation of the University experience. She has made those values an important part of her life, both personally and professionally. For this caring and compassionate alumna, the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul helps to define her interactions with the world.

“I would say that the values that I got at the University are still very strong inside of me, and are reflected in how I lead the organization where I work,” she remarked. “I’m a big believer in treating everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter what their title might be. I truly believe that people come to work every day to do the right thing and we need to treat everyone we meet really well.”

Her willingness to make a difference for others extends well beyond the workplace. She shares her time and talents with A Better Chance, a national organization that focuses on providing a better education for talented minority students from educationally disadvantaged communities. Their mission is to substantially increase the number of well-educated young adults who are capable of assuming positions of responsibility and leadership in American society.

“I’m really happy to be associated with A Better Chance,” she remarked. “They give young minority students the possibility of a better education and a real shot at going to college. They’re all about opportunity, and in many ways that’s what St. John’s has always been about as well. Everyone deserves a chance to be successful and make the most of their life. I’ve gotten to a point in my own life where I can support wonderful organizations like A Better Chance and St. John’s University. They’re both great!”

And without a doubt, so is Margaret Keane.

Acknowledging her many professional achievements, American Banker included her on their list of “The 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking and Finance” every year since 2007, and in 2012, St. John’s honored her with the Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award.