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VIProfile: Retta Gardner

By Sadie Fowler

It is often said that “attitude is everything,” and with a good attitude, combined with continuous education and a strong work ethic, Retta Gardner believes there are no limits to how far a person can go in life.

As the CEO of Guaranty Trust in Murfreesboro, Gardner shows up for work every day with a winning attitude as she gives it her all to lead the company and its employees to success.

“I think attitude is more important than education and skillsets,” she said. “I can train people for skill but I can’t make them have a good attitude. I have to put on the smiling face (even on tough days).”

Gardner is only the second CEO to lead Guaranty Trust. She joined the company in 1996, shortly after graduating from Western Kentucky University with a degree in human resource management.

She earned a master’s degree in business administration from Middle Tennessee State University in 2000. Gardner became a member of the university’s adjunct faculty in 2005 and, for five years, taught courses in the Management and Marketing Department. She continues a close relationship with MTSU as a member of the business college’s Advisory Council. She received her CMB designation in October 2015.

Through the years, Gardner has held a variety of positions at Guaranty Trust, utilizing her skills in management, marketing, sales, information technology, and human resources. She was executive vice president before being named CEO in August 2013.

“The great part about my job is that each day is a little different,” Gardner said. “Most days start with reviewing reports to ascertain our pipeline position, which determines necessary staffing and profitability projections.”

Team collaboration is always a priority, and many of Gardner’s days include general oversight that ensures any potential problems on the rise are addressed and solved, as well as meetings to ensure her team is communicating effectively.

Some days may involve travel to different states to meet with clients or staff to see what Guaranty Trust is doing right and where they can improve.

“Some days I’m the disruptor, challenging the status quo to strive for continuous improvement,” she said.

Another key part of Gardner’s role includes work in the community, where she’s involved with organizations such as United Way, TNMBA, and Read to Succeed. She believes it is important for her to give back to her industry and for Guaranty Trust to give back to its community.

“I love giving back,” she said. “I don’t take for granted how blessed my life is, so it is important that I give part of that back to my community and to our industry.”

Since taking the position as CEO, Gardner carries the major task of leadership with determination, grace and compassion.

In addition to her keen ability to handle the pressures of overseeing her entire team, Gardner, on a broader scale, understands the importance of maintaining balance in life, especially as it relates to the working, professional moms of the world.

“We do have to do it all,” she said. “You have to create the right balance for you, your family and your career goals. I have a few things that I don’t compromise on with my daughter, such as our morning time together and attending as many events that are important to her as possible. It can be incredibly stressful.”

Gardner’s personal way of getting a mental health break from the daily grind is through exercise. She also strongly believes in the importance of women taking care of their emotional health.

“We don’t need to be burned out at 45,” she said. “The old saying is true — take care of yourself first and the rest will follow, so make yourself a priority on your daily list!”

An advocate for the professional women indeed, Gardner says she believes the working environment itself is changing, and there are certain jobs that bode well with women.“The work environment is not what it was 30 years ago,” she said. “As a leader, you have to be more empathetic and in tune with your team to ensure that you can attract and retain top talent and I think that many of the female qualities bode well in the new environment.”

If Gardner could share key pieces of advice to young women starting out in their professional careers, she says she’d encourage them to have a voice.

“Raise your hand!” she said. “Ask for the extra work assignments that will get you noticed by your boss. As for the promotion. All they can say is no but even if they do, they know you are interested and will be more encouraged to help you grow in the company.”

Another big thing Gardner has learned over the years, through her various roles and experiences, relates to those tough conversations we all dread.

“I’ve learned, though, that bad news does not get better with time,” she said. “No one wants to deliver bad news but it is best not to procrastinate and to just do it!”

What’s most important to Gardner as the leader of Guaranty Trust? What is she thinking about each day upon entering the office?

“My thoughts are always centered around continuous improvement,” she said. “How can we improve our people, our service and our products to be the very best in the mortgage industry!”

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