Sekou Kaalund, a graduate of Raleigh’s Enloe High School, has made it big in banking. This week, he visited Charlotte to look at U.S. Bank’s growing Queen City operations, of which he has an increasingly important role.
In December, Kaalund joined the fifth-largest U.S. banking company as head of Branch and Small Business Banking, overseeing 2,200 branches in 26 states. The role makes him responsible for the Minneapolis-based company’s relationships with businesses that have revenue from zero to $2.5 million. In short, the folks who have to hustle.
That’s a big contrast with some of Kaalund’s previous work at JPMorgan Chase over the past 15 years. His posts included managing the largest U.S. bank’s connections with some major asset managers and hedge funds. In short, some of the world’s richest people.
His last JPMorgan post was as the Northeast divisional director for the JPMorgan’s consumer bank, overseeing $375 billion in deposits and investments.
Kaalund says focusing on small business is an engaging assignment that will be informed by his family’s experience in Raleigh. They owned Safeway Cab, which he says was for a time the city’s biggest Black-owned cab operator. It failed when he was a youth, providing a close look at the challenges of small business.
He credits a corporate-backed summer jobs program for diverse youth for changing his life’s direction. Nationwide Insurance in Raleigh paid him $8.50 an hour as he experienced the corporate world for the first time. He’d been making $3.25 an hour while working 30 hours a week as a ninth-grader. “It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” he says.
After Enloe, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in 1997 and later, a master’s degree in public policy at Duke University. (Coincidentally, Hampden-Sydney is also the alma mater of Charlottean Dee O’Dell, who heads U.S. Bank’s Business Banking unit, which covers companies with revenue of $2.5 million to $25 million.)
Kaalund’s plan for a political career changed when he realized that powerful business leaders can have as much or more impact than elected officials.
A Federal Reserve job led to a post at megabanks Citi and then, JPMorgan in 2007. Among his jobs were leading JPMorgan’s sales to public and corporate pensions.
Helping others climb the social mobility ladder has also been a career focus that has helped him earn recognition as a leader from Ebony magazine and various industry groups. He helped launch Advancing Black Pathways, which has pledged to hire thousands of Black students, provide millions of dollars of capital to Black businesses and promote financial literacy. JPMorgan has committed billions of dollars to the effort.
U.S. Bank has a big presence in Charlotte with more than 1,000 employees. It has four branches in the market with two more opening later this year and plans for several more in the next few years. Much of Kaaland’s current attention is focused on California, where US Bancorp bought the Japanese-owned Union Bank’s consumer business for $8 billion. US Bank has the fifth-largest branch network in California, up from fourth before the deal.
To reach small minority-owned businesses, U.S. Bank started a program last year that hires so-called Business Access Advisors in Charlotte and other markets. Bank officials say the program is proving effective by helping more than 1,000 business owners better understand how to raise funds and manage their operations.
Kaalund’s wife, Jennifer, is from Warsaw in Duplin County. The couple, who have two daughters and a son, now live in Greenwich, Connecticut, a haven for financial executives. He proudly notes his son, Caleb, was elected student body president at Greenwich High School.