Every day, Carrie Benedict strives to add value at KeyBank, the Cleveland-based regional bank where she serves as associate general counsel. In fact, the possibility of contributing to—and learning about—Key’s business is part of what attracted her to the bank in the first place.
“I loved being outside counsel when I was at a law firm, but I was drawn to getting to focus on just one company as in-house counsel,” Benedict explains.
Since coming on board at Key, Benedict has executed several significant mergers and acquisitions (M&A) for the bank, in addition to tackling special projects that have pushed her outside her comfort zone. As she continues to diversify her own skill set, she makes a point of encouraging her team members to do the same. Her commitment to training and development extends far beyond her direct reports, however, as exemplified by her participation in mentorship programs both at work and outside of it.
Although her interest in mentorship now dovetails with her knowledge of the law, Benedict began her career outside the legal industry. After studying accounting at the undergraduate and master’s levels, she spent five years auditing financial statements at accounting firm Grant Thornton. During her final year at the firm, she collaborated with a team of attorneys on private placement security issuances and an initial public offering––a change of pace that pushed her toward law school.
“That year of working on securities transactions really got me thinking that maybe it was time to leave accounting,” Benedict says. She obtained her law degree from Ohio State University, then joined law firm Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff as a corporate and securities associate.
“I worked on that acquisition for months and months, and it’s been amazing to see what the business has grown into since we acquired it.”
After nearly five years at Benesch, Benedict made the jump to Key in May 2015. She assumed her current role in 2020, but not before playing a critical part in the bank’s acquisition of online lending company Laurel Road. “Laurel Road is a student loan refinance business that focuses on doctors and other medical professionals,” she says. “I worked on that acquisition for months and months, and it’s been amazing to see what the business has grown into since we acquired it.” For instance, Benedict got to see Key launch Laurel Road for Doctors, a national digital bank catering specifically to physicians and dentists.
“I was fortunate enough to work with Carrie on Laurel Road,” says Greg Lyons, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton. “It was a complex, transformative transaction, raising deal, regulatory, and technology issues. Carrie was really impressive, both mastering the issues and leading the effort with a collaborative, upbeat, and inclusive style.”
Another project that Benedict has watched develop over time is Key’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which the bank needed to implement quickly to provide COVID-19 relief to small businesses in accordance with the federal CARES Act. “I normally don’t do lending work at all, but I was asked to join our PPP task force to help get the program up and running, and I’ve been involved ever since,” Benedict explains. “Even though that project was outside my wheelhouse at the beginning, I learned what I needed to know and ended up being able to contribute in a valuable way.”
Benedict’s willingness to dive deep into unfamiliar topics complements her passion for passing down her expertise to others, including the seven individuals on her current team. “I’ve always had a focus on training and development, from when I worked in accounting to when I worked at a law firm to here at Key,” she says. “Just because I learned something the hard way doesn’t mean that the next person needs to learn it the hard way too. If someone can learn from my experiences, then why shouldn’t they?”
“Just because I learned something the hard way doesn’t mean that the next person needs to learn it the hard way too. If someone can learn from my experiences, then why shouldn’t they?”
As a leader within Key, Benedict readily opens up about her experiences to help junior colleagues—whether on her team or not—navigate new areas or situations. On top of fostering a collaborative atmosphere and remaining approachable, she believes strongly in putting in the time to train new attorneys right off the bat. “That investment early on pays off down the road. The people on your team will be able to perform tasks and complete projects autonomously way sooner than they otherwise would,” she says.
Benedict not only offers guidance to her colleagues on an informal basis but also serves as a formal mentor at the bank through the program MentorMe@Key. Furthermore, she has mentored two Key employees as well as one nonemployee through the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring program for new attorneys. Having gone through the program herself as a mentee, she fully appreciates its informative content.
“One of my favorite sessions that I’ve done with each of my mentees through the Ohio Supreme Court program is about navigating office politics,” Benedict says. “It’s such an interesting and important topic, but it’s not something that you learn in law school.”
Benedict is eager to extend the cycle of sharing her experiences with the next generation of attorneys, which means continuing to grow her personal expertise through her work at Key. She looks forward to building out different aspects of the bank’s business through strategic M&A deals––such as the bank’s 2021 acquisition of data analytics firm AQN Strategies––and taking on further special projects outside the scope of her team’s standard company-wide functions.
“It’s exciting to find ways to expand your skill set, so I will continue to look for new projects to help me do that while providing value to Key,” Benedict says. “Every day is an opportunity to learn something new.”
Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP:
“I’ve worked on many transactions with Carrie. She’s exceptional. With her experience as a CPA and M&A attorney, she can do it all. On top of everything, her sense of humor makes working together fun.”
–Terrence Doyle, Partner