What Led Marla Willner to a Lifetime of Community Service

March 04, 2019 - Diversity & Inclusion DC, DE, MD, VA Florida Maine New England New Jersey, New York and PA North and South Carolina

In honor of Women's History Month, the Digital News Center will be presenting a series of stories focused on the theme of "My Truth." We'll feature four female TD Bank leaders speaking about their careers, work in the community and how they've overcome challenges.  

TD Bank's Head of Corporate and Specialty Banking Marla Willner couldn't ignore the poverty she saw on a daily basis growing up. That's why she made the time to volunteer as a tutor and summer camp counselor.

"When I attended high school, I saw the homeless people on the streets every day," Willner said. "How can you live in New York City and not see that?"

Today, even with one of the most demanding roles in the banking industry and many other responsibilities, she still prioritizes her community work. Currently, she serves on the board of the Women's Prison Association (WPA), an organization that promotes alternatives to incarceration by making positive changes in the lives of women.

"There is always time--you have to prioritize," said Willner. "You have to make peace with the tradeoffs and let go of the guilt. It's an individual decision." 

Paying it forward  

Willner was the first woman named by TD Bank to lead a revenue generating business in May 2018. In her role, she is a key member of the bank's leadership team and sits on the management committee.

Willner joined TD in 2000 and worked for 15 years in various executive roles across multiple businesses. She rejoined TD in 2018 as Head of Corporate and Specialty Banking, after two years at Brightwood Capital Advisors, where she ran originations and underwriting for the firm.

"For me, it's an exciting opportunity and for the bank--a huge step," she said of her new role. "I feel a responsibility to do well. I have to pay it forward. "

For Willner, Women's History Month is an opportunity to reflect about how far women have come and also the long road that is still ahead. Some of the developments she hopes to see in the coming years include more women on the sales and revenue side of the banking industry, and more women in board rooms and CEO roles throughout all industries.

"I didn't think of limits in my career," she said. "I had good role models." 

WPA Gives Clients the Opportunities They Deserve

When Willner was in high school, her volunteer efforts were more focused on one-to-one opportunities, but now as an adult, she uses her professional financial skills and other talents at the WPA as a board member, which helps enable the organization to execute on many programs that serve their members.

 "They really do a lot of great programming," Willner said. "There is a lot to do to try to keep the family unit more stable."

WPA programs include those that focus on keeping mothers at home, serving a sentence at a WPA facility, family reunification for those who have served their jail sentence, job training and mental health and substance abuse treatments.

"Our residents are poverty stricken," said Sharon White-Harrigan, a WPA alumnae who now serves as Clinical Director of WPA’s transitional shelter for women, Hopper Home.  "We are not here to judge. We focus on how each person is someone's mother, sister and daughter. Everyone is taught that they deserve to be loved."

The amazing work being done at WPA is why Willner is so devoted to the organization.

"I pick a couple of things to prioritize, and this is one of them," she said.  

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