Former football pro takes the pitch for Bell Bank
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Jena Cogswell’s prowess on the soccer field took her to a college national championship, a spot on the United States Women’s National Team, and a stint with a professional team based in Boston.
These days, the native Mahtomedi brings her competitive juice to the business world. In her new role as Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Bell Bank, Cogswell oversees marketing for all of Bell’s divisions, including its territory in the Minneapolis office.
Cogswell has 17 years of experience in his field. According to her company bio, she started her business career as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, then held marketing positions at JP Morgan and private equity firm Providence Equity Partners.
In the following interview, Cogswell talks about his new job at Bell, his football days, and the prospects for business loans as the world emerges from the pandemic. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Question: Thanks for checking with us. When did you start your new role at Bell Bank?
A: That was about two and a half weeks ago. It’s the third week for me. June 14 was the first day.
Q: I see that Bell Bank was founded in 1966 in Fargo, North Dakota, and has full time bank branches in Minnesota, North Dakota and Arizona. Can you expand on that a bit by talking about some of the areas you serve here in town?
A: Bell is one of the largest private, family-owned and employee-owned banks in the country. And they started in Fargo. They’re sort of expanding into other markets, Minneapolis-St. Paul obviously being one of them. Phoenix is another big market. And then they have a big mortgage company that has a national footprint.
The capabilities, businesses and customer segments we cover are very similar to other banks. We have a presence and capabilities in retail, wealth management, private banking, insurance, commercial bank mortgage.
Q: Can you talk about some of your tasks in your new role?
A: The bank has gone down this pretty exciting path as an organization, and the growth trajectory is pretty exciting. So I feel like I’ve joined an organization where we’re sort of ready for that next chapter of growth.
And so really my job at the highest level is – we’re thinking of our established markets in the central region. Think of Fargo, where it was founded, and the success the bank and the organization had more broadly there. How do we extend this to some of our new markets?
And what I’m trying to understand and understand from a marketing perspective is really to understand, in these new markets, the intersection of Bell, our capabilities, the customer segments and the customers with whom we work, and also this market and the culture that is specific to it.
Q: Many of our readers work in construction, development, and commercial real estate. Are you active as a lender in these sectors?
A: We certainly specialize in commercial real estate. So we have a range of capabilities within our commercial banking customer segment. And that is to say, when you think of these new markets where we’re trying to market and drive growth, commercial banking is a company leading that charge for us. So I will be spending a lot of time with the people and leaders who are responsible for doing this.
Q: How has the commercial lending landscape changed since the start of the pandemic? Do you see things starting to relax a bit?
A: It has been a delicate landscape for the past year. And I think it’s also probably specific to different markets. So what people think in the Twin Cities versus a Phoenix versus a Fargo, the scenery is a little different.
But when you talk to people evaluating opportunities, last year was probably trickier to get a ton of visibility, but the volume and activity is there. I think from a bank’s point of view, it relies on the process and how we assess opportunities, and continues to make sure that framework works.
From a development and business perspective, there are trends that were present before the pandemic, and some things may have accelerated, right? So it will be interesting to see, as we move to the other side of things, how it plays out in the different markets.
Q: Talk about your football career. I understand that you grew up here in the Twin Cities, attended Mahtomedi High School, and went to the University of North Carolina, where you were a team captain and two-time national champion. You also played for the United States National Women’s Football Team and the Boston Breakers, a professional team. How did this trip go?
A: It’s starting to feel like an eternity. But this trip, I think, had so much influence on where I am today. I just started out as a young kid who loved to play soccer. And I think the thing that I achieved at a young age – there are a lot of things that I didn’t realize – but I thought to myself if I could do something really good and differentiate myself and work hard, there would be opportunities, right?
There are so many things and skills that you develop that transcend a soccer field or whatever else you play on. So I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I had in my youth, in college and after college to play football.
One of the hardest decisions I had to make was to play professionally in Boston after college and play intermittently with the United States Women’s National Team, and the [professional] folded league. I had to decide, “Do I keep playing football or do I have to do something else?” And I think what I struggled with is if I step away from football – because I’m living the dream right now, I’m basically getting paid to do what I love – I gotta find something so stimulating, so exciting, where I’m going to be pushed.
When I had the opportunity to move to New York, and a place opened up in an analyst program, I said, “This could be the thing.” And as sad as I was to hang up my soccer cleats – and I continued to play for a long time in New York – I’m glad I made that decision, because I think it just completed me as a person. , and that started the next chapter of my life.
Q: Are you still involved in football? Do you coach or anything?
A: I volunteered to coach here and there. I did this in New York for a little while. I’m jumping with my kids’ teams now. But it’s funny, I don’t know if I have the patience to be a coach. I love to be a parent of a footballer and watch and coach from that point of view.
Q: Farewell thoughts?
A: I am delighted to be back in the Twin Cities. Bell is a place that has always put its people and culture first and that has led to some pretty phenomenal results. So I feel lucky to be here and can’t wait to see what comes next.
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