Change and Transition

Rhonda Davenport Johnson

the only constants: change and the customer

Here and now

Since the financial crisis of 2008, change has become a business imperative in the banking industry. The first wave of change resulted from reforms that caused all financial institutions to be subject to greater regulation and required transparency on lending practices, financial instruments and overall risk management.

Now, many banks are in a second wave of change as they attempt to refine their regulatory processes, increase efficiencies and design customer experiences that foster loyalty. This second wave of change is critical, as banks seek to differentiate themselves while simultaneously committing to the collective best practices in the industry. Those banks that are able to distill the experience of the last decade into processes that drive growth, embrace simplicity and put the customer at the center of all decisions will be the ones that succeed.

Heading up those efforts for retail banking and the national sales and service team at Comerica Bank is Executive Vice President Rhonda Davenport Johnson, B.B.A.’84, MBA’93, who assumed the role of National Director of Retail Banking at Comerica in September of 2014.

Though much at Comerica has changed, there is a constant—the customer.

“Among the challenges that emerged from the financial crisis was that some financial institutions lost focus on placing their customers first, and unfortunately, this persists at some institutions,” says Davenport Johnson. “However, Comerica with its Comerica Promise of providing a higher level of customer service by serving as a trusted advisor is among those institutions that are focused on their customers. Customer centricity is a core value at Comerica and helped to motivate me to develop our new customer service initiative called the 4 As, which brings a laser focus to improving service for our customers.”

Comerica customer promise

There are certain people who expect more from their bank. Some are working hard to build their dreams; others have already worked a lifetime to achieve them. Yet all of these customers demand one thing: the same unwavering commitment to excellence that defines their own lives.

At Comerica, this is something we’ve understood for over 167 years, which is why we provide the higher level of service, the higher level of knowledge and the higher level of experience that our customers want, and deserve.

It’s also how we deliver on our most sacred promise: to raise the expectations of what a bank can be.

Assessing the need for change is one of Davenport Johnson's talents. "Usually. there will be indicators that an area is not operating effectively," says Davenport Johnson, who describes her three-step process in approaching any potential change:

1. “First, I inquire about the inefficiency or desired state with the existing leadership team. Listening is very important. Those doing the work know the challenges and limitations affecting results.”

2. “If a candid discussion about the changes needed does not help the issue, then I will bring in additional expertise such as a Six Sigma team to analyze the process to see where inefficiencies exist or how we can reach the desired state. An impartial third party can greatly help in the situation analysis.”

3. “Lastly, as a team, we ascertain what kind of change is necessary to address the issue. In many instances, this is a coaching opportunity for me to help the existing leadership make necessary adjustments to implement the change. In this role, I am often coaching other coaches who work with the teams who will execute changes and deliver on our promises to customers.”

Comerica Bank Building

Keeping the customer at the heart of any change is key to Comerica's change management strategy.

By reputation, Davenport Johnson has always excelled at relationship building and working with teams.

Trust, authenticity and communication, along with her identity as a servant leader, has aided Davenport Johnson in connecting with employees who have been impacted by change.

• Trust

“Change requires trust, and leadership is based on trust. As I moved into senior leadership, this trust was a function of the reputation I had developed in my nearly 29-year career with Comerica. It is an opportunity to be candid about the potential impact of a change on employees while keeping them focused on their day-to-day responsibilities to our customers and our business. To their credit, my employees have always continued to perform. Had they not trusted me, I don’t believe they would have done so with the vigor that they continued to display and that helped to keep the customer in the center of all we do.”

• Authenticity

“Throughout the years, as I have had to deliver both good and bad news to employees, I have developed a reputation that I will be real with them. This reputation is immensely important in communicating any change that will have an impact on employees whether I am in communication with one employee or hundreds of employees. In every situation, my tone and tenor need to reflect authenticity.”

• Communication

“Credibility is important, but you still must craft the right type of message, which I usually accomplish with the help of our exceptional corporate communications team at Comerica. Then, you must deliver that message in the right medium. In some cases, it is important to deliver that message to all leaders simultaneously via a conference call. In other cases, such communications can be made to smaller groups or even an individual. Obviously, the more personal the medium can be when delivering news that will alter people’s professional lives, the better.”

giving back

Davenport-Johnson speaking with students

Davenport Johnson’s personal identity as a servant leader is also key to who she is as a business professional and an agent for change. “I believe that my job is to serve leaders in my organization and help them in becoming more effective and successful. As I moved up the ranks at Comerica, I realized that by assisting others in being successful, the entire organization becomes successful. I bring this perspective to everything I do. People respond better to a helping hand rather than an iron fist. This brings my Christian faith into play because Jesus was an exceptional example of a servant leader. He led by example and inspired people to make their own decisions within a moral framework.”

Trust, authenticity and communication, along with the Comerica Promise and the 4 As, allow Davenport Johnson to steer her unit forward while simultaneously keeping customer centricity at the business’s core.

The future

For Comerica, like any major corporation, agility is vital in addressing changes within the world, the nation, the economy and the banking industry. For Davenport Johnson, this dynamic environment is about making the right decisions at the right time to ensure Comerica’s ability to continue to have an engaged workforce focused on the needs of its customers that also delivers a superior return to its shareholders.

When asked about what most excites her about the future of her industry generally, she focuses on the increased emphasis of diversity and inclusion as a core business objective at Comerica and within the financial industry at large. “Truly embracing diversity is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do from a business perspective, because our country is becoming more diverse,” says Davenport Johnson. “This increased diversity means that greater awareness about doing business with diverse populations will be important to ultimate business success.” Comerica articulates diversity and inclusion as a core value that:

• Effectively utilizes and values similarities and differences in people to create a work environment that encourages creative thinking and solutions.

• Recognizes and leverages the benefits realized from a broad range of ideas, viewpoints and backgrounds working together to produce superior products and services for a diverse marketplace.

• Embraces the inclusion of all talented and qualified individuals, regardless of differences in beliefs, experiences, backgrounds or physical characteristics.

• Fosters an environment where all colleagues, customers and suppliers are treated fairly, with dignity and respect.

Diversity at Comerica is defined broadly and is inclusive of ancestry, race, color, religion, national origin, age, physical and mental abilities, medical conditions, veteran status, marital status, height, weight, sexual orientation and gender identities. “I am proud that this core value permeates the organization,” says Davenport Johnson. “At Comerica, diversity is more than words, it is specific actions where we demonstrate our commitment to this core value from workforce, business outreach, community outreach and supplier perspectives.”

Passion in action

Change is possible—this is something that Davenport Johnson has found to be true in business and in her service work. Inspired by a 2011 mission trip to Mumbai, India, where she got an in depth look at the impact of human trafficking, Davenport Johnson and her husband, Chris, have now spoken to more than 2,000 individuals about the gravity of the issue, including over 600 students in the Haworth College of Business.

“To students, we introduce the concept of what human trafficking is, its prevalence in the U.S. and worldwide, and how supply chains allow traffickers to exploit workers, allowing many of the products that we in America eat, use and wear to be tainted with human trafficking. We also talk with them about ways to get involved in the fight against it and how service organizations need leaders in business to apply their critical thinking skills to solve business issues with societal impacts.”

The Johnsons have founded the Center for Justice, Rights and Dignity, where they have consolidated all their work in the area of human dignity. Chris Johnson, retired vice president and general counsel at General Motors and adjunct faculty member at Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School, now makes advocacy regarding human trafficking his full-time occupation.

Organizations such as the Michigan Abolitionist Society, the American Bar Association and the Johnson’s center have educated thousands of individuals about this critical issue.

“Awareness and then knowledge about how to act are the first steps to change,” says Davenport Johnson. “Just as in business, it’s not always easy to change, but developing a methodology to help people understand the need to change and approaching them truthfully, with authenticity and the right communication medium, will lead them to engaging in those changes.”

How do we take customer service to the next level?

4 As graphic

The 4 As supports creating and nurturing lifelong relationships. 

All Comerica employees in retail banking and on the sales and service teams for Comerica receive training in this paradigm and practice it daily.

Approach first graphic

Approach first

Be proactive in approaching customers and prospective customers.

Assess needs graphic

Assess needs

Listen and assess the needs of the customer, finding where we can assist as a trusted advisor.

Add value graphic

Add value

Find ways to show how Comerica differentiates itself as an institution by adding value to the customer experience and helping to achieve dreams—both business and personal.

Appreciate graphic


Gratitude is a must. Being thankful for our customers, their business and most of all, their trust is the core of who we are. Sustainable relationships are based upon appreciation.