Tenth in a series on this year’s 20 Under 40 winners.
WAVERLY — At 15, girls typically pursue age-appropriate goals: academic success, key spots on athletic teams, starring roles in school productions.
Heather Labonte’s primary goal at age 15 was to get a full-time job.
“That’s what drives me; I’ve always been that way,” said Labonte, now 33. “It didn’t matter what it was. Any job, I went into striving to achieve the highest position.”
The Massachusetts native relocated to the metro area nearly a decade ago. Labonte now serves as branch manager of Wells Fargo Bank on West Fifth Street in Waterloo.
“The Cedar Valley is a great place for raising kids,” said Labonte, who has a 9-year-old daughter. “A lot of my family moved here, too. Maybe it’s the Iowa nice thing; there’s something about going to Fareway and having someone push your cart out to your car for you and help you load up your groceries.”
A willingness to pitch in has helped Labonte emerge as a leader at Wells Fargo, said colleague Philip Nash.
“She has set the bar high by committing to having one of the best teams in Iowa while also pouring her heart and soul into the community and raising her daughter as a single mother,” said Nash in his 20 Under 40 nomination of Labonte. “I look up to and respect Heather for her drive.”
The feeling is mutual; Labonte counts Nash among her primary role models. She believes Nash exemplifies one of her favorite adages: Lead by example.
“He’s been a huge inspiration to me,” she said. “He’s a such a big influence in the community, through his service to organization and volunteer work.”
Nash encouraged Labonte to move in a similar direction and suggested she put her work ethic to use for Habitat for Humanity.
“It landed in my lap,” she explained. “I found out I could get a (Wells Fargo) grant for our local Habitat effort if we logged 300 volunteer hours. I started working on it and seeing my employees volunteer, and it was nice to see that.”
It’s a natural use of Labonte’s talents, said nominator Carl Hartson. That’s because she demonstrates the characteristics of a “true servant leader.”
“Finding and organizing volunteers for events occurring every two to three weeks throughout the year is no small task,” he said. “Along with this, there was a build day she coordinated with nearly 40 volunteers coming on a Saturday in order to build and raise walls on a new home.”
Labonte’s success at coordinating and soliciting volunteers has brought more responsibilities.
“(The Habitat project) was such a success that Heather is undertaking this year to get 600 volunteer hours in order to earn Habitat a grant that is more than double what we were able to award last year,” said Hartson.
Like Nash, Hartson has been impressed with Labonte’s ability to juggle many tasks personally, professional and for the community.
She’s currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration through the online program at Upper Iowa University. Her projected graduation date is in 2020.
Support from Wells Fargo has been invaluable in pursuing her degree, said Labonte. She also appreciates that the bank recognized her hard work when promoting her through its ranks.
“I’ve been able to move up on my own merit,” she said. “That’s what I want my daughter to see, that you can do it — you can succeed — if you work hard and are willing to learn.”
Labonte also hopes young people still exploring potential careers can learn from people like her.
“I’ve never been a huge advocate of going to college right away (after high school),” she said. “So many people don’t know what they want at that age. It’s better to wait ... and then go to college when you know what you want to do.”
Getting work experience helped her understand the bigger picture, too. For one, it reinforced a core belief: “Work ethic is No. 1.”
“You do the work first, then you get the job,” Labonte explained. “The work is the most important thing; it’s how you learn and how you prove yourself. It’s how you show that you can contribute something to the team.”
Labonte has expanded on this idea by participating in Iowa Bankers Leadership Institute and Cedar Valley Leadership Institute (CVLI), which she completed simultaneously in 2017-18.
Through CVLI, participant groups plan and execute community-based service projects. Labonte’s group enjoyed its project so much they’re planning another event to benefit three local Cedar Valley nonprofits and raise awareness for the agencies.
“Cedar Valley Leadership Institute opened my eyes to community service,” said Labonte. “They’re able to raise awareness and impact a lot of schools and nonprofits through amazing projects. It really helped me see the energy that’s out there in our community.
Labonte’s nominators all noted her volunteerism in their submissions, listing a host of organizations she’s served. Her current commitments include Waterloo Rotary Club and service as board president for Family & Children’s Council in Waterloo.
“If each of us could model 10 percent of the commitment that Heather does, we could truly make our communities and the world a better place,” said Hartson. “I am proud and thrilled to have her as part of my team.”
‘I’ve been able to move up on my own merit. That’s what I want my daughter to see, that you can do it — you can succeed — if you work hard and are willing to learn.’