Class of 1952 & 1955
A pioneer in business in Nebraska, Alice Dittman achieved many firsts including being named the first woman to become a bank president in Lincoln and Omaha. When she took over as president and CEO of Cornhusker Bank in 1975, the value of the bank was $8 million and she grew it to nearly $236 million. She became the first woman to chair the Bryan Hospital Board of Directors in 1982, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce in 1988, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce in 1992 and the Community Bankers Council in 1997. She also was the first woman to become president of the Nebraska Bankers Association in 1993.
Share your advice from your experiences being the first.
I never thought about being first, I just did it. I always did my homework and arrived prepared. I’m all about banking and I’d spend an hour before bed reading things I didn’t have time to read at work. A strong work ethic is part of anyone’s success.
I’m a big fan of the University of Nebraska. Gaining confidence is having a background and working hard. I earned my master’s degree because I knew management would make small banks more successful and better than everyone else, as not many men in banking had an advanced degree.
What is the secret to success?
I was introduced to Warren Buffett (the Oracle of Omaha and a 1951 graduate of the College of Business) at a wedding in Omaha. He said, "Are you the banker?" and I said, "Are you the financier?" My response was a bit flippant, but we all laughed and I do think it might be a secret of success in not taking yourself too seriously. It always felt good to make people laugh about something.
The easiest way to get to know people is to talk to them. I’d walk into a room full of men and make a circle around the room. I’d say, “Hi,” and put my hand out. In 1975, people didn’t know to put their hands out, and I’d leave it there to shake. It’s important to include others. Nod or smile – those are easy to give away and important in comfort building.
What is the scariest thing you have done?
It is not easy to go in places where you may or may not feel welcome. Just think about that, if you are the minority, how does that impact you? Would you leave or hang around and try to learn something? We need more minorities in our population to bring a new dimension to Lincoln.
The scariest thing now is the lack of congeniality in our nationwide system of checks and balances. Not getting things accomplished because there is no give and take. You have to give. That part seems to be lacking. In any organization, the members have to agree and get along to get anything done. Democrat Bob Kerrey and Republican Chuck Hagel (who recently spoke at the university together) talk to each other. They want the best for our country.