Linda D. Forte Biography
Banked on Career in Financial Services, Offered Expertise to Help Others
Linda D. Forte is senior vice president of business affairs and a member of the Management Council of Comerica Bank, one of the world's leading financial companies with $53.3 billion in assets and one of the top ten banks in commercial loan volume. Forte is at the head of Comerica's internal and external diversity strategies, guiding the company in its management of a varied workforce and customer base. She has ascended the corporate ladder while staying focused on the road to a better life for the disadvantaged. Forte lends her banking experience to lead organizations that provide funding, training, and opportunities to families in need. As a board member for groups like Women's Caring Program and Detroit Youth Foundation, she supports aid to women with childcare needs and programs that allow young people to discover their passions. Her efforts have touched the lives of many. Comerica's diversity chief is a community leader who has done much to earn the title "One of the Most Influential African-American Women in Michigan."
Linda Diane Forte was born on Christmas Day, 1952, in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up 35 miles away in Painesville, Ohio. Her mother, Bertha Forte, was a furniture salesperson at a local department store. Her father, Delvin Forte, worked as a machinist and contractor. Forte said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) that Painesville was a place that a child could find both "liberating and secure, a place where you could ride your bike and explore many aspects of who you are." Church activities were a big part of life in Painesville and something Forte remembers fondly. "I enjoyed church so much it didn't feel like church," she said. She also recalls the lessons from her parents about hard work. "They told us it was nothing to be ashamed of and that it was a way to feel engaged as a contributor to the family and community."
Banked on Career in
After high school Forte entered Bowling Green College, graduating cum laude in 1974 with a degree in education. Coming from a long line of educators, she considered teaching. But a conversation with her professor about the benefits of the business world led Forte to banking. "He said business wanted people who could think differently, outside the box," Forte said. With an offer from Detroit Bank and Trust Company, Forte could use her analytical-quantitative side and make a better income in a field she found appealing. She also liked the social life Detroit offered, and the people she met there felt like family. Forte's backup plan was to later return to school and practice in the field of psychology. But banking won out. Within a couple of years she was promoted to assistant branch manager.
Over the next decade Forte became a human resources compensation analyst and loan analyst for the bank. In 1983, Forte became the assistant vice president and manager of the Loan Administration Group and Specialized Industries for Comerica. Forte managed loan analysts and their support team and implemented a new credit administration function for the department. Many of her clients came from the healthcare, energy, and automotive sectors. In 1987 Forte was promoted to vice president and corporate banking officer of the U.S. Banking Group at Comerica, managing a $250-million portfolio and overseeing the retention and development of business in a three-state area. She earned a promotion in 1992 to vice president and alternate group manager of the company's Health & Education Group. There she managed a $300-million loan and commitment portfolio of health and education clients in the role as senior business development officer for the group. She later became a senior business development officer for the bank. Forte earned several more promotions at the senior officer level before coming to her current position at Comerica.
Forte's first real community work was with the finance committee of Black Family Development, Inc., a group she was introduced to by her mentor. After a couple of years of learning the operation she was asked to serve as a board member. The organization included black social workers who got Forte's attention, people who wanted to make changes to the way social services operated in the black community. "We felt the system was too quick to take kids away from their family because it did not understand the black community or black culture," Forte told CBB. The group focuses on providing services to black families based on how effective that service is delivered. The theory is if you go into the home and immerse yourself there, you get a better assessment of the family. If families are judged within the context of their home setting, social workers can better decide whether a child should be removed. "As a result black families can be strengthened on their own turf," Forte said.
Fundamental to building strength in the context of one's home is the need for social service organizations to understand what constitutes a "family." "Maybe an older sibling and her husband raised you," Forte explained to CBB. "That's your family. You may have grown up with your aunt and uncle. Maybe they didn't adopt you, but you consider them your parents. That's your family." Recognizing the many non-traditional forms that family can take allows security and a foundation for more young people. It was while working with this group that Forte developed her reputation as a skilled administrator, and she soon joined the boards of other groups around the state. Forte served as president of Black Family Development, Inc. from 1987 to 1993.
Offered Expertise to Help Others
Forte is active with several organizations, including the Board of Women's Caring program, a group that provides up to $200,000 in grants to assist women needing childcare services while trying to get on their feet. "The women get assistance for one year as they transition through difficult times, and receive a little breathing room," said Forte. The funds reach families throughout Michigan. Forte also works on behalf of the Detroit Youth Foundation to expose more kids to the arts, a subject that is typically first to go when school boards slash budgets. This grant-making body provides funds to other organizations that create and foster an environment dedicated to positive youth development. The latest component of this project is the development of Youthville, a $16-million facility that will house several services, including programs like Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the United Negro College Fund. When it opens in September 2005 kids will find a computer lab, gym, dance and recording studios, tutoring activities, and an environment that nurtures their interests. Youthville partners with many organizations like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Pewabic, a nonprofit organization that offers theater and a place to learn to make its historic pottery tiles.
Forte's thumbprint appears on many projects around the state, including the Michigan Women's Foundation that empowers woman through endowment funding. "We teach women how to go through the process of receiving grant proposals," Forte said. "In this way women learn both grant-making and philanthropy." She also chairs events like the Renaissance Links Marshall Field's Fundraiser and the United Negro College Fund Ebony Fashion Fair Fundraiser.
Forte's dedication and influence in her community reflects a focus on family and the acknowledgement of the support she finds in her own. She understands well their connection to her achievements. "I tell people what I feel every day are the prayers of my parents," Forte said. "They encourage us and they pray so hard every day for each of their children. 'Be whatever you want to be and understand that God and Faith are important,' they said." These words guide Forte's work, earning her recognition in 1998 by Crain's Detroit Business as one of the city's 100 Black Business Leaders and by the Women's Informal Network as one of the Most Influential African-American Women in Michigan in 2005. In the same year the Black Women's Contracting Association honored her with the designation of Best Corporate Executive. The list grows longer as Forte continues her efforts to enhance the lives of families, women, and the young people of Michigan.
"Management Council: Linda D. Forte," Comerica, www.comerica.com/cma/cda/external_frameset/0,1551,4_EL_2872,00.html (June 1, 2005).
"Bank Vice-President Mentors Others to Thrive," Detroit News Online, www.detnews.com/2002/business/0202/21/b02-422604.htm (June 3, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Linda D. Forte on June 11, 2005.
—Sharon Melson Fletcher