Ashley Kelly’s inspirational journey from bank teller to bank VP

Get to know the Vice President and Senior Business consultant at JP Morgan Chase, Ashley Kelly

At 19, Ashley Kelly became a mother, and along with the responsibility she realized she needed to secure every opportunity for her newborn child. With the assistance of a friend, she found a job as a bank teller, and the rest is history.

Ashley dedicated years to climbing the corporate ladder, eventually reaching her current position as the VP and leader of a major financial institution.

While the journey was marked by both highs and lows, Kelly never doubted her perseverance. If she could navigate through various adversities, she believed she could inspire other women who look like her to overcome their challenges and thrive.

Robin Reed:

Give us your back story and how you got into the position you are in today with JP Morgan Chase.

Ashley Kelly:

My journey started as a young girl trying to carve out something for herself. I stumbled into banking out of sheer desperation. I became a mom at 19 while still in college. A friend suggested, “Hey, want a grownup job?” I thought, “Yeah, I probably should, with a kid on the way.” So, I got a part-time job as a teller, and that is what started the trajectory of my career.

Turns out, I love chatting with people. I’ve got the gift of gab. Ask anyone who knows me, I talk to everybody. I honed that skill and got more curious. I moved up to a personal banker role. Then, my eager self thought, “I need to do more.” So, I became an operations manager, started managing, and just kept growing.

I worked my way up to a vice president role, constantly asking for chances. Teaching myself the ropes as a business banker was tough. Financials are no walk in the park, and there were moments it almost broke me. But I had grit, a strong will, and a burning desire to make a difference and make something of myself. So, I stuck to the path, kept growing, and challenging myself, that’s how I got to where I am today.


Where did your determination come from? What was your driving force being what you wanted to accomplish?


At that time, the driving force behind everything was my daughter. I wanted to be a better person for her, to show her a different path. I could have gone in various directions, but I needed to show her you can transcend your circumstances. Finding something that grounds you and challenges you to grow is vital, and for me, that was my daughter. I had strong female role models in my life, my mom, and my grandmother; both very strong women, [they] also helped guide and push me toward my goals. 

Being 19 with a baby, a lot of people judged me. Being a female in the financial industry at the time, there weren’t many of us and not many who looked like me. I had to prove myself constantly, doing my job and taking on extra responsibilities to show I was capable. It was tough, and I had to work exceptionally hard. Yet, my daughter was always in the back of my mind, pushing me to be better.

At some point, the focus shifted. While my daughter remained a driving force, I also wanted to be better for myself and create opportunities for those following in my footsteps. Despite the challenges in my journey, I hope people look at it and say, “I can do that. She did it, and I can too.” It requires hard work, facing rejections, and overcoming various challenges. I think I started probably making around $10 an hour, but I found a way to get through and move forward.

I want to make things better for the next generation, for my daughter. It’s about continuous hustle, curiosity, asking questions, and taking chances. Fear was a constant companion, and it wasn’t easy, but I discovered that greatness often lies behind fear. Taking chances, even when you are scared of the unknown, is usually a sign that you’re on the right path.


I love that answer. I think it was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Take the first step even if you can’t see the entire staircase.”

You touched on some self-work that you did as you were moving up the ranks at JP Morgan Chase, can you expand a little more on the work you did?


I invested a lot of effort in self-reflection. I faced challenges stemming from deep-seated insecurities. Dealing with male authority figures used to intimidate me, and I needed to understand why. I explored the idea of getting a personal life coach or counseling.

I dedicated time to truly understand who I am. What were my triggers? What lay in the shadows, fueling my insecurities? Insecurity and self-doubt often have roots in past experiences, and for me, it traced back to abandonment issues. My dad left when I was 12 and never looked back.

I had to confront how that past experience was influencing me as an adult. It meant delving into uncomfortable truths and facing things I’d rather avoid. The key lesson I learned is that navigating through the dark and light is a dance. It’s not about demonizing the dark but figuring out how to navigate it. Once I unraveled those aspects, I reclaimed my power. When you hold your power, external opinions lose their sway. You start presenting yourself differently, not out of conceit, but with a profound confidence in your worth.

It’s about acknowledging, “I know my value. I understand what I bring to the table. I am deserving of this position, and I may not have all the experience, but I’m willing to work hard for it.” This confidence radiates in a unique way. That’s the work I delved into, and I genuinely believe everyone should embark on a similar journey. Understanding your triggers is crucial because they manifest both in your personal and professional life. If you don’t navigate them, they can significantly impact your interactions. I took the time to discover who Ashley is so I could be grounded within myself and show up authentically in all aspects of my life.


How important is it for people to find a quality mentor that is going to fit their needs and align with the goals they want to accomplish?


I think it’s super important to find a quality mentor. The biggest thing I want the younger audience or just anybody in general to think about, don’t look for someone that looks like you. Don’t look for someone that’s similar to the role that you’re in. If there’s a role that you want to get to, talk to that person. When I talk with businesses I tell them, “Look at your competitors. Talk to them. What are they doing?” 

I admire people who are in my roles, but if I’m looking to move up the ladder and grow, I want to talk to the person who is in the role I want to have. I want to know what you’re doing. If you’re my boss, how do I get to your position? Ask.

I think, a lot of the time people are more than happy to talk to you about those things, but you also have to take the initiative. Things aren’t just going to fall on your lap. You have to go after it. 

When you’re looking for a mentor, look at the things they’re doing that you want to do. Maybe you’re lacking in certain areas and they do a great job in the area you are lacking. When you have a mentor, come with a plan. I want to be X, Y, Z. I want to get to here. How did you get to that point? Talk to them about that. It is an approach that I still take and recommend everyone should try to take a similar approach.


How do you manage all the peaks and valleys you have gone through in your life? What advice would you give other people for navigating their peaks and valleys?


It’s undeniably tough. When I started my journey in banking, I wanted to transition from operations to a business banking role. I faced self-doubt, I questioned my abilities, was I good enough, or smart enough? At that time, there was no one to guide me or offer support. I was a single mom, juggling responsibilities, and despite financial improvements, I found myself coming home and questioning whether I could handle it. I lacked managerial support, and often times felt like I was being talked down to.

I remember moments of doubt, crying at times, feeling like I couldn’t measure up. My mom would remind me of my achievements and challenge me not to let others diminish my power. Even today, she continues to speak life into me. I battled imposter syndrome, faced criticism about my appearance, and encountered prejudice based on age, gender and race. People made assumptions about me without truly seeing who I was.

Overcoming these challenges required confidence in my identity and what I brought to the table. My prior self-work became my foundation, it allwoed me to weather those storms without being shaken to my core. There are still moments when I cry or have bad day, which are all normal and very healthy things to do. The key is to get back up and keep moving forward.

Facing rejection, encountering disbelief, and dealing with negativity are part of the journey. It’s essential to keep going because, for me, it’s about creating opportunities for those following behind me, for my daughter, and future generations. If I were to give up every time someone told me I couldn’t do it, or if my feelings got hurt, what impact would I have on those coming after me?

It’s a mission larger than yourself. Perseverance is crucial. Bad days will come, but as long as they don’t break you, you’ll be okay. Keep going, keep persevering. It’s bigger than you, me, or anyone else.


What is your daughter up to these days?


Oh my goodness I am so proud of that little girl. She is not even a little girl anymore. She just turned 20. When she was about to start high school, she had this whole plan, “Mom, I’m going to be a neurologist.” I was like, “Okay, that’s ambitious!” But she had it all mapped out. She applied to NYU, took AP classes, the whole deal. Let me tell you, she’s not just saying it; she’s got the brains to back it up. Didn’t even break a sweat with the SAT, aced it.

Now, she’s at U of A. She finished her freshman year with a  3.98 GPA. She’s got a paid marketing internship with the U of A athletic department, and she is doing whatever she can to get into the Eller School of Business at the  UofA. She wants to move to New York City and get into marketing. I have no idea what magic I pulled off as a mom, but if I did one thing right, it’s her.


That is awesome. Last question for you. With everything you have accomplished and will continue accomplishing are you proud of yourself?


I’ve overcome a lot and I think that’s what I’m most proud of because there were a lot of things that could have set me back and I could have gone a different direction. I’m proud of myself of where I’m at and what I’ve achieved, and I’m most proud of myself because of who I am as a person. I truly do care about people and I truly care about impact, and I want everybody to win. Yeah, I am proud of myself.

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