From Russia with Love of Her New Hometown

Born in Siberia, this banker uses her multi-language skills to host international visitors in her hometown of Cleveland and share her business expertise.

CLEVELAND - Born and raised in Siberia, Elena Ray grew up with hopes of joining the ranks of Russia’s elite physicists. The daughter of a nuclear physicist and a linguist, Ray wanted to follow the academic footsteps of her parents, but they knew it would be a difficult career path.

When I told my father physics was the only science I was interested in studying, he told me I could either be a woman or a physicist, but not both. In Russia, women could be scientists, but we were not physicists.

Determined to forge her own path, Ray left Siberia to study German, Spanish and English at Moscow University. After graduating with a degree in foreign languages, she took a far different route to the United States and landed her first job as a part-time teller with National City Bank (now PNC) in Cleveland.

Bank On Her Enthusiasm

“I’m constantly reinventing myself,” said Ray, who quickly progressed from bank teller to management trainee, where she learned each facet of retail banking -- from branch management to credit analytics to sales. 

“Although I never left the bank, several times in my career, I’ve moved horizontally or I’ve sacrificed and taken a step back to learn a new skill.”

More than 20 years later, Ray continues to utilize her language and extensive banking skills to help others. At PNC, she manages six business banking sales managers who work with small and mid-sized companies across Ohio and is a certified by the bank as a women’s business advocate.

“I love my job because there’s never a boring moment in this industry. There is this fine balance of personal relationships and advanced technology. We can be as automated as we want, but at the end of the day, banking is still very personal.”

The Cleveland Council of World Affairs connects local residents with international visitors

Dialogue and Diplomacy

Her infectious enthusiasm caught the attention of fellow PNC employee Frederick Heintel, a volunteer with the Cleveland Council of World Affairs, which connects local residents with international visitors through a range of speaker series and education programs. The visitors, approved by the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, range from business professionals to students as well as nonprofits and economic development teams.

Ray is among the volunteers who host the visitors – offering her time along with her home. They come to learn about U.S. business and opportunities in Cleveland as well as exchange ideas and insights about their cultures.

The spontaneity and diversity of cultures hold great appeal for Ray, who never knows if she, her husband and two teenage sons will play host for a day or even weeks. 

The international visitors stay with Cleveland families, learn about U.S. businesses and share insights about business and their cultures

Family Time – From Around the World

“It’s a big responsibility to connect people from such diverse cultures and countries and to help them learn about things like nonprofit management or our banking system,” she said. “My family has been so blessed to host visitors from places as diverse as Argentina, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Thailand this year.”

Whether she’s hosting a family for dinner or connecting groups of economic development leaders with local lenders or city officials, Ray values the opportunity to immerse visitors into her adopted hometown.

I was kind of pulled into this, but now I love it. You can’t reproduce an opportunity like this where you get to connect ordinary people with delegates from around the world.

Elena Ray is a professional resource for delegations from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East

While her Russian and English language skills have come in handy during her host duties, Ray says her ability to build relationships across different cultures is important. People bank with people, not with bank buildings.