By Paula Katinas
Bay Ridge — In the 30 minutes that this reporter sat with Zoe Koutsoupakis in her office at Marathon Bank of New York, the phone on her desk rang no less than 10 times. Yes, she’s that busy!
Koutsoupakis is a senior vice president and regional manager for Marathon Bank of New York, a job that puts her in charge of the day-to-day operations of four of the bank’s branches in Brooklyn and Staten Island.
On this day, she was sitting in her office, located in the back of Marathon’s branch on Fifth Avenue.
The high-powered, high-energy bank executive said that while she loves her job, she is even more grateful for what her important position gives her — the opportunity to mentor young women and to give back to the Bay Ridge community.
“It’s very important to me to be a teacher and guide to young people,” she said. “I want a lot of young Zoes out there!”
Koutsoupakis is well known for her efforts to promote business in the community, through her role on the Board of Directors of the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), for example. What is less known is her role in mentoring and guiding the careers of young women in banking.
At many civic functions, including events run by the BID, Koutsoupakis can be seen shepherding a group of young women, introducing them to important people and speaking about what great jobs they are doing at the bank. She has promoted and championed the careers of numerous young people over her 35 years in banking.
“When I was young, people gave me the opportunity to succeed. I owe my success to the people who believed in me and to the community. I never forgot my roots. You have to help the people who are coming behind you. Young women today are capable and talented,” Koutsoupakis said.
She is equally encouraging to her daughter, Paula Koutsoupakis, a Fordham University graduate who is studying to be a speech pathologist. Paula Koutsoupakis is also a graduate of Visitation Academy in Bay Ridge and Bishop Kearney High School in Bensonhurst.
“I like to lead by example. I also tell my daughter that she will succeed if she works hard,” Koutsoupakis said.
Pictures of Paula Koutsoupakis line the bookshelf next to her mother’s desk at the bank.
Koutsoupakis said she relishes giving back to Bay Ridge. Marathon Bank funds numerous events in the community. Inside the Fifth Avenue branch, there are collection boxes for people who wish to donate to various causes, including the effort by the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation to build a home for a wounded Iraq war veteran, and a charity sponsored by Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church. There is also a box for donations of toothpaste and new toothbrushes that a local Girl Scout is collecting for a school for underprivileged children.
As a member of the Greek Property Owners Association, Koutsoupakis led a food drive and helped deliver baskets of food to 37 families over the Easter weekend.
“I love doing things in Bay Ridge. It’s such a wonderful community,” Koutsoupakis said. “A lot of people are having a hard time these days. It’s a very tough road for some people.”
Koutsoupakis has traveled a tough road herself to get to this point.
Born in Hartum, Sudan, to Greek parents, she spent the early part of her childhood in Sudan. The family then moved to the Greek Island of Karpathos. Young Zoe was uprooted again, however, when the family emigrated from Greece to the U.S. She was 14 years old.
“It was hard. I didn’t speak the language when I came here. I had to learn English,” she recalled. “God bless America. This country gives you the opportunity to go to the top if you are willing to work hard.”
Her family settled in Brooklyn. Zoe attended John Jay High School and Brooklyn College. She earned a degree in education and had her heart set on becoming a teacher. But she got into banking right out of college and decided to make that her career instead.
“I worked in a bank as a loan collector. I worked for people who believed in me,” she said.
She has been in banking ever since.
“What I love most about it is helping people,” she said.
Her job, long ago, of serving as a loan collector was important to her, she said.
“It made me see that people have struggles in their lives. You have to remember that and you have to try to help people through it. You have to try to put yourself in their place,” she said.
Between her job as a bank VP and her role in promoting charities, Koutsoupakis is constantly on the go — attending dinners, parades, festivals and other events.
“I love my job, but it does take a toll on your personal life,” she said. “Last week, I had to go to three functions on the same night.”
Koutsoupakis admitted that she has no hobbies and doesn’t have much downtime.
“Every day when I get up, my daughter asks me, ‘Do you have anything tonight, Mom?’ Because she knows I’m out most nights of the week,” Koutsoupakis said.
Still, she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I’m very satisfied with my life,” she said.