From Grocery Clerk to the US Army to Bank CEO: Jill Castilla

From bagging groceries to a career in the Army to becoming the CEO of a bank, to writing policy, to partnering with Mark Cuban, the story of Jill Castilla is of success through hard work.

Castilla was a struggling college student, working in a grocery store when she had a chance meeting with an Army recruiter as she carried his groceries to his car.

The recruiter encouraged Castilla to join the Army for educational and professional opportunities and the means to create financial independence.

As a struggling college student Castilla didn’t have a car, she was walking to work and college while her college debt was increasing. She had been fretting over her options, even considering leaving college and returning to her hometown to work in a grocery store there.

“At the time, it really was just an answer to prayers and gave me a lot of hope to be able to continue developing myself,” said Castilla, now a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army and the CEO of Citizens Bank in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Castilla graduated from basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and served as a 12T construction tech engineer. Later she married a fellow soldier. While they were stationed in Hawaii she worked in a t-shirt shop in Waikiki. Her boss noticed her analytical skills and interest in human behavior and encouraged her to seek education in finance and banking.

She obtained her bachelor’s degree in finance from Hawaii Pacific University. Later she went on to earn her master’s in economics from the University of Oklahoma. After her time in the military, Castilla returned to Oklahoma and worked for the Federal Reserve. That role led her to banks in Kansas City and in Minnesota before taking over at Citizens.

She became one of the top banking executives in the state, earning recognition in 2017 as American Banker’s “Community Banker of the Year” in 2017. In 2019 American Banker listed her as number 12 on “The Women To Watch.”

Castilla was appointed as a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army (CASA) and wants to help other potential soldiers who may be at a crossroads like she was as a young college student.After being appointed as a CASA she met with the Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy. McCarthy, a former Army Ranger, presented her with a signed copy of the Rangers’ handbook that she frequently references while serving as a CASA.

“He expects boots on the ground and for us to really be in these schools and be highly engaged and look for opportunities in which we can sell that Army story,” Castilla said. In this role they support recruiting, bolster local community relations and connect with the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve units.

Her primary focus is on recruiting in the state and Oklahoma City is one of the 22 target cities. She resides in a northern suburb of the city and is working with school superintendents to help Army recruiters gain access to the schools.

While Oklahoma is patriotic, getting the sons and daughters to enlist in the military, join ROTC or attend the service academy is problematic. Castilla served on the transition team for Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and she plans to use her connections to assure the Army is represented at the highest level of government. She also maintains a consistent media presence, which led to her collaboration with Mark Cuban.

During the pandemic, she collaborated with Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks to assist customers who had delays in receiving their stimulus checks. She worked with over 400 banks to develop a policy that would allow customers to over withdraw their bank accounts while waiting for the check to arrive.

“It was like being on ‘Shark Tank’ [Cuban’s TV series],” she said. “I had my pitch and then he destroyed my pitch. And then he had his pitch and I had some questions. We agreed to keep collaborating, and I committed to delivering an outline of my next steps.”

Castilla credits her leadership skills and achievement of her career goals to her time serving in the Army National Guard.

“The foundation of who I am as a leader today comes from those early days of being a private in the Army,” Castilla said.

The legacy of military service continues in her family as her son Ryan graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and serves as an armor officer. Her daughter Olivia will attend the U.S. Naval Academy. Her husband, Marcus, an Army lieutenant colonel and military policeman will retire next year.

Her life could have taken a completely different route if she had not enlisted in the Army. Her story highlights how our decisions can impact our future.

“I think it’s a great story to tell parents and that their daughters and sons can have a successful experience in the military,” she said. “And if they don’t make it a career, it can provide the foundation for a great career after.”



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