Standing Out on a Friday

Fenway Park's red seatComing off of last week’s Growth Conference, I found myself planning for next year’s program. As we recognized Customers Bank, State Bank & Trust and Cole Taylor Bank for “winning” our annual Growth rankings, I spent some extra time looking at other banks that performed exceptionally well this past year. So today’s Friday-follow inspired post shares a few thoughts and conversations I’ve had about three very successful banks.

(1) While easy to frame the dynamics of our industry in terms of asset size, competing for business today is more of a “smart vs. not-so-smart” story than a “big vs. small.” During one of my favorite sessions last week — David AND Goliath — Peter Benoist, the president and CEO of St. Louis-based Enterprise Financial Services Corp, reminded his peers that as more banks put their liquidity to work, fierce competition puts pressures on rates and elevates risk. My biggest takeaway from his presentation: we all talk about scale and net interest margins… but it’s clear that you need growth today regardless of who you are. It is growth for the sake of existence.

(2) During the afore mentioned presentation, the participants all agreed that you cannot compete with BofA on price. Consequently, the ability to introduce new products (e.g. increasing deposit platforms) is key for many banks today. So from diversification to differentiation, let me turn my attention to San Francisco-based First Republic. Their story is a fascinating one. While not with us in New Orleans, I heard a lot about them yesterday while I was in NYC visiting with KBW. Subsequently, our editor wrote me with some background: Jim Herbert founded the bank in 1985, sold it to Merrill in 2007 for 360% of book, took it private through a management-led buyout in July 2010 after Merrill was acquired by Bank of America, then took it public again in December through an IPO. First Republic is a great bank: it finished 3rd out of 80+ in the $5-$50 billion category in Bank Director magazine’s 2012 performance rankings. But not only is it solely focused on organic growth, it’s also focused solely on private banking.

(3) Finally, as we move our attention from growth to risk in advance of our annual Bank Audit Committee conference, I started to think about the challenges facing banks of all sizes. Admittedly, I started with Fifth Third as their Vice Chairman & CEO will be joining us in Chicago as our keynote speaker. Yes, I am very interested to hear his perspectives on the future of banking. Quite a few small bank deals have recently been announced, and I have to believe many sales came together thanks to escalating compliance costs and seemingly endless regulation. For larger institutions like Fifth Third, it will be interesting to see what transpires over the next few years and where he thinks the market is moving for banks of all sizes. If you’re interested, take a look at our plans for this year’s event.

Aloha Friday!

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About today’s picture:

I’m a die-hard Boston RedSox fan, and for anyone whose been early to, or stayed late at, Fenway Park, you’ve probably seen one red seat in the right field bleachers (Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21). Did you know it signifies the longest home run ever hit at Fenway, one struck by the great Ted Williams on June 9, 1946? While a nice chance for me to share my love for the RedSox, I thought the visual made a lot of sense when writing about standing out from the crowd… -AD

Dass de Thing

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Today’s Friday Follow-inspired column takes a decidedly cajun turn (I tink dats rite) with a look back on time spent at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans. Fancy, for sure. Financially focused? Absolutely, thanks to Bank Director’s inaugural Growth Conference.

The slow economic recovery continues to challenge banks ability to grow as businesses both large and small reduce their leverage. Additionally, tepid growth (or in some cases, continued decline) in real-estate values presents challenges in the growth of consumer and commercial mortgage portfolios. Layer on the increased focus of larger banks on growing their C&I and small business lending portfolios due to increased regulatory pressure on consumer products and you understand how challenging it is for community or regional bank CEOs and boards to devise effective growth strategies. These obstacles did not, however, deter a crowd of nearly 200 bankers and industry executives from sharing their insight and opinions earlier this week.

(1) For example, Josh Carter from PwC covered what some of the fastest growing community banks are doing, both those who have grown through M&A, as well as digging a level deeper into those who are successfully growing organically. In his address, he noted a few bright spots have given the banking industry hope that economic and financial recovery is just around the corner (e.g. consumer confidence continues to improve, unemployment is on the decline and the home price index continues to tick up). As such, he believes there are five key areas that community banks should focus on to drive growth in their respective markets:

  • Emphasize productivity over efficiency;
  • Sharpen your business model; that is, serve niche segments, provide tailored offerings, excel at service quality, etc.;
  • Innovate within your business model, as banks that succeed most often are the ones that continually evolve and out-innovate their peers;
  • Pursue opportunistic M&A deals; and
  • Broaden your product portfolio.

(2) Preceding Josh was Jay Sidhu, the Chairman & CEO at Customers Bank. If you’re looking for a bank that is leading the field in terms of core income, net loans/leases and core non-interest income, look no further than his bank, which is expanding its business in three states — Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Jay captivated his peers with a look at the changing face of banks in the United States and the role of a board and CEO in positioning bank to take advantage of this changing environment. Tops for him: an “absolute clarity of your vision, strategy, goals and tactics; there must be absolute alignment between board and management… (along with a) passion for continuous improvement.”

(3) Bank 3.0Finally, Brett King and Sankar Krishnan explored the “end-game” in the emergence of the mobile wallet and what it means for the “humble bank account.” With more than 60% of the world’s population without a bank account and the ubiquitous nature of mobile phone handsets and the increasingly pervasive pre-paid ‘value store’ – the two openly considered will banks still be able to compete. I’ll have more on this session in a subsequent post that combines Brett’s presentation with one made by John Cantarella, President, Digital, Time Inc. News and Sports Group. For now, let me suggest a trip to Amazon to check out Brett’s latest book, Bank 3.0: Why Banking Is No Longer Somewhere You Go But Something You Do.

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A big shout out to the entire Bank Director team who made this first conference such a success. Laura, Michelle, Mika, Kelsey, Jack, Misty, Jennifer, Daniel, Naomi, Joan, Bill… way to go!

Aloha Friday!!

Industry at a Crossroads: the Investor View

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A curveball from New Orleans this afternoon… since I was on stage this morning to moderate a panel discussion on what makes a bank successful (to open this year’s Growth Conference at the Ritz-Carlton — #BDGrow13), my friend, colleague and Managing Editor of Bank Director magazine agreed to author today’s column.  The first guest post on About That Ratio, courtesy of Naomi Snyder, summarizes the investor community’s view on banks today.

As an industry veteran of more than 40 years and private equity investor in 15 banking companies, John Eggemeyer loves banks. But the co-founder of Castle Creek Capital LLC and Castle Creek Financial LLC had some hard-to-swallow statistics and opinions for a crowd of nearly 200 bankers and industry executives (198, but who’s counting) at Bank Director’s inaugural “Growth Conference” in New Orleans today.

  • Publicly traded banks from $1 billion to $5 billion in assets have seen their stock values rise at about half the rate of the broader market as a whole since early 2009.
  • Of the 300 or so publicly traded banks in that size range, only about 60 of them are trading at their pre-recession price multiples, he said.  
  • In the last 40 years, bank stocks always followed the same pattern in a recession: falling in value quicker than the rest of the market and recovering quicker.  

That didn’t happen during the latest recession. “We have lost a tremendous amount of value relative to the broader market,’’ he said at a session focused on the views of bank investors.  

It may be that investors are recognizing tough times ahead for the banking industry, where there are simply too many banks offering similar products and services. Low interest rates and a slow economy aren’t helping. Eggemeyer predicts that there will be substantial consolidation in the industry, both in terms of banks gobbling up other banks, and also in terms of branch reduction.

Collyn Gilbert, a managing director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, reiterated that view. “At the end of the day, how many unique stories are there?” she said. Eggemeyer says he prefers to invest in banks that have strong pre-tax, pre-provision earnings that are operating in good growth markets. Bank of America can’t outgrow the U.S. economy and it can’t acquire other big banks. A smaller community bank in a good market can do both those things, he said. However, he thinks investors focus too much of their time on growth. In reality, strong profitability will position a bank for growth. Gilbert agreed. “I think there needs to be a much better focus on the earnings side,’’ Gilbert said.

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Naomi Snyder, awarded the coveted “Gila Monster” moniker at this year’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference, is Managing Editor at Bank Director magazine.  Prior to joining our team, she spent 13 years as a business reporter for newspapers in South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee.  Most recently, she was a reporter for The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper.  She also was a correspondent for USA Today. Naomi has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Illinois.

Financially Focused on Aloha Friday

From Kona, a reminder about Aloha Fridays...
Hula dancers in Kona

Each Friday morning, I do my best to share three things I heard, watched, discussed or read.  If you’re game to share in the comment section below, I’d be really interested to read what you consider noteworthy from the week-that-was.  And before I forget, the tradition continues: Aloha Friday!

(1) Who says there’s no growth in banking? Certainly not our editor, Jack Milligan, although the lead in to his cover story in the current issue of Bank Director magazine might suggest otherwise:

If you’re not growing, you’re dying. It’s an often-used aphorism that has been attributed to such disparate sources as former college football coach Lou Holtz, the legendary Bob Dylan and a character played by the actor Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Unfortunately, it’s also a painful truth that a lot of bankers are living with nowadays as they search for growth in an environment that seems specifically designed to strangle it.

If you’re not familiar with Bank Director, the 23-year old publication reaches over 24,000 officers and directors — a community of virtually every leader in banking.  Published on a quarterly basis, the articles focus on issues fundamental to a bank’s CEO, senior leadership team, chairman and independent directors.  Think big, risky and expensive.  For the last three years, many in this audience struggled to grow their bank’s revenue and sustain a level of profitability.  However, not all are struggling to produce top line growth.  Take a read if you’re interested to learn how some banks today are building their businesses.

(2) Bank Director magazineWhile Jack’s cover article looks at four categories of non-M&A growth*, I’m afraid that our low growth economy looks like it will persist for a while longer.  Not surprisingly, some wonder if its possible to develop a sustainable, differentiable business strategy that has strong organic growth.  This is will be just one of many topics and trends addressed in New Orleans next week during our inaugural Growth Conference at the Ritz-Carlton.  I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the strategies and tactics banks might consider to expand their franchises’ value via twitter (@aldominick) — and know most of our team will as well. If you’re interested, let me suggest a follow of @BankDirectorAP, @BankDirectorEd, @NaomiSnyder and of course, @bankdirector.

(3) While tempted to complete the hat trick with a final point from Bank Director, I defer to Fiserv’s President and CEO Jeff Yabuki remarks as he opened their client conference last week.  In his kickoff, he asked their attendees to “re-imagine the financial experience of the future.”  While the short video is unfortunately more sales speak than suggestion, the firm does post several good related reads.  In particular, one entitled To Better Serve Small Business, Define Their Needs.  The gist?  With “profitability from retail lines of businesses under pressure, many institutions are reviewing their strategies for addressing the small business market. For regional and community institutions, which often serve communities where small businesses play an outsized role in economic development, effectively reaching small business is an imperative.”  Being that I work in a small business that interacts with numerous community banks, two thumbs up to the author and company for this perspective.

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*The four categories in Bank Director’s inaugural Growth Leaders Ranking are core income (defined as net-interest income plus non-interest income, excluding available-for-sale gains and losses and other-real-estate-owned gains and losses), core deposits, net loans and leases and core non-interest income. Of the four categories, the most important is core income since it is inclusive of the other three revenue sources.

Boston Strong on this Financial Friday

Yes, I typically compile a list of three things that I heard, saw and learned this week that are financially focused. Today, it still feels hollow to post such points when my attention has admittedly stayed with the acts of courage, strength and community in Boston. Instead of a normal Friday post, let me share the following. Like 9/11, we will never forget. And yes, together, we are all #BostonStrong.

Since the senseless acts of violence in my hometown earlier this week, I’ve been playing over and over in my head my time in NYC on 9/10/01 and 9/12/01. Having watched both towers fall from the roof of my old east village apartment — 60 east 1st Street — the Boston Marathon’s bombing has me really shaken. You see, I grew up in Needham, MA and lived at 221 Newbury Street for several years after moving post-World Trade Center attacks. For those not familiar with Boston, this is a mere 1 1/2 blocks from the finish line on Comm Ave. Still, from the darkness of this week comes these three points of light:

(1) If you haven’t seen this already, watch the crowd sing the National Anthem at the Boston Bruins / Buffalo Sabres hockey game on Wednesday night. Massive chills for both the Bruins feed from the ice above (seriously, stop reading + watch this now) and this one from the rafters as a full house of patriots take over for Boston Bruins’ legendary anthem singer Rene Rancourt…

(2) To me, the RedSox ARE Boston… and their immediate actions following Monday’s tragedy conjured memories of the Patriots’ post-9/11 (*running out on the field with American flags held high). Sometimes baseball is more than just a sport. This is one of those times…

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3) Finally, they are our most hated rival — and in this case, our greatest ally. The New York Yankees are a class act & deserve more than just a tip of the cap for this immediate show of support. Despite our differences, what makes our country great is the love of our country.

New York Stands With Boston
New York Stands With Boston

“If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us … It should be pretty clear right now that they picked the wrong city to do it” ~ President Obama

Its Aloha Friday

Cherry blossoms in DC
An example of organic growth in Chevy Chase D.C.

Earlier this week, as part of Bank Director’s annual Bank Chairman/CEO Peer Exchange, I was lucky enough to spend time with key leaders from 40+ community banks averaging nearly $900M in asset size. As I reflect on various growth-focused conversations I had with CEOs of NASDAQ-listed banks, I think I’ve found a common thread. Each person runs an institution profitable enough to make acquisitions — all while maintaining adequate capital ratios.  The interesting part (for me at least) concerns the strategies these executives set to build their brand and tactics put in place to “organically” grow their franchise.  As our industry continues to rally back from the past few years of pessimism, it really is fun to hear success stories.  So what follows are three thoughts from this week that builds on my time at the Four Seasons in Chicago.

  • While M&A offers immediate growth to the acquirer, I’m hearing that “stocking the bank for talent” is a real long-term challenge. While a bank’s CEO and Chairman must work even more closely to drive bottom line performance while enhancing shareholder value, I left Chicago convinced this team must more aggressively identify — and groom — the next generation of bank leadership. Without the big banks providing management training like they once did (an unintended pipeline of talent for community banks), its time to get creative. For example, while most at our event appreciate the need to get mobile, few community banks have the senior strategist on hand to do so right now. While that opens the door to outside advisors to support an institution, it does present longer term dangers as customers expect access to their banks sans branch or ATM use.
  • Keeping on the tech-to-grow theme, I read an interesting “big data,” bank-specific piece by McKinsey on my way home to D.C.  Personally, I’ve been interested in the various tools and tactics banks employ to analyze their massive amounts of data to detect/prevent fraud, devise customer loyalty plans and proactively approach consumers. This overview, complete with video, touch on these points and show how some are using big data and analytics to sharpen risk assessment and drive revenue.

Aloha Friday to all, especially my niece and sister-in-law on their birthdays.

Creating High Performance Bank Boards

After spending the past two days with bank CEOs, Chairmen and lead outside directors from 45+ banks (roughly half being publicly traded), I thought to share the following video on a training & education program offered by Bank Director.  

Since 1991, Bank Director has supported chairmen, CEOs, CFOs, general counsels, presidents and board members of financial institutions nationwide with timely and relevant information and events.  In response to recent pressures placed on the banking community, our team introduced a board education program (DirectorCorps) as part of the services we offer.  This is not a one-time learning opportunity; rather, an ongoing collection of in-person, in-print and online resources for those wanting the highest performing bank board.  As quite a few of the attendees at our annual Chairman/CEO Peer Exchange inquired about what this is all about, take a look at this video we just posted:

Expectations +/- Capacity

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Heading up to 8 at the Four Seasons

The topic of a seller’s expectations and a buyer’s capacity is particularly relevant in light of what Cathy Nash and Jim Wolohan of Citizens Republic Bancorp shared earlier today.   Given that our economic environment is challenging, valuations are depressed and size and scale matter now more than ever, we turned our attention to matters like pricing expectations and the overall state of our financial community by welcoming Ben Plotkin, Vice Chairman of Stifel, to the stage.

Noticeably absent from the bank M&A market in 2012 were the “mega-deals” of years past that have often helped stimulate takeover activity. As I wrote about earlier today, the market made a modest rebound last year, with 230 acquisitions of healthy banks totaling $13.6 billion. But while there were only 150 bank deals in 2011—the third lowest volume since 1989—they totaled $17 billion.  While low levels of loan growth and continued net interest margin compression continue to challenge banks, there is “good news” according to Ben:

  • Profitability has improved (*primarily due to credit leverage);
  • Capital levels are at 70-year highs;
  • Valuations have improved significantly; and
  • M&A discussions are elevating.

To this last point, Ben cites capital access (or the lack thereof) as the driver of consolidation. Thanks to recent stock appreciation, potential buyers enjoy an increased capacity to pay meaningful premiums for smaller institutions and still preserve tangible book value.  As a result, larger institutions with access to the capital markets will most likely pursue M&A in order to overcome their more organic growth challenges.  

On the flip side, smaller institutions, especially those perceived by the investment community as not being able to earn their cost of equity and unable to access the marekets, may consider an “upstream” partnership.  In closing, Ben reiterated that asset growth is essential in order to create the revenue necessary to overcome the cost of doing business.

As with Cathy and Jim, our thanks to Ben for sharing his time and thoughts with us this morning.

The Strategy to Sell

earplugs at the Four Seasons in Chicago
Needed for the wind here in Chicago… not our speakers

Each year, Bank Director hosts a two day “peer exchange” for CEOs and Chairmen of financial institutions from across the U.S.  This year’s event, held in Chicago at the Four Seasons, kicked off this morning with a spirited presentation by Cathy Nash, the former President & CEO of Citizens Republic Bancorp and Jim Wolohan, the former Chairman of the bank.  I spent some time talking with Cathy and Jim before their presentation; what follows are the highlights of their talk on re-building, and subsequently selling, a bank.

In 2012, there were 230 acquisitions of healthy banks totaling $13.6 billion.  Yes, this equates to more takeovers than the year before, but they were generally smaller in size. While the largest transaction was the $3.8 billion buyout of Hudson City by M&T, the Akron, Ohio-based FirstMerit acquisition of Flint, Michigan’s Citizens Republic garnered quite a lot of attention.

When the deal was announced last September, it was as a stock-for-stock exchange worth $912 million at the time of the announcement (*to put this in perspective, last week’s acquisition of Provident New York by Sterling Bancorp came in at $344 million).  The price to Citizens’ tangible book value at the time of the announcement was 130% — and the combined entity will have roughly $24 billion in assets across five Midwestern states, 415 branches and more than 5,000 employees.

Against this backdrop, we asked this dynamic duo to share their experiences with their peers, starting with how a CEO works with the board to create a successful strategic plan.  According to Cathy, you need to come to the table with options.  Jim elaborated on her point, sharing the bank’s board explored organic growth, a partnership or outright sale of the bank and a combination of organic growth coupled with M&A under Cathy’s leadership.  Both executives knew the bank needed to return to sustainable quarterly profitability; when neither felt they could match their peers’ median returns in an appropriate time frame, a decision started to come into focus.  If they couldn’t deliver more than the cost of capital to their shareholders, exploring a sale had to take the lead. 

The two also explained how to know when it’s time to pare back your offerings to your customers.  According to Jim, shrinking the bank’s asset size once Cathy took the reins from $14 billion to just under $10 billion made sense thanks to rules and regulations like the Durbin amendment found in Dodd-Frank. In Michigan, as the economy soured, the soft and hard costs of growth made the decision slightly easier to bear.  But their focus on the long-term return on equity and investment drove much of their strategy to get ahead by going small(er).

Thanks to Cathy and Jim for opening up.  The decision to buy another bank often takes center stage at events like these, and their honesty in addressing both their struggles and excitement certainly set the tone for today’s program.

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More to come this afternoon; specifically, an update on the state of the financial industry specific to the 43 institutions (21 of which are public) joining us at this year’s Bank Chairman/CEO Peer Exchange.

Since the SEC approves…

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Taking a peek at the city…

With trips this week to St Louis, Nashville and New York City in the rear-view mirror, forgive me for asking: is it Friday yet? While AA and Amtrak earned my business, it’s the following points that stick out from the week that was:

  • As I’ve written, quite a few banks continue to shy away from social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Well guess what. The SEC said its ok to use ’em to disseminate material information without running afoul of their fair disclosure rule (Reg FD). So I wonder how many public banks — Bank Director counts 487 in its database — will start to announce key information on sites like these and subsequently embrace this medium to engage with investors and consumers alike?
  • I was in the Keefe, Bruyette & Woods’ midtown offices yesterday morning. Fortuitous to be there talking M&A as the Provident New York merger with Sterling Bancorp had been announced just hours earlier. As the firm advised Sterling on the $344 million stock-for-stock deal, I left their offices wondering why more transformational deals that have strategic, and not just financial, value like this one aren’t being struck. One thought: a CEO wants to sell at a realistic price but has to overcome a reluctant investor base that comprises the majority of the board. I’m interested in other perspectives, and welcome your comments below.
  • Finally, TD bank’s CEO announced his retirement earlier this week, about a month after PNC’s CEO, James Rohr, did the same. While these decisions certainly remind us of the need for clear succession plans (both banks appear to have handled things seamlessly), it is Mr. Rohr’s comments about cyber security as he winds down his leadership of the bank that struck a nerve. While he could have been talking about the viability of banks under $1bn in asset size to compete, when asked what he thinks of too big to fail, he answered “I’m more concerned about too small to protect yourself… Because what’s happening with the denial of service stuff is it’s moving downstream to small banks who are going to be less capable of defending themselves.” Scary words from someone who is in the know.

and on that lovely note, Aloha Friday to all!

A #FF-Inspired Financial Roundup

Checking in from St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West”

A somewhat abbreviated Friday Follow-inspired post (coming to you from the great state of Missouri). On this Good Friday, I’m keeping things simple and sharing “just” three things I learned this week.

  • Of the news this week, Senator Tim Johnson’s announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2014 is especially noteworthy.  Why?  Well, the Democrat from South Dakota chairs the powerful Senate Banking Committee.  His departure, according to this report from the Wall Street Journal, sets the stage for a hotly contested race to succeed him.  This should interest many bank executives; “while he is regarded as sympathetic to the concerns of financial firms that operate in his home state, including community banks, Mr. Johnson has also fought GOP attempts to roll back or water down portions of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.” I wonder if the next chair will push for legislation to breakup the big banks as the committee has discussed?  As you can read in the American Banker (subscription required), guessing has already begun.
  • While I’d like to move off the topic of legislation and regulation, our own Chairman forwarded a client alert from the law firm of Goodwin Procter that kept my attention on rules and procedures.  The title, Nasdaq Proposes Rule Requiring Internal Audit Function at All Listed Companies, says a lot.  As you dig in, you’ll see this would go into effect by year-end.  From a bankers point-of-view, financial institutions that are publicly traded already face the pressure of doing more with fewer resources.  Every business function, including internal audit, is expected to bring value to an institution.  So, much like the Senator’s announcement, this proposed rule is one to watch.
  • Finally, on the payments front, there’s been a lot of talk about the mobile consumer and his/her mobile wallet.  For example, how Google Wallet poses a threat to big banks that make $$ off of card products.  Yes, mobile devices have increasingly become tools that consumers use for banking, payments, budgeting and shopping. However, in this WSJ article (Consumer Using Phones to Bank, but Not Buy) we’re told “Americans are increasingly using their phones to avoid a trip to the bank, but they still have little interest in having mobile devices replace their wallets.”  The piece builds on the results of a Federal Reserve survey released on Wednesday.  The Fed finds the adoption of various tools isn’t as robust as one might be led to believe.  If you have the time, it might be worth downloading the Fed’s results.

Aloha Friday!

Lessons Learned at Lagunitas

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While I continue to get my proverbial legs under me here, I don’t want to forget some of the pieces I wrote for my DCSpring21 blog. Being that Twitter is pulling the plug on the blogging platform I’ve used to publish my thoughts since 2008 (adios Posterous), I’m going back through the 352 posts I shared to see what’s worth saving. One, from last November, resulted from a weekend trip to Petaluma, CA. I thought it an appropriate share as I enjoy a super hoppy Maximus.

So I found myself in Sonoma late Saturday afternoon. Little did I suspect, as I walked through a brewery tour at the purveyors of my favorite beers (the wicked awesome Lagunitas Brewing Company), that I’d come away with some business inspiration. But from one small business to another, cheers to the great folks behind Brown Shugga, IPA Maximus, Hop Stoopid Ale and the greatest named holiday beer of all time, Lagunitas Sucks.

As evidenced by the picture above, I enjoyed a taste or two of the good stuff. I also found myself scribbling down some takeaways. Specifically, my take on how they built their brand and reputation. I believe it applies to most all businesses:

  • You need character — and characters — to be successful & memorable;
  • Know your business — and be proud of the past and passionate about the future;
  • Tell a good story (or two, or three);
  • Be serious, but don’t take yourself too seriously; and
  • Don’t be shy about being the best.

So refreshing, in both senses, to spend an evening in Sonoma County. If you have a chance to head up to the brewery, a tour led by Louis comes highly recommended.

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A pop quiz for you Laganitas lovers:

Q: Wilco Tango Foxtrot – does it make you smirk/smile?

Q: Why is 420 on the labels?

Q: What is censored — and what rapper’s 90’s CD caused the label flap?