Giving Thanks for Great Leadership

We are getting close to that time of year when people start writing their top ten lists, providing year-in-review posts and taking out the proverbial crystal ball.  In this spirit, my post-Thanksgiving piece provides a list of bank CEOs I met this year that impressed me with both their bank’s performance & personal leadership styles.  From the outside looking in, I have to assume shareholders and employees alike appreciate what each has done for their organization.

A few days ago, David Reilly authored a piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Wanted: Dance Partners for Bank Merger Ball” (sorry, registration required).  Citing Bank Director’s annual M&A research report, he reminded us that it takes two to tango — and “that is still the issue for investors expecting, or hoping for, a significant pickup in bank merger activity in 2015.”  As we showed in our survey of about 200 bank directors and executives, 47% said they planned to purchase a healthy bank in the next 12 months — but 87% also said they had no intention to sell.  So a steady hand to lead an institution strikes me as imperative for those banks seeking growth through traditional, or acquisition-based, means.  This got me thinking…

Over the course of the year, I am lucky to meet Chief Executive Officers from all over the country.  To build on three posts from earlier this year (my “FI Tip Sheet: Some of Banking’s Best CEOs,” “FI Tip Sheet: Great Bank CEOs” and “FI Tip Sheet: The Top Women in Banking“) here, in no particular order, are nine community bank CEOs that made memorable impressions on me in 2014:

  • Jay Sidhu, the Chairman and CEO of Customers Bank, ran Sovereign Bank for nearly 20 years and started Customers Bank from scratch in ’97.  The bank has grown from its original five branches in the suburbs of Philadelphia to 14 offices in three states — Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Thanks to Jay’s disciplined approach to growth, Customers has seen its assets increase to $6.5 billion as of August 25.
  • Down in Texas, Scott Dueser, the Chairman, President & CEO at First Financial, embodies the concept of loyalty — to his employees, his customers and to the First Financial family as a whole (he’s been a part of it for more than 38 years).  Oh, and his bank placed first in the $5 billion to $50 billion asset category in Bank Director’s annual Bank Performance Scorecard — a ranking of the 200 largest publicly traded bank holding companies in the United States based on their 2013 financial data.
  • Up in RedSox country (sorry, CT might be a swing state between Yankees and RedSox fans, but the team from my home town is far superior), Bill Crawford leads United Financial Bancorp, the bank holding company for United Bank and Rockville Bank.  A $5 billion community bank founded in 1858 with 60 branches in New England, Bill’s determination to merge the two proverbial “equals” as seamlessly as possible reflects a real commitment to the combined teams, client bases and cultures.
  • Billed as the “bank for VCs and entrepreneurs,” Doug Bowers, the President & CEO at Square 1 Bank, oversees the NC-based bank with more then $1bn in assets.  As he shared, their focus on banking entrepreneurs and their investors is all that that they do.  Yes, it is 100% of their business.
  • Robin McGraw, embodies “intrapeneurship.”  The Chairman & CEO of Tupelo, MS-based Renasant Corporation, the parent of Renasant Bank, runs the 110-year-old financial services institution.  With approximately $5.8 billion in assets, Renasant operates more than 120 banking, mortgage, financial services and insurance offices in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Under Robin’s watch, the bank made in-sourcing their IT work a priority — which puts them in a favorably competitive position as the world becomes even more digital.
  • I know Daryl Byrd, President & CEO at IBERIABANK Corporation, sees quite a few potential deals cross his desk as he runs the oldest and largest bank headquartered in Louisiana.  The financial holding company operates 280 combined offices and successfully serves a niche commercial and private banking target audience.  Over the past few years, IBERIABANK has been held up as one of the better acquirers in terms of integrating a team/brand into its own — something they will do again with their recently announced acquisition of Old Florida Bancshares.
  • Any time I am able to spend time with Mike Fitzgerald, the Chairman, President & CEO at Bank of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., I come away inspired.  Being a local presence since 2005 — with a great reputation for growing organically — Mike and his team have quickly made this one of the best community banks in the Washington metropolitan area.
  • John Corbett, the President & CEO at CenterState Bank of Florida, runs one of the fastest growing community banks headquartered in the Sunshine State.  Founded in 1999, CenterState Bank has grown to nearly $4 billion in assets.  Just last month, John talked with us about the need to innovate or risk becoming stagnant and losing the ability to compete for exceptional talent.
  • In terms of taking risks, David Brooks, of Independent Bank Group in Texas, can share a story or two.  As I wrote for BankDirector.com in October (Deciding Whether to Sell or Go Public), David was one of the first to take a bank public following the financial crisis, guiding the bank’s 2012 IPO that raised $100 million at 2.2 times tangible book value. The company has announced eight acquisitions since 2010; most notably, with Bank of Houston in a deal that added more than $1 billion in assets to Independent Bank when the deal closed in April.
  • Finally, a tip of my hat to Leon Holschbach, the Vice Chairman, CEO and President of Midland States Bancorp. Leon stands out for his recruitment & retention efforts and has graciously shared how his company develops executives, attracts leadership and approaches compensation in our highly competitive and economically challenging world.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I realize there are many, many more leaders who deserve praise and recognition. Click the “+” button on the bottom right of this page to comment on this piece and let me know who else might be recognized for their leadership prowess.

Does Anyone Want To Work At A Bank?

Admittedly, the question driving today’s title is not the easiest to answer.  Without the training programs once offered, without the cache of an Apple and without the stability of a career path, you might wonder why any smart, ambitious and talented professional would take a job in banking.  Surprised I’d write this from Chicago and Bank Director’s annual Bank Executive & Board Compensation conference?  Read on.  

A sunny day in Chicago
A sunny day in Chicago

As I start to write today’s piece, it strikes me that without the help of LinkedIn, I don’t immediately know a single person my age (37) that works for a traditional bank — let alone operates at an executive level.  This is a HUGE problem for the future when one considers the growing divide in public perceptions of banks with the actual business operations in place.  Look, I’m not throwing stones.  Heck, I would have loved to get into a management training program when I graduated from W&L in 1999.  Its just that almost every big bank that historically trained the “next generation” of bankers had shelved their programs.

While I don’t work directly for a financial institution, I am lucky to spend days like today finding inspiration from bank executives, board members and services providers.  Mostly, these are people who see the banking space as one that does need change, but does not deserve dismissal.  So as the Swissotel starts to fill with “traditional bankers,” I anticipate three big themes; namely, the recruitment, development and compensation of a leadership team and the workforce of the future.

In Terms of Recruitment…

If you subscribe to the idea that “tone from the top” is key for building a culture of success, take heed of our editor’s opinion.  Jack Milligan recently blogged on “The Bank Spot” that “the #1 best practice for a bank’s board of directors is to hire a high performance CEO.”  In his words:

Of all the things that boards do, this might be the most obvious – and yet it’s also the most important. A good CEO works closely with the board to develop a strategy that fits the bank’s market and has the potential to create a high level of profitability. They bring in good talent and do a good job of motivating and leading them. And they have the ability to execute the strategic plan and deliver what they said they will deliver. Having a high performance CEO doesn’t guarantee success, but I think it will be very hard to be a high performing bank without one.

In Terms of Development…

In my mind, having the right leader in place dramatically improves the attractiveness of an institution to potential employees.  Here, I look at what bankers like Ron Samuels and Kent Cleaver are doing in Nashville at Avenue Bank and Mike Fitzgerald at Bank of Georgetown in Washington, D.C.  Creating a culture where one is pushed to contribute to the bank’s growth seems obvious.  But I can tell you, putting people above products and financial profits isn’t always the easiest thing to do (right as it may be).  Developing talented executives takes both patience and confidence.  Indeed, one must be comfortable doing more than simply empowering others to be a team player.  Here, a passage from L. David Marquet’s (a retired Captain in the U.S. Navy) “Turn the Ship Around” bears quotation.  The premise: don’t empower, emancipate.

Emancipation is fundamentally different from empowerment.  With emancipation, we are recognizing the inherent genius, energy and creativity in all people, and allowing those talents to emerge.  We realize that we don’t have the power to give these talents to others, or ’empower’ them to use them, only the power to prevent them from coming out.

It might be easy in a highly regulated environment to see this logic and find excuses to it not applying to banking.  But if a submarine captain can transform one of the worst performing boats into one of the most combat-effective submarines, perhaps these words might be re-read.

In Terms of Compensation…

Not to throw a wet blanket on the last two points, but as our team found in a recent survey, bank boards recognize the need to tie compensation to the performance of the bank in the long term, yet they continue to struggle with how to get the pieces in place to attract and reward the best leaders to meet the institution’s strategic goals.  So I find it particularly interesting that less than half of the banks we surveyed tie CEO pay to the strategic plan or corporate goals, and more than one-quarter of respondents say that CEO compensation is not linked to the performance of the bank.

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I’m checking back in tomorrow from the conference.  If you’re on Twitter and interested in the conversation, feel free to follow @BankDirector, @AlDominick and #BDComp14.

FI Tip Sheet: Great Bank CEOs (part 2)

“You know who’s good” might be one of my favorite conversation starters… be it talking football or baseball, banking or business, it always interests me to hear who others consider leaders in a particular field or discipline.  As the country’s economic recession gives way to recovery and many more banks return to profitability, quite a few executives have success stories to share.  This week’s tip sheet builds on last week’s post by highlighting three exceptional CEOs that lead publicly traded banks before shifting to the thoughts and opinions of two very talented colleagues.

blog image for Jan 17.001

(1) In case you missed it, last week’s tip sheet looked at some of the best CEOs in the business today — broken down into three categories: the “biggest banks” with $50Bn+ in assets, those with more than $5Bn but less than $50Bn and finally, those in the $1Bn to $5Bn size range.  After I posted the piece, I thought about a number of bankers that could have been included in the $5 to $50Bn summary.  For example, Joe DePaolo, the president & CEO of Manhattan-based Signature Bank, a $19.7-billion asset, NASDAQ-listed financial institution.  He’s led the bank’s growth, from a mere $50 million in assets at its founding in 2001 to close to $20 billion today.

Likewise, Jim Herbert’s work to build First Republic Bank (the bank he founded in 1985 and is listed on the NYSE) deserves praise and recognition.  I shared my thoughts on Jim’s bank after meeting him last year.  For those in the know, First Republic is one of this country’s great banks. Not only is it solely focused on organic growth, it’s also focused solely on private banking. While my conversation with Jim was off-the-record, I left his office convinced its the smarts within, not the size of, a bank that will separate the have’s from the have-nots in the years ahead. Clearly, as new regulations and slim profit margins challenge the banking industry, the skills and backgrounds of the employees who work in banking must change too.

Finally, the co-head of Sandler O’Neill’s Investment Banking group, Bill Hickey, praised Vince Delie – the President & Chief Executive Officer of the 11.7Bn, NYSE-listed FNB Corproration.  According to Bill, Vince “has led FNB through four acquisitions in the last three years and three capital raise transactions… FNB continues to deliver above market returns and has been rewarded with a currency that trades at 245% of Tangible Book Value.”

(2) Before joining out team a few years ago, Bank Director Magazine’s Managing Editor, Naomi Snyder, spent 13 years as a business reporter for newspapers in South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee.  Based on this background, and her current responsibilities, I asked for her thoughts on the qualities and characteristics of a successful bank CEO.  In her words, “some of the CEOs of great banks seem to have leadership qualities without being bullies. I don’t think they hire a bunch of “yes” people who will agree with them as the ship is sinking. They don’t have charismatic personalities at the expense of honesty and ethics.”  She noted that in multiple performance rankings in Bank Director magazine, these banks show some consistent themes. “Great banks differentiate themselves from the competition. They often don’t compete on price but on quality of service, and there is no way to do that without hiring a superior staff and motivating employees to do their best.”

(3) To put some color and context to Naomi’s thoughts, I asked Jack Milligan, the Editor of Bank Director magazine, to share his thoughts on three community bank CEOs that are doing some impressive things.  The qualifier?  Keep ’em “local” — he is in Charlottesville, I’m in D.C. — and close to $1Bn size.  Fortunately for me, Jack accepted my challenge and suggested I take a look at Fairfax, VA-based First Virginia Community Bank (FVC).  Led by Chairman & CEO David Pijor, FVC was “a November 2007 de novo that has grown to $422 million in assets as of December 2013.  Pijor, a veteran of the NOVA banking market, raised $23 million in a little over eight weeks and had the bank up and running in just 11 months.  Granted, this was prior to the subprime mortgage crisis and “Great Depression,” and Pijor has had the advantage of being in one of the strongest banking markets in the country, but the bank’s loans, deposits and capital over the past 7+ years have been impressive all the same. Pijor also did a small acquisition in late 2012 that enabled FVC to expand into neighboring Arlington County. I would expect to see big things out of this little bank.”

Next, he pointed me towards Citizens & Northern Corp., a financial institution based in Wellsboro, PA and led by their Chairman & CEO, Chuck Updegraff.  As Jack shared, “C&N is situated in North Central Pennsylvania, not exactly a banking growth market although the local economy has received a bit of a lift from natural gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale Region. This is just a very well-run bank that makes the most of what its market has to offer, and Updegraff deserves credit for running a very tight ship.  C&N has a little over $1.3 billion in assets and was the top ranked $1-$5 billion bank on Bank Director’s 2012 Bank Performance Scorecard and the 2nd ranked bank in 2013.”

Finally, Jack lauded National Bankshares Inc., an organization that counts James Rakes as its Chairman & CEO.  Per Jack: “if you’ve ever been to Blacksburg, VA – the home of Virginia Tech University and a neighbor of nearby Radford University in Christiansburg – you know that it’s a beehive of activity nestled in the mountains and forests of Southwestern Virginia. At just slightly over $1 billion in assets,National Bankshares is another well-managed bank that takes full advantage of everything its market has to offer – in its case a relatively strong local economy that benefits from having two vibrant universities. Virginia Tech is the 2nd largest public college in the state and is a major research institution. National was the 3rd ranked bank in the $1-$5 billion category in the 2012 Bank Performance Scorecard, and placed 6th in 2013.”

Now, I will tease Jack that he could have talked about a number of fine community banks in the Washington, D.C. area (for example, the Bank of Georgetown, which has grown considerably under the leadership of Mike Fitzgerald, their Chairman, President & CEO).  Nonetheless, his is a good look at those institutions that may not have national brand recognition, but are strong and stable pieces of their local communities.

Aloha Friday!

Financially Focused Friday Fun

1st stop at the Ferry Building in SF
Always my 1st stop at the Ferry Building in SF

What does my favorite, favorite, favorite purveyor of coffee have to do with banking (and payments)? I’ll do my best to connect the dots in this week’s financially focused Friday post. If you missed the last few week’s, take a spin on our way back machine, aka the search button on left.

As I do every Friday, what follows are three stories that I read/watched/heard this week. While tempted to open with a longer mention of seagulls, social media and white smoke, let me see if a picture really is worth a thousand words. This one succinctly captures the feelings that many community bankers have shared with regards to the last few year’s worth of new government regulation and scrutiny. It also sets up the first of this week’s three points:

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  • The WSJ ran an interesting piece entitled Small Banks in U.S. Hit by Rising Insurance Costs earlier this week. The premise: thousands of small U.S. banks “are feeling a financial pinch from the government’s efforts to punish executives and directors of banks that collapsed during the height of the financial crisis.” While I promise not to dwell on insurance costs or D+O liability issues today, Robin Sidel’s coverage (which I think originated at our M&A conference in January?) echoes what I’ve heard from bank executives. Namely, “the insurance squeeze is the latest headache for community banks that are still grappling with fallout from the financial crisis. Low interest rates, new regulations and tepid loan demand are pressuring profit. Many small banks would like to get out of the jam by selling themselves but can’t find buyers.”

Truth be told, I’m a bit talked out about bank M&A this week, so I won’t go down that path for point number two. Organic growth proves far more interesting — as its currently far more elusive:

  • On the same day I sat down with the founder and CEO of the Bank of Georgetown (who I think is doing a heckuva job building his bank), I had the chance to catch up with John Cantarella, President, Digital, News & Sports Group at Time Inc. Both talked about how banks are growing/changing; albeit, in much different terms. While Bank of Georgetown continues to build through commercial lending, let me share some thoughts inspired by John. In full disclosure, he recently sat down with our Chairman and agreed to speak to bank CEOs, board members and C-level execs our Growth conference in New Orleans. Subsequently, John and I talked about the focus of his presentation, “Standing Out in a Digital World,” and how he might introduce disruptive technologies and the companies bringing them to market (e.g. Simple and Square). If you’re not familiar with Square, its considered one of the hottest companies in the mobile payments space. When I hopped on their site to dig deeper, I saw that Blue Bottle Coffee Co. recently adopted Square for its point-of-sale. You should DM our Associate Publisher to find out how long she thinks it took for me to add this to today’s piece. So consider this my nod to both companies, our conference and this DC community bank. All interesting stories that really should have their own posts. Hmmm…. next week?

Finally, I do take comfort knowing a pendulum can swing only so far. While strictly my opinion, I believe too many folks within the various regulatory bodies focused on financial institutions (not hedge funds, not multi-national financial services organizations) are missing huge opportunities to contribute to — and communicate with — the banks they oversee. While I get off my soapbox, let me conclude with my third and final point from this week:

  • I saw the Comptroller of the Currency discussed community bank supervision at the Independent Community Bankers of America Annual Convention yesterday. I’m not in Las Vegas nor attending their event, so I simply hope the OCC’s lawyers didn’t totally overhaul his remarks. There are a lot of very real questions/concerns I know bankers would like addressed (e.g. Basel III, the tax benefits credit unions enjoy compared to community banks, etc.). If you were there and care to share, I’d be interested in any feedback/insight…

Aloha Friday to all!