May 23, 2020 / VOLUME NO. 106
Trial by Fire

Jeff Rose is a turnaround specialist.

He got his start as a workout lender in California and Texas in the 1990s, with Wells Fargo & Co. As Wells expanded, Rose became the guy who integrated acquired banks.

“I’d go in and fire, hire, retrain, get them up and going on the new policies, systems, procedures,” Rose explains.

Rose now heads $399 million AmBank Holdings, after turning around three other banks and credit unions in Iowa and Illinois since the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Rose loves a challenge — that’s what drew him to AmBank.

The Davenport, Iowa-based bank had a strong customer base and good employees, but had lost its strategic focus. One of his first moves was to rebrand the 52-year-old institution.

“[We] got rid of the stodginess,” he says.

Local billboards for the bank’s mortgage division now feature Rose’s golden retriever. Rose isn’t compensated for his spokesdog, he jokes, but the bank does make a donation to the local animal shelter for each mortgage it originates.

I interviewed Rose for a story about our 2020 Compensation Survey, which will appear in the third-quarter issue of Bank Director magazine. As we discussed the talent challenges facing his bank, he mentioned the demand for commercial lenders — a common response captured by the survey.

The formal credit training programs that cranked out commercial lenders when Rose entered the industry have all but disappeared. Community banks have to grow their own. “We have to throw somebody in, let them get their feet wet, and mentor and train them,” he says.

The coronavirus crisis promises to season a generation of commercial lenders, he believes. “Taking some of these commercial lenders who have 10 years or less experience, and throwing them into a workout arena is going to help them long term,” Rose says. “You can get five years of lending experience by doing workouts for 18 to 24 months.”

This trial by fire will help lenders fully understand the mechanics of a good deal.

The industry will be stronger for it.

•  Emily McCormick  / vice president of research at Bank Director
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