What is your background and how did your early years form the inclusive leader you are today?
I was raised on a farm in rural Wisconsin with three brothers. My dad had an eighth-grade education and became one of the most successful farmers in the region. My mom was the accountant and kept the books while raising my brothers and me. In addition to the farm, my Dad expanded into a trucking business which eventually became the more profitable engine of financial success. The way in which he managed the farm and later, the trucking business, showed me many of the professional skills that I use daily in my role now. In addition to our family farm, I learned a lot from our neighbor's farm and from the way in which they ran a truly successful business from dairy to chickens to cash-cropping.
Two worlds defined me as a young person as they do now - one of learning and one of music. I learned to play the trumpet and got a music scholarship to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. For a while I thought about being a musician, but I was more drawn to business once I became a junior in college. So, music has always been my passion and my joy side-by-side to my profession. Through the years, my friends who are musicians have kept me grounded, inspired, and connected to my personal creative expressions. That provides perspective, balance, and a way to minimize stress.
As a junior in college, l learned the power of networking. One of my friends in class had a relative who worked at First Bank in Palm Springs which was the one and only location in CA. She wasn't interested in that type of job, but I was, and I asked her to make that connection for me. That was one of the first times that I learned the power of networking and I have built on and benefited from that my whole life, as I've made it a priority to connect others to opportunities that can advance them. So, I made the connection and I got the job as an entry level management trainee. The all winter Midwest grad went to work in balmy Palm Springs, and I felt I had gone to heaven. I loved the climate and the job.
I was hired by Roger Reisher, the founder of FirstBank, and have worked closely with John Ikard, who is now Chair of the Board. FirstBank spans multiple states and 120 locations. We still hire and promote from within to this day. Out of 52 management trainees hired in 2019, 32 are diverse. Diversity and Inclusion is one of our highest values for our organization and for our customers. We have a total 3,000 employees in our 120 locations.
How did you rise within banking?
I sought broad experiences throughout my career. If you are comfortable, you aren't growing. From continuing my music, to my family, my roles at work, and my service responsibilities, I embrace all manner of difference and all strengths in people.
I'm a rural farm boy at heart and I've never lost that perspective which made me curious, interested in and appreciative of all kinds of people.
I seek situations that make me uncomfortable because that is when one
grows. I also invite people who challenge me and make me uncomfortable because we have to have hard conversations and civil discourse to get to a win/win respectfully. This trait has been foundational to my leadership success in banking.
What Drives Your Diversity and Inclusion Goals Personally and at First Bank?
Diversity drives success. We look for all manner of diversity because that is the right thing to do for business, and it reflects the range of clients we serve. If we weren't actively seeking all types of people from all walks of life, we couldn't be the bank we are or have the reach into every neighborhood and community that we serve. Our tagline at FirstBank is "banking for good". Diversity is banking for good.
At FirstBank, we foster a culture that has support systems within and outside of the bank. No one organization can do it all, and we need to provide professional development and supportive connections with our own diverse team and our diverse partners like GlobalMindED, CTA, and so many others.
Probably most central to our diversity strategy is our pipeline. We have built a strong internship program for diverse students and those who aspire to banking. They do real work and they add real value to our strategic leadership, because they are the emerging leaders. Even if they don't come to work for us, they play a valuable role in guiding our vision and process. They are our future customers. We hire 35+ freshmen and sophomores in college annually, many of whom are the same age as the GlobalMindED First Gen Leaders. As a First Gen myself, I know the value of those students in the world of work, but I also know that we can open doors for them with exposure beyond just the basis of banking. We hire math, finance, information technology, accounting, and general business
majors for our management trainee, data science, fraud detection, cyber security, and other high growth fields. They learn to collaborate, contribute their ideas, and be accountable to outcomes.
The job shadowing, networking, and leadership skills we provide through our internships give students both the banking and the leadership experience to excel beyond entry level. Every company should have a diverse pipeline strategy. Without that, there isn't a good way for diverse talent to find you or vice versa.
We are proud that we exceed the Census Bureau data of CO as a percentage of the population with 60% of women in management and we have lowest turnover in a tight labor market. The range of motion that the perspective of diversity and our actual diversity provides, is the foundation of our business success. As David Epstein says in his book, Range, generalists outperform specialists. We make better decisions because of the broad range of inputs from the very different and diverse stakeholders.
I grew up with dirt under my fingers from working on the farm. I love manual labor and what it can teach you about yourself and others. So, I stay close to the value of the soil, plants, nurturing, and the earth that supports all people no matter who they are, as people all over the world are sustained by this basic and age old way of work. It is an honor to be one of GlobalMindED's Inclusive Leaders and I look forward to working with you to make the world more inclusive for all.