When you’re suddenly in a leadership role at a young age, do you pretend to know it all so people won’t look down on you, or do you show your vulnerability and seek help? In this segment, we talk to Robin Roberts, the President and CEO of Pikes Peak National Bank. Robin opens up about being in counterintelligence in the army and her path to becoming the CEO of a bank. She also touches on being realistic as an entrepreneur and the value of vulnerability in making meaningful connections. Discover the steep learning curve every entrepreneur has to go through to succeed in business and how continuous learning is a critical piece of it.
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Robin Roberts CEO Pikes Peak National Bank With Co-Host Catherine Wicklund CEO And Vistage Chair Southern Colorado
We’re extremely fortunate because we have Robin Roberts. She’s the President and CEO of Pikes Peak National Bank. I also have my cohost, Catherine Wicklund. She is the CEO and Vistage Chair of Southern Colorado. Robin, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show.
It’s great to be here. Thanks for the invitation.
Tell us a little bit about your business and who you serve.
Pikes Peak National Bank is a community bank in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We serve primarily small businesses with revenues under $2 million. We also are a consumer-focus bank, but our niche is in that small business market. That market tends to be underserved by financial institutions and those business owners tend to need more one-on-one with their bankers and expertise because they are starting or growing their businesses. We do work with startups which is unusual for our bank. We are primarily focused in El Paso County, but we are expanding and hope to be moving into other areas of Colorado starting 2020.
I was doing a little research and I found out that you’ve been doing this for several years and you started extremely young, apparently. That’s a good thing. I think about the bank relationship and the ideal customer for your bank, what does the ideal customer look like for you over the years?
Our ideal customer is a younger business owner who is growing their business and needs to be able to speak with a banker that has expertise in the business. That’s why we focus on annual revenues under $2 million. We have businesses that their revenues are higher than that, but we see the magic in the relationship when they’re under $2 million in revenue. Those are business owners who aren’t going to take a picture of their check and deposit it. They’re not the ones that are going to check online for their balances and download it into QuickBooks. They’re the business owners that need help like, “I have this challenge and I need someone to bounce it off of.” Bankers don’t charge by the hour. I bet we have a lot of expertise because we see businesses in a lot of industries. That’s where we do our best work is with those types of business owners.
For the business owner, there’s the relationship that you typically see in the media between a banker and the client. Your founders started to serve the business market.
The bank was started on the Westside of Colorado Springs, which we call Old Colorado City. It was started by businessmen that didn’t feel that the Westside of Colorado Springs had financial services supporting. The community bought stock in the bank and these businessmen ran the bank. One of the businessmen was the mayor of Colorado Springs at the time. A family in 1977 bought out all those shareholders and they owned it until January of 2018 when it was sold to another businessman. We were born on the Westside of Colorado Springs, that’s our heart, but we serve all of El Paso County.
I am always fascinated by the story. I don’t know if you ran across a lot of women CEOs in the banking community many years ago. Tell me about your path to becoming the CEO of the bank.
There are things that you can read and learn in a class, but with business, you just got to have the experience.
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I have to start that path in the military. I was in college and then joined the military. I was in the army for two enlistments and was counterintelligence. When I got out of the army, I was married to someone in the military as well. We moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina while he went to Special Forces school. I started in banking there. I started in the in-store branch, which are the branches that you find in grocery stores. They didn’t have those in North Carolina at the time. They wanted someone with sales experience, because of my military experience, they made me the branch manager. I didn’t know what I was doing. They sent me to what I call the basic training of banking, “Here’s a debit, here’s the credit, here’s how to read a credit report.”
It was the leadership that I learned in the military and transferred it over to being in banking. When I got to Colorado Springs, the owner of the bank at that time, that family that bought out all of the stock, he was a World War II vet. There are not many vets in commercial banking. There are veterans a lot in investments, investment banking, financial advising, but in commercial banking, that is not a normal transition. He and I spoke the same language. People who were in the military speak the same language and he liked that I was a vet. Shortly after I came to the bank, four months after, all of the senior leadership left on the same day. I thought, “I probably made the wrong decision of coming to this bank.” He came to me because he was the owner and said, “I need your help. I need you to move over to our main location and take over our lending area.”
What you learned in the military is, “Yes, sir. I’m doing it.” You’re going to figure it out later, but you’re going to do it. I headed over to our main location in Old Colorado City and took over the lending area and learned. I spent my nights reading regulations and understanding. There are things that you can read and there are things you can learn in a class, but with business, you’ve got to have the experience. I needed the experience of working with business owners and understanding how they think, what their challenges are. Ultimately, I moved up in the bank and it is because of my military experience. He felt that he could rely on me. That door opens for me because I was a veteran. At that time, no one was coming up to me saying, “Thank you for your service.” That didn’t happen until much later. No one cared that I was a veteran. Thank goodness we’re seeing that support to our veterans now, but we weren’t seeing that. It was a skill and experience that I had that helped those doors open for me, but other people didn’t recognize it or think that it was important. He did, though. It made all the difference for me.
I always love this story because people in many times have a perception of you always had it gathered up and altogether all the time from the beginning and knew it intuitively. The answer is not so much.
I remember I had been promoted to senior vice president of lending. The Federal Reserve had an event here in Colorado Springs and this old banker with cigar voice comes up to me and he’s like, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Inside, I was like, “You’re right, but I don’t appreciate you calling me out on it.”
How did you respond?
I remember what I was thinking. I think I was staring at him. I thought it was rude but at that time, women in banking in those levels were not a common occurrence and I was used to being underestimated.
That was the climate that wasn’t that unusual in the military either at the time. For you, when you have a new business client coming, what’s the typical range of questions you get initially from those business clients?
Usually, when they’re coming to the bank, they’re talking to me because they need funding. There’s a big misconception with business owners who have never borrowed commercially about how that is done. There’s a big difference between getting a mortgage for your house and getting a loan for your business. They are regulated differently. They’re looked at differently. They’re kept on the bank’s books in a different way. They often ask me, “How do I get funding?” It becomes a conversation about education and how banks make commercial loans and what they’re looking for. It often is also a connection to other resources because if they are too new in business, often banks can’t help them. They are too new for big bank funding. It’s a connection to other resources of people who can help them and an explanation of what an SBA, Small Business Administration guarantee is. There are a lot of misconceptions around that and I help them to understand it. That’s often the question and the conversation that happens with new business owners because they come to me about funding.
I’m an almost ideal client and I’ve arrived at the juncture where I need to take in and get funding and borrow for my business, what advice would you offer to that prototypical client to be prepared to increase their success in being granted funding when they come to see you?
I often ask them, “What’s your plan?” You shouldn’t be even considering funding until you have a plan and I think business planning is misunderstood and underrated. I’m a big proponent of business planning, not just for new businesses, but existing businesses as well. The first thing I’m going to start asking you is, “What’s your plan?” Even if it’s not written, “What is the research you’ve done for your business? Why do you think this business is going to be successful in this market? What problem are you solving?” They usually know it up here and they can make a good case. If you want funding, we’re going to have a plan. There’s always an education process about the funding. New business owners do not understand commercial funding.
It’s such a common question that I get that I created a class on commercial funding that I teach every other month at the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center. It’s well attended. They also have a webinar so people can take it online. I cover all of the things that a new business needs to know about funding and give them the resources, options, and connections to companies to use their 401(k) as funding and microlenders when they can’t get a bank loan. I teach them about small business administration loans. I teach them about banks too, because every business has to have a business bank account. I teach them about that fundamental as well.
I would think the learning curve for them would be much like when you came into the business. It is pretty steep. Do you find after the education that there is some quantity of people that just say, “I don’t really have a business.” Do they step away from that idea?
I haven’t done it lately but it’s on Peterson Air Force Base in Fort Carson in their service members transitioning out called Boots to Business. It’s an SBA program and I teach them funding modules from time to time. I’ve had people come up to me afterward and say, “I now know that I should not have a business.” I say, “That’s perfect because I saved you a lot of money and a lot of time.” Some people are not business owners, some people are going to be great at being a W-2 employee and that is where they are going to be happiest. They’re risk-averse. They’re not willing to take the risk. They’re not willing to work the hours. That’s okay. It’s better to know that before you put your house on the line and you’ve got employees, your retirement and everything. Entrepreneurs will do that. Their risk tolerance levels are much higher.
You’ve been very successful with what you’ve been doing. The piece of advice that you might share with the readers that have most impacted your success trajectory, what do you think it might be?
I was the president of the bank at 33. I was young and I thought I knew everything at 33. I think we all do when we’re young. I wasn’t a compassionate and empathetic person. I was trying to prove myself because I had a lot to prove. I find that in young people who have achieved success early on. They have a lot to prove and it can come across as arrogance, not caring about your workers, people that work with you and your connections in the community. My advice would be instead of putting that hard-shell around you so that the world thinks that you’ve got it all under control, try being vulnerable, try being authentic and saying, “I don’t have this figured out yet, but I’m going to.” When people see that humanity in you, there is so much more connection and motivation to help you from the people who work for you and the people in the community who wants you to be successful as well.
When you think you have to have that hard-shell around you, I ask you to take a moment and think the total opposite. What if I take this hard-shell off and say, “I need help. I don’t have it all figured out,” and be vulnerable and see what happens? It is amazing the human connection you can make with people when you are vulnerable. Young people who are successful are afraid to do that because they think someone will say to them, “I knew you weren’t good enough to be where you are right now.” Actually, when you are vulnerable, they say, “How do I help you?” because you’re asking for help. That’s my advice is to take a step back and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Ask for help because you will be amazed at the people that are willing to help you. It creates these bonds that last for years.
When you say, “I need some help.” Most people go like, they will be flattered that you ask. Two, it’s a rare person who says, “I’m not going to help you.”
Young people who have achieved success early on have a lot to prove, and it can come across as arrogance.
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The opposite of not asking for help and acting like you know everything, that can have problems down the road as well. People don’t forget how you made them feel when you thought you were covering up all your insecurities and you came across as empathetic or with a lack of compassion, understanding or connection. Years down the road, you may hear back from that person and it won’t be positive. I’ve had that. When I was young, I might’ve been promoted as president of the bank. I was 33 or 34 and I was asked to a networking event. Somebody came up to me and he said that he was a commercial real estate broker. I probably did not understand what he was talking about, what he did and what his challenges were every day. I came across as, “I don’t care.”
Many years later, one of our lenders went into his business and tried to get a connection. Maybe we could get some referrals. He told them, “I will never work with Pikes Peak National Bank. Get out of here.” He called me and said, “I want you to know that one of your lenders came in and I told him to leave and the reason is because of you. Many years ago, I saw you at a networking event and you treated me poorly because I was a commercial real estate broker.” “I treated you poorly because I felt less than you and I didn’t know what you do. I felt stupid because I didn’t.” I don’t even remember the conversation with this gentleman, but it had an impact on him, obviously for years.
I think about that and there’s a fair discussion about being vulnerable, being authentic. We talked about that you should have good financials. I think about the wellspring of confidence you have to have in order to be vulnerable because if you’re vulnerable and you have no confidence, then I don’t know what that does.
At the time, there weren’t a lot of women in the position that I was in. Not only I was feeling insecure in my ability to do my job because I was still learning it, but I’m talking to these men in every networking event. There are maybe two women and all the rest are men. I’m improving myself in that as well. I’m glad that guy called me because it helped me understand the impact that you make on people when you aren’t feeling confident, but you try to show that you are. You’re not being authentic. It affected him for a long time and I feel horrible about that.
If you could go back to Robin Roberts who started at Pikes Peak National Bank at the very beginning and offer her some advice, knowing everything that you know and the discovery that you’ve made along the way about how things could be done differently, what would you say to her?
I would tell her to ask for help. I did not even ask for help. I felt that it was a sign of weakness and that people would not have confidence in me as the president of the bank. I wish that I had asked for help from the key people that I was meeting in the community who I think would have been very happy to help me. I would’ve had some mentor relationships that would’ve helped. Instead, I hunkered down and stayed in a bank. I go to those networking events and didn’t feel confident, so then I stay in the bank. I didn’t make connections that could have helped me during what I think was the roughest time in my career, which is during the recession. It was a rough time for a lot of different reasons, but those connections could have helped me during that time. I wish I would’ve asked for help.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that we’re back at that point and you’re going like, “I need to go ask some help.” If there’s somebody else out of a similar situation, what are the inventory of people in the community or positions they might have where you might start asking for help?
One thing we have now that we didn’t have then is LinkedIn. There’s a wealth of information on LinkedIn and ways to connect to people that you could have never gotten through their gatekeeper before. I would use LinkedIn as a way to be introduced to maybe someone in the industry that is older and has been successful. I’ll ask for an hour of their time over coffee. Now that I’m older, I’m happy to meet with a young banker. I will take an hour out of my time and have coffee with them. I’m happy to meet with them. Other people who are further along in their career are willing to do that as well. I would use LinkedIn as a way to meet someone who you’ve seen in the community as a good connector or they seem to be involved in a lot of different things.
Reach out to them and ask for an hour of their time, buy them coffee. Ask them how they connect? How do they meet people? Are there places, organizations that you could be a part of that you’re not aware of? LinkedIn is a great place to go particularly for younger people that are new in their industry to link up with or to break through those doors. Those secretaries and assistants that aren’t going to let you in if you go to their business, you’re going to get through on LinkedIn. If you aren’t going to get through, you’re connected to someone on LinkedIn who will make that introduction.
Looking over the past few years, as you allocate your time to your business, banking regulations change, the market changes and the economy changes, what’s the best allocation of your time or energy that’s most impacted the bank?
The allocation of my time to my own learning and personal development has been the best thing for the bank. That is probably not an answer that you expect, but if you aren’t continually learning in this business climate, you’re going to be left behind. We all come across people who are like, “I graduated from such and such college 35 years ago. I’m a Bruin.” They have this connection to whatever that mascot was and they probably haven’t learned anything new in their industry in those 35 years. You’re trying to get them to see the reality is not 35 years ago. We are moving forward and technology is moving us faster than ever before so you’ve got to continue to learn. What you learned 35 years ago isn’t necessarily applicable in the present. The leaders in organizations, even if they’re not CEOs, are learning all of the time. There are lots of ways to learn that don’t mean you have to leave your business and go to a class for a week. Podcasts are a free, easy way to learn all the time. There are so many good podcasts out there. There are webinars that you can learn. There are books you can read. The investment for me, in the last couple of years, in personal development and professional learning has been the best thing for the bank.
What’s your favorite personal development training that you’ve done in the past three years?
This will be odd for some people, but learning that the Myers-Briggs personality system has been helpful to me. It’s helped me understand my cognitive stack, but it’s also helped me understand the people that I work with and the people that I want to be my clients. I can now pretty much understand when I meet someone and talk to them probably where they fall in that. It’s something that I’ve invested in myself. The bank has not done that. I went to a retreat that was totally focused on Myers-Briggs personality typing. There are flaws in anything, but there are commonalities that you can see in Myers-Briggs. For some people, it might be a DISC. There’s a lot of different personality typing but it helps you understand people. When you understand people, you understand how to solve their challenges. You will be a better person at whatever job you’re in, whatever business you create if you can solve problems. CEOs solve problems all day long. People ask me, “What do you do as a CEO?” I solve problems because that’s what I do all day long. When you understand people, you can do that better.
You can solve problems and make decisions.
In your day-to-day operations, what would you say you communicate the most to your team in order to keep them focused and keep them centered around what the mission and culture of the bank is? Are there certain things that you say or do or expectations that you’ve set to make sure that you’re staying focused on the mission and the culture that you provide?
Communication at a bank or any business where you’ve got multiple locations can always be challenging to get the same message out instead of going through the telephone, which could happen. A primary method for me for communication is first, email and in person. Frankly, I prefer to do in person communication with all of our employees as much as I can. It depends on their manager and how confident their manager is. If I’m talking to their employees, how confident they feel about that. I think we’re in a culture where they feel good about that. In person with employees, I’ve had new employees say to me, “I’ve never worked in any bank where the CEO came and spoke to me.” That’s pretty impactful.
It’s the personal touch. Remind me what the mission of the bank is.
The mission of the bank is to provide financial services to our community that lifts everyone up. When our customers are successful, all of us are successful.
Podcasts are a free, easy way to learn all the time.
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That sounds to me as visiting the troops. Do you think that’s where that came from?
Definitely and any of us who’ve been in the military can remember people who are leaders that didn’t talk to us. They wanted us to do a lot of stuff that was hard. They weren’t going to do it. You remember those leaders who are right there with you doing it. There’s a quote and I don’t know who said it. It says, “I hired workers and a bunch of human beings showed up. Remembering that our employees spend eight, nine, ten hours in our organization every day.” That’s more than they’re spending with their family when you separate out sleep. When they walk through those doors, everything that’s bothering them or they’re happy about in their family is not shed at the door. It’s still there. Connecting with them and reminding them that we’re all in this together, that they’re valued, why they chose to work in the bank, to begin with. There are a lot of banks to work at and we’re in a very low unemployment rate. They’ve got a lot of options. When you have that one-on-one conversation with them, they feel that they matter and them as a human being matters. They’re not a worker. They’re a human being.
How do we find you on social media and Pikes Peak National Bank?
Pikes Peak National Bank is on social media. On Facebook it’s at Pikes Peak National Bank, on Twitter @PikesPeakNB, on LinkedIn at Pikes Peak National Bank and Instagram @PikesPeakNationalBank as well.
Can they find you, also?
Thinking about the things that you wish you could say to the population at large or the business community. If you could put an ad on the front page of the local business journal, what would it say and why?
In order to be successful in business, you’ve got to be realistic. Being realistic doesn’t mean that you are a pessimist, that you’re always looking for the negative. Being realistic is understanding that there are good things and bad things that happen in business. The reason behind this is I find a lot of business people, in general, are optimists. That’s why they’re in business. When you are optimistic and someone comes along and says, “Be careful of this over here.” “Why do you always have to be so negative?” “I’m not being negative, I am being real.” You’re managing risk. It’s data. Sometimes the data doesn’t feel good. It’s real and it’s the truth. The truth doesn’t feel good because we want to be happy and optimistic in business. There are hard things in business and there are hard lessons to learn. You have to be realistic, which means you take the negative data and the positive data, and you manage that risk. You mitigate that risk when you can. If you ignore the negative data because it doesn’t make you feel good, you’re going to have a problem coming down the road. Business owners, please be realistic. I love that you’re optimistic. We all do. That’s why we have fantastic, amazing businesses that change our culture, but please be realistic about your business moving forward.
Robin, what would you say that you implemented from a belief or a protocol standpoint with respect to the business market and being realistic so that your team members understand some of the challenges and opportunities at the same time? I find that every entrepreneur that I’ve ever met and every CEO that I’ve ever met is an optimist. They have to be because it won’t fly if you’re not an optimist. Not only that, your team is watching you. I used to tell the leaders all the time, “You’re in a fishbowl. If you think you are not in a fishbowl, you are pretending, because they are watching all the time. You’re the one who has to be the cheerleader, the coach and the reprimander. They are watching all the time.” What beliefs or protocols do you feel that you communicate with the team to understand what’s going on in the market and how you have to react to this?
The bank was purchased in January of 2018. That is a big change. There was a lot there. Whenever there is an acquisition, there was a lot of uncertainty around that. Bankers, in general, do not like change. That’s their personality. I understand the personalities of people that I’ve worked with and they do not like change. That’s why they’re good at what they do. I love change. I thrive in change. I’m happy with the change. I’ve had to learn as a leader to face change in because even when it’s good for them, they don’t like it unless they have buy-in and it’s uncomfortable. I love to get uncomfortable, that’s where I thrive but not everyone is like that, and bankers are not like that.
That was an uncertain time and being able to be comfortable in the change. It gave them a sense of safety because I was comfortable with the change. They felt, “We’re going to be okay. I’m not going to lose my job.” It’s actually been a positive change for the bank. Because I’m comfortable with change, I was able to help them feel safe and secure. Bankers need to feel safe and secure. They are risk-averse even though we’re in the risk business. You don’t want bankers that like to take a high risk with depositor’s money that’s insured.
Thinking about your experience and all that business owners that you’ve known through the years, if you were going to offer advice to a CEO that’s taking the job of CEO for the first time, what would it be and why?
I would go back to being vulnerable when necessary. You don’t need to be vulnerable all the time, but there are times when it’s very powerful. Understanding that the way things are is not how they are going to be in three years or five years. When you’re making decisions, you can’t make decisions based on only what is happening. Your decisions have to stand the test of time. That’s hard for a young person to do because they don’t have the experience of time. I’m constantly telling business owners this as well. Your situation can change, the situation can change very quickly and that you won’t have control over. Make your decisions on a long-term basis, how does this look and test them? I’m talking about strategic decisions for your business. How does this look in a downturn? How does this look if I lose 5% of my employees?
Think about those things. You might think it’s folly. This is never going to happen. It’s probably going to happen. It may not look exactly you’re testing it, but it’s going to happen. I would say the most learning that I did was during the recession. It was the worst time in my career. It was the worst time for me as a human being seeing other business owners lose their business, their employees, their marriages, their homes and families. I know that people think that that’s dramatic. It’s not dramatic, it’s real. It has impacted me and my heart. That is why I have volunteered at the Small Business Development Center ever since to help businesses make those better decisions in good times. Back to your question, the decisions you’re making now, how do they stand the test of time? How do they stand different changes in your industry and thinking in that way? Exercising that muscle and getting into that habit will do you well.
There was a trader that I knew of years ago. He was fairly famous. He said, “I don’t know what the market is going to do. I just know what I’m going to do.” You’re talking about the scenario of planning. That really has a great deal of value. Speaking of which, over the years you’ve seen all kinds of business owners come through the door. Some are successful and some are not or less successful. What do you think the top one or two traits of the successful business owner might be as compared to the less successful one?
Number one, successful business owners will put in the hours. I see so many times people come to me, “I want to start a business. I’m tired of the 9 to 5.” You want to work 6 to 10? We’re being realistic. Successful business owners put in the time. Their business is a piece of them and they work it. There’s nothing that they would rather be doing than working in their business. Business owners that work 9 to 5 or they come in only half of the day, it’s not going to cut it in business. It doesn’t work that way. Number one, they’ve got to be able and want to put in the time. The second is that they know that their people are the key to their success. Their people are who their customers deal with. Their people represent their brand. Their people were there at the beginning and were there in the hard times. When I see successful businesses, they got some long-term employees. Those employees are loyal to them. They are willing to work and put in the hours and their people are an integral part of their business planning.
It is very motivating for me to know because, without people, you don’t have a business. When you think about what motivates you and how you keep yourself motivated to go in every day, do the hard work and deal with some of the challenges that you have on a daily basis, what keeps you motivated?
That’s definitely changed over the years. When I was young, it was more of an ego part. You want it to be successful, you want to move up in the business. A lot of young people want that. I see our employees want to move up through the bank or do other things. The motivation is more about who I’m serving. It’s business customers that we’re helping. When I drive around Colorado Springs and I see businesses, I think we were there, successful businesses that are growing. I’m not taking credit for it. It’s the business owner who’s doing it and taking the risk. The bank took the risk too and believed in them. I love that. When I see our employees, I see some of our former employees who are in increasingly more responsible positions in the banking industry. That makes me feel good. I’m at a point where it’s more, “Who am I serving?” That’s motivating because there are days where you say, “Why am I doing this again? There’s not enough money you can pay me to be putting up with this.” You are sending yourself back and it’s like, “Why am I doing this?” It’s not about the money that you’re paying me. It’s about who am I serving.
Successful business owners put in the time. Their business is a piece of them.
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How do you motivate your team then?
You hope that the motivation is who they are serving. When it comes down to it, if they’re not serving customers, each other, sometimes their customers, the other employees depend on what department they’re in. Then they don’t have a job at our bank or if they’re not looking at it in that way, they do not have a job for very long. You hope that you can motivate people in that way about service, but you’ve got to meet people from where they are. Sometimes serving other people is not their priority. Sometimes getting that paycheck and feeding their kids and they’re going through a divorce or they’ve got a sick parent that they are taking care of. It’s that human being who’s walking through the door and not a worker. Sometimes you motivating them is paying them on time and appreciating their work. It’s the basics of business because there a lot of places where you don’t get paid on time or you’re not sure your paycheck is even going to clear.
As you’re out there, feeding your mind and getting educated, what is a book that you might say was impactful that you might recommend.
The one that’s so powerful for me is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. I read that book and it didn’t speak to me at all. I was like, “What is this guy talking about?” I put it aside and here I am years later and this book has made a huge impact. What he’s saying is so deep and important. I listened to him on a podcast and he talks about how there are people who are ready for it and there are people who are not. Many years ago, I wasn’t ready for it, now that book has changed the way that I see our entire existence.
What’s a quote that you might share that you either like or use frequently.
“If you don’t ask, the answer is no” is one of my favorite quotes. I used to tell myself that because I didn’t have the confidence to ask. It would motivate me, “I’m going to ask for the business, ask for you to join my team, ask if we can sponsor this,” all of these uncomfortable things that we are in when we’re in business. It’s amazing what happens when you asked. The quote that I liked the most is “Truth without compassion is brutality.” I’m a person who tends to say what I think. You can be very hurtful with the truth. Being empathetic and compassionate as you say it has a lot more power. I don’t want to be a brutal person. That’s not who I am. It’s not who I see myself as in this world. For those of us who like to say what we think, being a little more compassionate has helped.
You’ve talked about compassion and being invulnerable versus where you started. Was there an a-ha over pivot point where that resonated with you to the point that you decided to change?
Before the recession, we had clients who would come in and they were longtime business clients of the bank who would tell us like, “I want this loan and it needs to be at this interest rate.” They had deposits and relationship with us where we were like, “We don’t want to lose this business.” In the recession, it was those people were coming and sitting in front of my desk saying, “I can’t make payroll. I think we’ll lose my house. My wife is leaving me.” You see business people as invincible and they’re not. They’re human beings. I saw this human part of the business. That made me see these business people as so much more. People have so much to lose. They take so much risk and we should honor them way more than we do with the risks they take. I’m so grateful for it every day for all the places that we go as a business does create culture and your communities. That changed me as a person.
One day, after the recession or maybe toward the end of it, I was going through an old file folder I had because we didn’t always have email. We wrote memos and sent them out to our employees back in the day. I found this old folder and I had it titled Memos. I started going through them. They were memos from early on when I was put in leadership positions at the bank. The tone of these memos was, “You will do this and we will do this.” There was a lot of sarcasm in there, which is a trait of mine that I had to be very careful with because I can be extremely sarcastic and it’s not a good trait. I was reading these and I felt shame reading through these. I’m like, “I can’t believe who this person is.” I closed my eyes. I could see the woman who was writing them, how insecure she was, how she was trying to prove herself. I was like, “Never again.” Also, I am very grateful that I’ve come so far that I can see that. She needs to get her things together. There was a lot to be learned from there, but an a-ha moment to look back at that. That’s not who I want to be and that’s not who I am. I wish I could go back and tell that to be a little kinder, “You don’t have to be so sarcastic. It’s okay. You got this.”
That was a gift. I can say I’ve matured as a human being. I’ve become more of who I want to be and meant to be. From a leadership perspective, that’s what endear people to you. Do you have employees that have been with you the whole time?
Yes, we have one employee that’s been there longer than me, and I’ve been there for a number of years.
They’ve watched you turn and grow into the amazing human being and woman that you are as well as a leader of that institution.
I’ve watched them too. It’s been fun for all of us to grow at the same time. Some of us aged. For me, it’s been a lot of personal development work, which has been intentional. I see it in them as well. Everyone does things in their own way and in their own time.
We’re very privileged to have Catherine Wicklund, the Vistage Chair cohosting. For some of the people out there, they may not know what this Vistage is or what Vistage does. Rather than leaving them in a large, and I thought maybe it’d be a good idea for Catherine to explain what this Vistage does and helps in the community.
Three years ago, I didn’t know what the Vistage was or what they did. I have learned a ton since. Vistage is a global membership organization and it was created specifically for business leaders globally to provide a private advisory board for business owners, business leaders, presidents, CEOs, CXO teams, directors and above to come together once a month and do professional development. We have speakers that come in and then also problem solve and troubleshoot with people in their community who are not competitors in their industry. I will tell you the learning and the value is priceless. One thing that I know, I’ve been in leadership since before Colorado had a hockey team. I’ve been in leadership most of my life. What I know and what I have seen is that CEOs make sure that everyone else gets the development that they need but rarely takes the time to develop themselves.
Robin is an exception. Robin and I have worked together for about three years. I have the utmost respect for her. She is a diamond in the rough and that she sees the need for personal professional development. I run into a lot of CEOs that read books. Reading books is data. It is not the same as experience. You put those CEOs together in a room where they’re brainstorming, innovating and challenging one another, magic happens. Vistage creates that environment for those business leaders and business owners. I facilitate and lead the group, which is a bit sometimes like herding cats but it is a gift to be a part of what happens that one day a month when they come together.
Robin, thank you so much for taking the time. Cath, thanks so much for cohosting the show.
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About Robin Roberts
Community Banker with a passion for serving the banking and lending needs of small business owners. Particularly effective with businesses with gross revenues of less than $2 million annually. Can assist investors in commercial and residential real estate and businesses looking for commercial real estate. Banking executive with broad experience with management, recruitment, and the legal aspects of business.
Volunteer counselor and Advisory Board member at the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center, helping new and existing business owners with funding needs, explaining the SBA and small business lending process, business plan review and financial projection development, and commercial banking needs.
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