In this episode, Dallas and Jess speak with Bill Ragle, SVP at Comerica Bank, about his background that allowed him to become a top producer.
Once he was a consistent alpha-lender he was asked to lead the lending team. Bill’s talks about the difference between being a manager and a leader.
This is the best 27 minutes you’ll spend this week regardless of if you are a manager or a lender.
Hello, and welcome to Lender Performance; your guide to becoming a better lender. I’m your host, Dallas Wells, EVP of Banking Strategies, and here with me is Jessica Stone, a Client Success Manager from PrecisionLender. Thank you for joining us.
We’re excited today to be speaking with Bill Ragle, Senior Vice President at Comerica Bank who has spent 17 years with a bank in Dallas, Texas.
Bill and I actually met at banking school. We are both SWGSB alums. That’s Southwestern Graduate School of Banking. Bill is a great banker, somebody I’ve known for a long time. A good guy. He’s also been tasked with an ever growing roll of management, so doing both loan production and managing a team. We wanted to talk to him about some of the ups and downs of going through that process. Bill, thanks so much for being on today, and welcome.
Sure. Thanks for having me, Dallas. Hi, Jess, for meeting you. Dallas, it’s good to talk to you again.
Bill, why don’t we start with just telling us your story. How did you get to this point, and what things did you do right along the way to get promoted into a management role?
Okay. I won’t go through the whole story, because it technically begins with the U.S. Army a long time ago when there was a Soviet Union. In fact, it failed while I was in the army, but I had nothing to do with it. It was mainly Ronald Reagan. Regardless, that did lay a good foundation for me, but at the end of the day it still comes down to the ability to interact with different types of people as a commercial banker. Really, my background is 100% commercial, and at our bank we still have a credit training program which I came through, so that laid the groundwork of understanding underwriting. After that, it was the ability to build trust both inside the institution that hey, when I’m bringing an opportunity to bring a new client in that I know what I’m doing, and also, more importantly is building that trust with the clients.
Frankly, that resulted early on in my career, even though I was older than my peer group because of my ten years in the military, that maturity did allow me to produce at a very high level which raised the years of management and coalesce into when a general business banking management position came open, I was tapped on the shoulder to go in and help them until I officially became their manager. I really step back and I think about my ability to build that trust both internally and externally and have the reputation as a decision maker and I say decisive decision maker. You can be a decision maker and be as slow as pond water. You do have to be decisive in what you do and have built that trust so that when you do make decisions the people trust you’re doing the right thing, and eventually you have to show your team and get that same kind of trust with them.
Yeah. I think that balance is one of the things that we see over and over again with some of the best producers, because really you are the client’s advocate, the borrower’s advocate inside the bank, and so you first have to negotiate and build the relationship and all those things with your borrower. Then, like you say, you have to take that deal internally and help for that customer get it across the finish line, which means there’s all that same kind of negotiation and working through that process internally. Those are a little different types of negotiations and skill sets, but those that can navigate both sides tend to do very well. An interesting thing though, and we see this is not unique to banking, this happens everywhere, anywhere where there’s a producing somewhat sales type of job, which is we take the very best producers and we promote them. We say stop doing so much of the thing you’re really good at, and start doing more managing. Talk to us about that balance of producing and managing a team. You know, all the personnel stuff on top of actually having to bring loans in and get things on the books.
Well, I’m going to have to step back in history almost a decade, because I actually have not had to do that for a long time. I only had to produce and manage at the same time for an extremely short period of time but I actually think the dynamics are similar.
Today, I’m a pure manager, but I really step back and I think as a producer, and you have to have your bank’s executive support, the producing for you is secondary. In managing and mentoring, and we say the word “managing”, it’s not managing, it’s leading, to me, when I was for that short period of time a producer and a manager, and I actually have the same thing today, because I have a network that I work with today, back then what I would have to do is, I call it unselfish referrals to my officers. I would use my opportunities that my network would bring me in on, and what I would do is I would figure out which officer did I want to mentor and assist through that.
Now, I have to back up and say you got to have executive support for that because the fact is we all have end of the year reviews and mid-year reviews, and if they put more weight on your producing and less on your leading, then you could be in a pickle. Then, you have to do those yourself, but I really think if you’re a true player/coach, the coach is the more important. What you have to figure out as the player is how is that opportunity going to assist in building up your team so that eventually when you’re not the player/coach, and you’re the coach, you’ve built the best team you can. That also builds loyalty in the team.
It does so much more for you. There are certain CLIs that I managed back then that I ran with the loan at their request, but it was really few and far between.
Okay, and we see some producers really struggle with that. The best lenders are inevitably deal junkies. We like to go out and chase that deal and bring it in, and that’s why they’ve been successful at it, and to make that transition is not always easy. The other thing you mentioned there that was interesting was the support from executives, the next layer up really having your back so to speak and supporting what you’re doing. Somewhat along those lines, this is a Bill Parcells thing back when he was coach of the Giants, he lobbied for the GM role while he was still the head coach. He used the analogy that if somebody asked him to cook dinner, then he ought to be able to go buy the groceries too. Do you feel that an important part of your role there is that you can build your own team, and is hire/fire authority really necessary and important, or can you get by without it?
I’ll answer the first question about building your own team. That to me is a luxury. I think it is important, but the fact is many of us that step into leadership roles do so because the previous leader either left the institution or was promoted inside of it, so many times you take over an existing team. I do think if you have the ability to raise a team, it’s important that you do so, but if you step back and you think about it, that’s more pressure on you.
If grow that team and it doesn’t perform …
… who’s fault is it?
I do think it is important, and you asked is the hiring and firing necessary or important. That’s a tough one. I think it’s important to know that you have that authority, but I really challenge myself … When ever I’m hiring at a vice president level, I leverage other leaders that I know to interview that person too. Now, I’m the ultimate yes or no. That is the important part. Yes or no for me, but I leverage other people to sort of assist me with is my analysis correct of this candidate. I guess I could have just said yes, it’s important, but once again, that comes from the support of the people above you which is crucial all throughout this whole thing. If the people above me have the hirer or fire authority, then you’re back to the adage that drove us crazy in the military. If you had all of the responsibility and no authority, it really drove you crazy as a leader and that’s sort of what you’re talking about there. I think both are important.
Yeah, and I agree. We found that with our own group here. We’re growing pretty quickly, and so we’ve had to make lots of additions to the team. Frankly, we’ve missed on one or two, so it has been important that we have the ability to correct those mistakes because really, when you think about how important culture and the teams are in the way the business works, it’s really critical that all the players be on board. If you’ve got one who’s rowing in the opposite direction, it can cause a lot of issues. I agree with you. I think that’s important. Shifting gears just a little, let’s think about it from the lender’s perspective. Those lender’s that you’re working with, what do you wish that they knew about your needs as a manager. In other words, what can we share with people about how to help your boss and help them do what they need to do and help you be successful by being on the right side of them and helping everybody do what needs to be done?
I wish they knew how much I filtered them from leadership above.
You know, sometimes you’re interacting with people who haven’t done this for decades, what we do at the close relationship management level, and request come down the pipe that we have to fulfill. We have to honor and do what our executives tell us to do, but we may do it in a little bit of a different way that actually comes in line with the second part of your question, which is what would you, and I don’t know if you asked it Dallas, to tell you the truth, but I know what they do everyday, therefore, I know how to filter what comes through so that it doesn’t derail what they do everyday.
Yeah. You have to be close enough to what they’re doing to understand it without crossing the line and being meddlesome and micromanaging stuff.
Exactly, and I sort of also wish they knew how many e-mails I got everyday so that when they sent me two or three e-mails and then called me up and said, “Hey, did you read my e-mails,” and I say, “No,” it’s not because I’m ignoring them. I have to admit, Dallas, I sort of tell them that. That’s actually, to me, what a manager needs to do. We need to be bold when we tell our officers what we do everyday.
Sure. Let them understand that too.
Exactly. If we build that kind of a two-way street relationship with them, they do sort of know what you do everyday, and they’ll try to do what they do in such a way to help you as long as they know what I’m doing is in their best interest.
Yeah. In the vein of that kind of communication between you and the rest of the team, one of the things that I know a lot of banks struggle with is just the basic business development process. How do we go about that, and how do we measure how successful we’re being with that? Just out of curiosity, when you track activity do you just look at results? What kind of metrics are you using to really follow-up with that team?
I could cheat and say both. You actually have to have measures of both. Now, everybody has measures of activity; I’m sorry, results. That comes straight through loan production, deposit production, on interest, all the sales side. That’s the easy part. It’s not to control your high producers, because your alpha producers a lot of times are the worst at using your customer relationship management systems. They’re just in their mode, an they’re working. Where it’s really important to track both is really in your developing officers and your C and D players, because if you’re not tracking their activity, and that’s mainly their calls … Part of the activity tracking is going on joint calls with them to find out what they’re doing …
Yeah. See them in action.
Yeah, and the percent of prospect calls verses networking calls verses customer calls. What you need to do, and this ties into the last part of the last question, you need to understand what they do everyday through their activity, because the results aren’t quite there. For that reason, your high producers, what you have to do in private conversations is say guys, if you want the best raises, if you want an “exceeds expectations” review, you need to cross you T’s and dot your I’s. I love the production, keep it going, you’re going to be fine doing it, but if you want to be a leader, if you want to grow in this institution, you’re going to figure out how to use the activity tracker, first of all, so I can tell what you’re doing to upper management, and the second thing, I can go back to that developing officer and say look what that A player does.
Yeah. You can share that with the rest of the team and learn from things that work and things that don’t work. We’ve got a bank that we work with that has really made this into as much of a science as I think you can make it into. You know, tracking the sales velocity depending on what kind of call activity they have, and they’re starting to get some really good metrics. It takes time, but they’re starting to get some good numbers that they can share with their lenders, and say hey, it’s going to it’s going to take you X number of calls to get a deal, and it’s going to take you this many of these kind of meetings, so let’s focus our attention in the right places. Also, it’s encouraging to the lenders to know it is a numbers game; it always is when it comes back to sales. You have to have a whole bunch of calls to translate to a few deals, and you just stay on that cycle. If they see the results coming out of the back end, whether it’s theirs or somebody else’s, I think that’s really powerful.
A lot of that maybe we’ll track to the next question which is I know you’ve got teams spread out. You’re handling a pretty large region, actually. How do you keep everybody rowing in the same direction? It’s not like your sitting all in the same office. You can’t watch and see who’s doing what when, so how do you keep the team all on the same page when you’re all spread out like that?
The number one thing is regular communication that’s on all of our calendars. I do have a team that’s with me here in Dallas. It’s a little easier to keep them rowing in the same direction. The other ones are the more challenging, so you have to leverage the technology whether it be video conference, or conference calls, or whatever. I just stay with them on a regular basis trying to give them as much attention as I can, but even deeper than that, what I’ve found … I also communicate with them about how well the team is doing, so that they feel like they are a team.
If you’ve got a spread out group of bankers, it’s possible that each one of them feels like they’re on an island. Well, if once a month I’m having a financial update with them on how we’re doing as a team, and I can share that with them, and share the successes … I also condone very, very much so, that my senior officers in the markets they’re in reach out to the other sometimes senior officers that aren’t producing as well. Those banker to banker conversations, I promote those a lot too.
It builds the idea that when we look at our financial metrics we are a team, and it has worked very well for us.
We do a similar thing here where we work very much in teams, and the good thing is there’s lots of collaboration and sharing of the good ideas. I think the other thing, if we’re frank about it, is that there’s some good old-fashioned peer pressure. You know, you get a group of A players together, and if somebody is not pulling their weight, it becomes painfully obvious. They just feel the pressure from how hard and how fast everyone else is moving to try to keep up, and I think it keeps people motivated just from that natural tendency to want to stay on the same page, and like you say, you share some of the wins, you can share some of the losses, and you do it as a team. Everybody kind of knows what’s my impact on all that, and what can I do better or differently to make it better.
Yeah, yeah. Dallas, I forgot to tell you … I’m glad you brought up that last point. I actually, probably twice a month, pick different metrics whether it be pipeline, or cross-sells, or whatever, calling log-ins, or whatever and I report it at the banker level so that all the guys will see oh my gosh, I’ve got two calls that I’ve logged in for the month, and everybody else has thirty-five.
I do that a little bit. Now, what I don’t do is I don’t publicly ride that individual for that. I may let their peers do it, but I would end up doing that during a private one on one session with the officer, which is also important, just regular staying on front of them and talking strategically and tactically with each officer.
Yeah. We get a lot of banks ask us about how can we incentivize lenders, and how can we do these complex bonus plans, and I think all that stuff is good, and all that stuff matters, and yes, you have to pay attention to it, and do it the right way, but what we’ve found is just as powerful of a motivator is exactly what you just said. Pick a metric and rank them. Do it like a Fantasy Football leaderboard. Put it up on the screen, you don’t have to say a word, just say here’s what we’re looking at this month, and here is how you guys stacked up. The people on top of the list are proud, and the people at the bottom of the list are saying all right, now I know what I have to improve on. It’s a direct, tangible thing that they know to do, and it’s a heck of a lot easier and a faster result than it trying to show up at the end of the year in a bonus. So peer pressure. That was a good one.
It got us all through high school safely.
Yeah. We survived it there, so now let’s just keep riding it.
One other thing I wanted to talk to you about before we wrap up here is that your team is what I think is really the future of the industry, in that it’s not all things to all people. You guys as bankers specialize in one industry. Talk to me a little bit about how that came to be and some of the pluses and minuses there.
Okay. How it came to be was first of all, healthcare is really the largest industry in our country, and we looked as an institution and we had been covering it with private banking and business banking, a lot like the way the other banks have done it. We felt like we were missing opportunity, and we were also missing risk, so there are two sides to it.
It is risk and opportunity. Obviously, I will not say the client’s name, but it was a CEO of a group, and I asked him why they came to us, and he said, “Frankly, I didn’t have to move to you guys. I was in a general business unit at another bank. Everything was going fine. I came to you, because I realized pretty quickly I don’t have to tell you what I do before I tell you what I want to do.”
“What I was having to do every time I had a new request with the other institution, I would have to re-educate them on my industry first, and then try to explain to them what I was wanting to do.”
That to me, that’s a plus. The fact is, our client’s regularly tell us we love the fact that when we say the word we want to buy a 64 slice CT scanner that we don’t look at them like deer in the headlights. In fact, my officers know that they can ask them about their reimbursements, and we know what kind of physicians would ask for that.
Yeah. You can provide some real value in those conversations instead of just being an order taker.
Exactly. You know, all of say relationship banking and we want to be trusted advisors, but to me, you’re only trusted advisors with your clients when you’re part of their pre-decision making process.
That’s our goal. How we do that is we have regular … I actually assign one of my senior officers as an education czar, and education person, and they’ll go to different websites and pick maybe the Affordable Care Act. We want to talk about a segment of that that’s not going to get repealed. You know, we’ll do regular, probably monthly, education sessions during our sales meetings. We usually take ten to fifteen minutes to do that, but the minus, what I guess I have to worry about is, is there a point in my career when I am a healthcare banker and not a banker. What does that mean for me. You know, I step back on the minus side, and it’s really fairly minor, because there are a lot more pluses in your ability to do what you want to do and build your portfolios and build your group and everything else. You have to think about for career planning okay, when have you been here long enough to where, and I’m not talking about at that institution, I’m talking about inside that institution, when is it time for me to do something else, or am I happy to do this, and you know what, I’ll do this for the rest of my career.
Yeah. You just have to be comfortable with that industry and that if you kind of get tagged as that’s your thing, that you’re good with that.
That has to be something you care about, and are passionate about, and believe will always be there. It’s not a here today gone tomorrow kind of industry.
Exactly, and I would not recommend anybody getting into a specialized industry that is not either passionate or has some pre-knowledge of that industry before they get into it. First of all, I don’t think the institution would normally hire you into that role. The fact is, I do think that if a person who doesn’t know anything about healthcare banking comes into my group, even if they’ve interviewed very well, they would be very challenged in the group at some point in time.
Okay. Great. What we’ll do from here, I’m going to turn it over to Jess, and she’s going to gather some advice from you. Since you’ve been doing this for a while and you’ve done it well, and a lot of our listeners are younger bankers, or they’re at an earlier point in their career, just a couple of quick hits for some advice for them, so Jess, take it away.
Great. Bill, we’d love to start off with if you could offer one piece of advice, I know you’ve gone through a lot of things during our conversation today, but one piece of advice for someone that’s starting out in their management of a team of lenders, what would that be? What’s maybe one hack or one tip for them that would be the biggest help?
You have to build trust with your team, and that would be lending assistants and everybody else, that they trust that you can lead them, and that you have their interest and the best interest of the team at heart with what you do.
Great. That’s excellent. I think then on the flip side, for those young lenders that are just starting out, what would one piece of advice be for them, someone just entering the industry.
I would say just be a curious sponge, and just completely … You know, ask those senior bankers, even if they don’t know what Twitter is or anything, or know how to do anything but control, alt, delete on their computer, you’ve got to understand what made them successful and almost interview them and build those kind of relationships. You have to seek out those more senior bankers, and just try to figure out how were they successful.
That’s a great perspective. The last thing, we’d love to know what are some resources that either you or your team use to stay up to date with the latest in banking, and you had mentioned the information czar, the education czar for your industry, but what about maybe banking overall?
You know, because we are a specialized group, we probably focus a lot more on the industry. I may focus more on banking, and how I stay up on banking is just like a lot of us do, it’s on the web. You know, going through and anything in the banking industry that interests me, whether it be the latest of the thoughts on the sales … I’m sorry; I need to back up. We do have a weekly sales tip. It’s actually provided by the institution, so I don’t really have to go anywhere but internally to get it. Then, as far as the industry goes, there are different organizations, MGMA, and I’m probably saying acronyms that only healthcare bankers would know, but MGMA and HFMA and Kaiser and Family Foundation and government websites where we pull the latest and greatest on the industry. We by far as a team focus more on the industry than we do banking.
Okay. Great. Well, thank you for that advice. I’m sure folks will find that really helpful.
Yeah. Bill, we appreciate the time. We know you’ve got things to do, so we’ll wrap it up here, and let you go. We’ll provide links to a few resources in the show notes for this episode as well as some ways you can get in touch with Bill if you’d like to talk to him. You can always find those things at precisionlender.com/podcast. If you like what you’ve been hearing, make sure to subscribe to the feed in iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher, and we’d love to get ratings and feedback in any of those platforms. Thanks for tuning in. Until next time, this is Dallas Wells…
And this is Jessica Stone.
…and you’ve been listening to Lender Performance.