Kansas City bank invests according to its values

August 01, 2019

By: Cara Roberts Murez

Lead Bank gets at the heart of the community banking mission

 

In the 14 years since the Rowland family became majority owners of rural Missouri’s Garden City Bank, they’ve worked to transform it. The result is the strategically renamed Lead Bank, which has fintech collaborations, new branches in urban and suburban Kansas City, Mo., locations, and a way of doing business that fits its leadership’s cause-oriented worldview. 

An integral part of Lead Bank’s strategy is meeting the financing needs of businesses and people who have been traditionally underserved by the banking industry. That includes relationships with clients of the Women’s Business Enterprise and Minority Business Enterprise, including businesses involved in constructing Kansas City International Airport’s new terminal. It also means providing credit-building opportunities to individuals who have low credit scores. 

At the same time, Lead Bank has adopted a gender-diverse approach to leadership – its board is comprised of 50 percent women, and its outside directors are majority female. This board composition is unique in Kansas City.

“That is, in essence, why we chose the name Lead Bank,” said Josh Rowland, bank CEO and vice chair. “We said we are going to lead. We are not going to follow. It became a one-word mission statement that defined our practice.”

 

The roots of change

The family had lived in Kansas City for many years before Landon Rowland, one-time president of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, and his wife Sarah, bought a majority stake in a small bank located an hour’s drive southwest of town. Garden City Bank had, since 1928, served mostly agricultural interests. About three years after they purchased the bank in 2005, the Rowlands’ son, Josh, joined what was at the time a struggling bank. 

In addition to suffering from the impact of the financial crisis, the Rowlands discovered the bank had other problems, Josh Rowland said, including underperforming assets, “terrible” liabilities and low employee morale. The Rowlands split with the bank’s minority partners and began restructuring.

“Really, we had a fundamental question to ask ourselves, which was, ‘If we save this bank, why are we doing that?’” Rowland said. “We had to say, ‘If we’re going to save this bank, we better do it in such a way that it’s different and that fulfills the original mandate of community banks.’” 

Important to young Rowland was understanding the communities the bank served, doing its own work, training employees well and compensating them for prudent work, and building a bank culture that people could feel invested in.

Lead Bank’s commitment to diversity begins at the top with Sarah Rowland, who rejoined the bank’s board after her husband died in late 2015. Initially, she imagined she’d serve in the role briefly; she stayed though, in part because she appreciates the bank’s commitment to others. 

“I do enjoy that role,” Sarah Rowland said. “I enjoy it because the bank is so committed to the kind of social mission that I approve of heartily.”

 Rowland did not at that time realize the significance of her gender in a role that is most often filled by men. “I didn’t know enough about banking to know that was unusual,” she said. “And it is unusual to have the number of women that we have on this board of directors. The women who’ve been invited to serve on the board are pleased to be asked to participate in this because they recognize that the bank values the role of women in the financial world and in the greater community.”

 

Board members include:

Ursula Terrasi, a banker turned entrepreneur. Terrasi owns an upscale home goods store in Kansas City; 

Bridgette Williams, the first woman and person of color in the United States to serve as president of an AFL-CIO chapter. She is executive director of the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City; and

Maureen Mahoney, a longtime civic and political leader, who is the chief of staff of the mayor of the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County.

“Those three women alongside my mother bring an incredible wealth of skills and insight and just savvy and hard work to our board,” Josh Rowland said. “I plan to continue seeking out strong women who can add to our skill sets, whether in terms of IT or investing. So we’re not done yet.”

 

Read the full article at BankBeat here.

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