Julie Kleffel | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Julie Kleffel

Background:  

Seacoast Banking Corporation of Florida, one of the largest community banks headquartered in Florida, provides integrated financial services including commercial and retail banking, wealth management, and mortgage services. Seacoast offices stretch from Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach to Orlando and Central Florida.

The Mistake:

I had to expand outside of my silo or focus area.

Early on in my career, I was singularly focused on one aspect of the banking business, [specifically] lending. I developed a passion around helping customers succeed and fulfilling their dreams, and a lot of [that involved] a credit need, a lending need. I wanted to be really good at that, and I pretty much spent all my time and professional education around being the best lender I could be, for both small business and commercial-size clients. I [took] every class known to man around financial analysis and how to make a loan and how to structure a loan, and how to negotiate a loan, and became really an expert on lending.

And I had this amazing mentor who asked me about how things were going in my career, and I updated him. And he said to me, “Julie it sounds like you’re doing a great job – I’m hearing good things about you – but I’ve got to be honest with you: All you talk about is lending.”

“You’re taking all these classes, you’re going to all these schools, you’ve got all these degrees, you have certifications and special designations around lending – you know there’s a whole lot more to what we do in banking than lending, right?”

He said, “If you keep going down this track, you’re going to be a great lender – [but] your only professional career opportunity is going to [be becoming] a chief risk officer. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, is that really what you want to grow up to be?”

But my goal was to be an executive, at the management level of a community bank, and maybe ideally one day become the CEO of the community bank. And he said, “You’re never going to become CEO of a community bank if you only understand one aspect of the business.”

He said that it’s really important in any business that you understand the entire business model. “If you don’t understand the whole [business] model, it will be difficult to run the business successfully.”

And it was like someone hit me with a two-by-four. In my mind, I thought, “I have to change this and I have to change it right now.”

This career is something that you will either love or hate.

The Lesson:

It’s great having an area of expertise, something people look to you as being the guru of, if you will. But if you look at the leaders in the industry, at the CEO level, you’ll find that they’re entrepreneurial and business owners at heart, because they’re really running a small business. In particular, [as] a community bank, we’re a small business too. And we have to understand every aspect of how to run it.

I immediately focused my sights on understanding the holistic business model of banking – both by going internally in my own organization, and talking to the people that ran the parts of the bank that I didn’t know how to work in. I also expanded my professional education [with a] broader scope, from operations to security to the enterprise risk function of the bank. I started doing a lot of work around learning and understanding that.

And the outcomes are kind of evident. I ended up running parts of the bank that had elements of skills sets that I didn’t have before the mentor stopped me in my tracks. And ultimately that gave me a well-rounded set of skills that has allowed me to come to the position I’m in today.

It was a big aha moment for me. In dealing with people that I mentor today there are two things I tell them: One, this career is something that you will either love or hate. If you love it, run head-first and learn every aspect of it. And two: If you hate it, turn and run like the dickens. Because you absolutely have to be passionate about anything that you’re doing to be successful at it.

Follow Seacoast Bank on Twitter at @SeacoastBankCom.

Photo courtesy of Julie Kleffel

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