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Western Bankers Chief Praised for Steering Group Away from Politics

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Collaboration and openness, with a little bit of spunk thrown in, have served Nancy Sheppard well as the chief executive of the Western Independent Bankers.

But after 25 years at the helm of the trade group, Sheppard, 62, will retire next year once a successor is named, the group said last week.

During her tenure at WIB, Sheppard steered the group from focusing on lobbying and advocacy to providing professional development to its members. She has seen the number of banks across the country shrink by almost half during her career and helped members weather the recent financial crisis and hits to the industry's reputation.

"It's a tough balance because bank is a four-letter word," says Warren Luke, president and CEO of Hawaii National Bank and a former chairman of WIB. "It's very difficult because banks are pulled left and right. …There are a lot of things to get involved in. Nancy's been very good at being relevant to keep banks involved with WIB."

In 1988 Sheppard was hired as the president and CEO of WIB largely because of her experience in government relations. She had served as the vice president of federal government relations for the California Bankers Association.

WIB had wanted to grow its influence in Washington, D.C., something that Sheppard concluded quickly was an unwise use of its resources. The organization lacked the muscle to have much effect, she says.

Instead she suggested that WIB focus on what she thought was needed - education and training for senior executives. This was the right direction for the group to go, says Dennis Long, president and CEO of Bank of the Pacific in Aberdeen, Wash. The field is already crowded with different trade groups that have similar messages, he says.

"Advocacy is very important but with the state associations, the [Independent Community Bankers Association] and the [American Bankers Association], those folks are pretty well-equipped," Long says. "She could see that was going to be a conflict and decided why don't we focus on developing the people?"

Sheppard can be relentless, Long says. At one point, Long had let his membership to the group lapse after he decided the content was getting stale. Sheppard called Long to find out what she could do to make the group relevant to his bank again and "she kept after me until I rejoined," he says. He is now the current chairman of WIB.

"I very much appreciated that she cared so much," Long says.

During Sheppard's 34 years in the banking industry, she has seen vast consolidation with the number of banks dropping from roughly 14,000 to about 7,200. She predicts this will continue as the cost of regulation, slim net interest margins and the sluggish economy make it more challenging for banks to remain independent.

Sheppard is unsure of what she will do after her retirement and will take some time to assess her options. In the two days after her retirement was announced, two banks approached her to serve on their boards, she says.

Whoever takes over WIB should be a strategic thinker but also hands-on and collaborative, Sheppard says.

"I can fly at 30,000 feet or be down in the weeds," Sheppard says. "It's a small organization in terms of staff. It needs someone to be a strategic thinker but who can also be hands-on and get the job done. This means being collaborative, maybe even a little feisty."

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