Call him the mentor-in-chief.
While Elmer Laslo is officially the chairman and chief executive at 1st Summit Bank in Johnstown, Pa., he also doubles as the head of professional development. He leads orientation programs for new hires. He runs financial wellness seminars for employees who want guidance on saving, investing and managing their money. He even heads a formal mentoring program, routinely teaching classes with such titles as "Achieving Peak Performance," "Interacting with Others" and "Effective Time Management."
It's an unusual level of engagement for a bank CEO, and Polly Preivite, the senior vice president of operations, said it is part of what makes 1st Summit a special place to work. A typical class includes a mix of employees from multiple departments, ranging from entry-level tellers and back-office workers to senior executives.
"Regardless of your position you are given the same attention from the CEO, and the same opportunity to grow and excel," Preivite said. "We invest in everybody. Why wouldn't you want to work here?"
Laslo, who has been CEO of 1st Summit for 39 years, likes to say that he manages "by walking around." Apart from leading many of the bank's professional development efforts, he also makes regular visits to the branches and hosts monthly meetings of non-officers to get feedback on how 1st Summit could improve.
These interactions "give me information as to what they are thinking," Laslo said. "It makes me approachable so they are not afraid to make suggestions or voice concerns."
Laslo also wants employees to see 1st Summit as a fun place to work. Four times a year, the bank hosts outings that are designed partly to recognize employees for jobs well done, but also to give them a chance "to let their hair down and enjoy each other's company," Laslo said. The biggest event is a summer picnic, held every August, that includes a softball game and other outdoor activities and is followed by an awards ceremony.
Few CEOs have been on the job as long as Laslo. At the time he took the helm nearly 40 years ago — when he was just 28 — 1st Summit had a handful of branches and just $17 million of assets. He has since built it into a $950 million-asset institution with 16 locations in five western Pennsylvania counties, all without ever making an acquisition.
Laslo attributes that growth in large part to the bank's efforts to create a fun, nurturing work environment. (It has been on the list of Best Banks to Work For several years running.)
"People see 1st Summit Bank as a company that not only cares about its customers, it cares about its employees," he said. "They can see that happy employees make for happy customers."
Its efforts are paying off for shareholders too. The bank has for years been among the most profitable in the country in its asset class, even posting double-digit returns on equity during the height of the financial crisis. It recently placed No. 22 in American Banker's ranking of the top-performing community banks based on three-year return on average equity.