NEW ORLEANS — There are a number of correlations between being a baseball manager and running a community bank.
Integrity, communication and trust are all essentials, whether in the dugout or a bank branch, Tony La Russa, Hall of Fame manager, told attendees at this year's Independent Community Bankers of America conference. La Russa, who managed the Oakland A's, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox over three decades of coaching, also emphasized the importance of community and showing people that you care on a personal level.
Customers will "respect and trust you if they know you care about them as members of the community — and not just whether they take out a loan," La Russa said.
La Russa, who won three World Series as a manager, noted that an organization's leader must "set certain philosophies" and earn respect by showing others that "you have the talent and you're willing to work to develop that talent and skill."
Competing the right way is also important, La Russa said, adding that leaders "have to be able to look in the mirror."
La Russa drew loud applause from the audience when he noted that community bankers had an advantage over megabanks when it comes to communication
"You have to be hands on," La Russa added. "You can't just sit there and send out emails and memos."
La Russa told attendees that he played badly for 16 years — he hit an anemic .199 with no home runs over six seasons — before becoming a manager, joking that he had asked the Encyclopedia of Baseball to redact his statistics. He also used his time on stage to share stories of coaching the likes of the stolen-base king Rickey Henderson and ace pitcher Chris Carpenter.
During one game, Carpenter — who La Russa called "very special" — was clearly struggling. Hitters were continuously putting the ball into play and finding gaps in the outfield. By the fourth or fifth inning, Carpenter had given up several runs.
La Russa said he went out to the pitcher's mound to pull Carpenter from the game. "Chris, this is a tough day, and I am going to have to get you," the skipper recalled telling his ace.
"Why? I'm not tired," Carpenter protested. "Yeah, but our outfielders are," La Russa replied.
One audience member who must have been ecstatic about booking La Russa was ICBA president and Chief Executive Cam Fine. Fine, a native Missourian and former CEO of Midwest Independent Bank of Jefferson City, is a lifelong Cardinals fan.
La Russa managed the Cardinals from 1996 to 2011, winning two World Series (the third title was with the A's in 1989) before retiring from active coaching. He is now chief baseball officer for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
His words seemed to resonate with the crowd. Several bankers said they'd apply many of La Russa's leadership principles.
La Russa "had to know his players, while we have to know our customers," said Kris Ausborn, president and chief executive of Iowa Trust & Savings in Emmetsburg. "I like the idea of leadership with a frame of mind."
Dennis Nelson, director of credit risk at First International Bank & Trust in Watford City, N.D., and an avid Minnesota Twins fan, said he enjoyed hearing stories of La Russa's managing days. Nelson, who watches the World Series every year, said he vividly remembers the 2011 championship where St. Louis beat the Texas Rangers in seven games. But he could also relate to La Russa's insistence that trust, respect and integrity were essential to success.
"People entrust us to be good stewards of their money," Nelson said. "Teamwork and how you communicate relates to baseball and banking so you can meet your common goals."