The following is one of six profiles on bankers who've raised the act of community engagement to an art form. To see the others, click here.
Chairman and CEO, Dallas Region
CURRENT BOARD MEMBER: AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas Citizens Council, Dallas Museum of Art, Klyde Warren Park, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Performing Arts Fort Worth
OTHER AFFILIATIONS: Fort Worth Stock Show executive director, Bass Performance Hall fundraiser
EDUCATION: B.A., University of Oklahoma; MBA, University of Texas at Austin
FIRST JOB IN BANKING: Chemical Bank in New York
Sometimes you can see how involved Elaine Agather is in her community just by looking at her.
Go to the Fort Worth Stock Show, and you'll easily spot the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase's Dallas region in her elaborate Western regalia. She is one of the event's executive directors and, for two decades, she has been galloping into the arena on horseback as part of the "Grand Entry" that kicks off each rodeo.
It's no small commitment, given that there are 32 rodeos over the course of the three-week stock show every year. And it's no surprise to her private banking clients when the hectic schedule has Agather showing up for meetings in her rodeo attire for several weeks every January. By now, her transformation into a banking Dale Evans is familiar to all.
"I'm a former cheerleader," says Agather, who sees a similarity in her current extracurricular activities.
"It is important to be out there cheering for the community, showing that you care-genuinely. If you don't do that, your banking reputation won't really hold up," she says.
Agather's unalloyed community boosterism extends to other prominent Fort Worth cultural institutions, such as its National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and the Bass Performance Hall. Her activities in nearby Dallas range from heavy involvement in the development of the AT&T Performing Arts Center to being on the board of the Dallas Museum of Art.
Such dedication has earned Agather kudos from civic and business leaders in both cities.
Ed Bass, a prominent Fort Worth businessman and philanthropist, is one of several to say he is particularly impressed with Agather's ability to straddle the cultural divide between Dallas and Fort Worth. The two cities have a rivalry that is deeply steeped in Texas historyDallas, as a railroad hub, always has been more of an urban center, while Fort Worth, as the traditional crossroads for cattle trails, always has identified more strongly with its Western heritageyet both welcome Agather as one of their own. "Elaine truly has a foot in each city and pulls it off in a way that is not easy to do," says Bass.
Ross Perot Jr., chairman of the Dallas real estate development company Hillwood, says you can't attend a major event in either city without seeing Agather.
"What's great about Elaine," says Perot, "is that if you are with her in Fort Worth, you think she is from Fort Worth, and then when she comes over to Dallas, you think she's from Dallas."
Agather is so ubiquitous that even many who don't know her personally know of her. She has enough status as a local celebrity that when Texas Christian University engaged her for its lecture series, it put up a billboard on the main highway between Dallas and Fort Worth emblazoned with her picture.
Bass says Agather is special partly because of her sensitivity to the traditions of the community, as illustrated by how she gets into the spirit of the 116-year-old stock show. "She not only engages on the business side of the stock show, but also finds the time to ride in the Grand Entry ceremony. And she does it in some of the most spectacular outfits of anyone, never wearing the same outfit twice," he says.
Each outfit is in a bold colorsuch as her ever-popular pink, a nod to her ongoing breast cancer awareness effortsand the blouses are decorated with sequins. She completes the look with leather or suede chaps over matching boots and, naturally, a classic cowboy hat.
Agather says that she enthusiastically dresses the part, as she is well aware of how tough it is to pass evaluation with the Forth Worth faithful. "Take the hat for instance," says Agather. "It must be a very traditional one. People will all but cringe if the hat isn't creased just right, or if it's flat. The right hat is really key."
Agather's high profile in the community often plays a direct role in her business success, as the personal connections she develops working on volunteer projects engenders the trust that make people comfortable sending referrals her way.
As for where she gets the drive that fuels her supercharged activist life, Agather points to her Sherman, Texas, roots.
"I have that good ole' Sherman work ethic in me," she says.
"I'm as competitive as any person and I take my job very seriously. But I don't take myself too seriously, which ultimately allows more people in the community to have more fun around me as we get things done."