I'm still, mercifully, a couple years away from my next milestone birthday, but my husband recently celebrated one. (It ended with a zero, and "celebrated" probably isn't the right word based on his feelings about the whole thing.) In my aim to help him see the bright side, I've been thinking a lot about the upside of aging. It's probably different for everyone, but what I told him is that for me, the best thing about getting older is that I'm far less prone to seeing things in simple black and white. I've learned not only to see, but to appreciate, the grays.
In other words, it feels as though I'm gradually replacing my capacity for being judgmental with a capacity for actually showing good judgment.
Judgment: the formation of an opinion after consideration or deliberation. This is what's missing from so much of our national discourse today. Oh, we're really good at the part about forming opinions. But the consideration and deliberation part, not so much. (See: partisan politics, cable television news and the corrosive propensity of commentators, be they paid professionals or anonymous Internet trolls, to spout vitriolic, unreasoned opinions just for the sake of being inflammatory.)
So imagine my recent surprise at a debate I attended on whether the big banks should be broken up. For all of the passion on both sides, the debaters constructed substantive arguments and clearly were listening to their opponents, asking smart questions of one another and answering them point by point. Most remarkable of all, the audience-a classic mÃ©lange of New Yorkers, some with a direct stake in the topic of debate but many more who were just there to listen-was attentive throughout. It was an educated audience, to be sure, which no doubt accounted for the level of engagement. But it also must be noted that this was an older crowd-from my perch in the balcony I saw lots of white hair. And I can't help but think this is why the outcome of the debate wasn't as cut-and-dried as one might suspect. (My full report is here.)
With all this as backdrop, I welcome you to our issue highlighting the Best in Banking for 2013, including our picks for Banker of the Year, Community Bankers of the Year (Home Bancshares' Johnny Allison, Signature Bank's Joseph DePaolo and Heritage Oaks' Simone Lagomarsino), Lifetime Achievement Honoree and Top Innovators. Selections are made by American Banker editors, following several rounds of careful deliberations and consensus-building.
I want to be clear about what Best in Banking means to us. It is a recognition of best practices and the people who have implemented them; it is not a pedestal for hero worship. And that is why our Banker of the Year profile takes such a balanced look at the work of our 2013 honoree, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf.
We know that there are housing activists, consumer advocates and even state attorneys general who are unhappy with Wells for its role in the mortgage morass. But the bank also is an undeniable success story, having solidified its strength this year in the eastern half of the country-still relatively new territory for the Wells brand-with results that most any bank would envy.
Noting Stumpf's earnestness and his shrewdness, his fat pay and his extreme cost consciousness, writer Maria Aspan smartly observes that Stumpf is "the walking embodiment of all the contradictions inherent in Wells Fargo's recent success." Her story offers a critical look at an important industry figure. It explains the strategy and philosophy behind Stumpf's biggest wins, and examines the objections of his biggest critics.
It is an article that acknowledges the grays, which exist in everyone's story.
Editor in Chief