It only took a few minutes into the job interview for Corey Krusa to realize that Amarillo National Bank was not like other workplaces.
One of the first questions Richard Ware, the bank's chairman and president, asked wasn't about her references or past job experience. Instead, Ware wanted to know what she dressed as for Halloween last year.
It turns out Halloween is Ware's favorite holiday and the Amarillo, Texas, bank goes all out to celebrate it every year, with employees not only dressing up, but putting on skits. Children are invited — even encouraged — to trick-or-treat at the branches.
Amarillo National is "the antithesis of average," said Krusa, who is the senior vice president of personnel there.
She attributes its "very unique corporate culture" to the Ware family, which has owned the bank since it was founded in 1892 and now has a fifth generation of family members working there. "The Wares take our customers and their money very seriously, but not themselves," she said.
One quirky difference at the $3.7 billion-asset Amarillo National — which might even make it unique in all of banking — is that nobody has a "chief" title. Even Ware forgoes the "chief executive" one.
Krusa said Ware enjoys a good laugh about it when asked. "In a family business, titles don't matter anyway," Ware tells people. "We all just work together."
The bank is a new addition to the annual Best Banks to Work For list this year, debuting at No. 12 overall and No. 3 among banks with assets of $3 billion to $10 billion.
It began fostering a relaxed, fun atmosphere more than 20 years ago, after Ware met Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines. Kelleher is well known for encouraging employees to inject fun into their work, such as by singing in-flight announcements to the tune of popular theme songs.
The two men talked about corporate culture, and Ware decided the bank needed a full-time person devoted to promoting fun. Since then it has had a "director of celebrations," who is responsible for planning about a dozen bankwide events a year in addition to handling charitable giving.
The Ware family also is fervently anti-bureaucracy. Memos have to be less than a page long and meetings can't run over 30 minutes. Krusa recalls times when Ware's father, Tol, who continued to work at the bank until he was 94, would abruptly stand up and leave the room if a meeting had gone on too long.
"Richard says a desk is a dangerous place to see the world," said Krusa, who at first tried to get around the one-page memo rule by extending the margins until Ware called her on it. "He wants everyone to be making calls and going out into the community."
Ware said the lack of bureaucracy helps Amarillo National distinguish itself. He sees it as a tangible way to reinforce with customers that the bank is a local institution serving the community, unlike other players that have entered the market through acquisitions.
Another way it does so is with charitable giving. Employee benefits include the bank donating $100 on behalf of every employee to a charity of their choosing.
Employees also have free access to two indoor gyms and one outdoor workout space, which the bank operates at a few of its Amarillo locations. One of the gyms has a full-time staff, offers 30 different classes, and boasts a swimming pool and a steam room.
Although such benefits can be costly — the fitness facilities and a wellness program cost about $1 million a year — Ware said his family is glad to pay. Not only do some of the perks help reduce health costs for the self-insured institution, but the family prioritizes reinvesting back into the bank over anything else, he said.
Ware, who had dreamed of being part of Amarillo National since he was an 8-year-old boy setting up a bank in his parent's basement, said he believes that treating employees like family translates into happy employees and better customer service. He points to the bank's dominant market share — it has more than 60% of the deposits in its hometown, according to FDIC data — as proof that the business philosophy works.
"We are the luckiest people in the world to have a job that is so great and to be around people that are so much fun," Ware said.