Dennis Budinich describes himself as a personal trainer of sorts.
As the chief culture officer at Investors Bancorp in Short Hills, N.J., he runs 12-week courses meant to foster personal and professional growth for employees. On any given week, he might have five different classes going on, sometimes with one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Budinich used to be a consultant and motivational speaker, and the $21 billion-asset Investors had been using his services before bringing him on full time four years ago. The consulting work he did for Investors had to do with its transformation from a savings bank to a commercial bank. He coached employees on how to make that transition, aiming to keep up morale and avoid attrition in the process.
"Somewhere along the way, it was decided, 'Hey, you know what, it would make sense for you to just work here with us to help us solidify this,'" Budinich said. "'When you leave, there's not a champion whose job is to continue to move this.'"
Banking has been getting a bunch of new champions like Budinich in recent years, a trend we explore in this story.
With the emergence of new priorities like culture, data, customer experience, innovation and more, banks are creating new jobs to oversee work on all these fronts, often at the C-suite level.
Budinich said he thinks the "chief" title matters.
"What it does is it puts credibility and importance on that strategy," he said. "So if you want culture to be recognized as one of the key strategies to grow the bank and drive the bank, then you have to identify it. You have to say, 'It's so important to us that we're putting someone in charge of it and we're giving them a level of authority and prestige and support.'"
A lot of brainstorming went into what his title would be at Investors, where he oversees all sorts of training, including compliance training, product training and sales training
As Budinich recalls, the conversation went something like this: "We thought that out and said, 'Well, should we call you the director of training?' Well then the emphasis is on training. 'Should we call you the director of development?' Well then it's the development that's important. Why are you hiring me? 'Well, we want you to build the culture.' Well then it's chief culture officer."
He frequently gets asked at banking conferences what he actually does. He has many answers to that question.
He talks about how he works on team-building — which he refers to as "relational coordination" — to break down silos at the bank. He talks about how he takes all new hires on a surprise field trip to work at a soup kitchen on their third day of on-boarding, to demonstrate that "community" is one of the bank's core values. And he talks about "The Morning Juice" email he sends out to employees at 8:01 a.m. every day, to share an uplifting story along the lines of "Chicken Soup for the Soul." (The "Juice" has grown so popular that 5,000 people outside the bank are now receiving it too.)
"Technically, culture is the way people think," Budinich said. "So my job is to influence the way people think."
In one of his sessions with employees, Budinich holds up a small red ball in one hand and a block in the other, to illustrate a point about how people need to be more flexible in their thinking.
"My presentation is about how we're born like a round ball and we're very mobile. We can move in any direction with just a little bit of a nudge," he said. "But as we grow older, we start to reshape and we start to form these edges. And these edges are the things that limit how we move. These are the beliefs like, 'I thought I could do that and I can't.'"
To help employees visualize the difference, "I'll lay the ball on the table and I'll just tap it with my finger and it moves," Budinich said. "And I'll put that square block on the table and that little tap doesn't move the square block."
He aims to spur people to reshape themselves — to smooth the edges that have built up over time, so that they can create positive momentum, both in business and in life. By doing so, the employees, and ultimately the bank itself, gain a competitive edge, he said.
Budinich admits that such change won't happen overnight. "It's one corner at a time," he said. "You're not going to go from square block to round ball in12 months."
Neither is the banking industry, but it is on its way.