Real Success with Nate Kaeding: Chip Reeves, CEO of MidWestOne Bank

Real Success - Chip Reeves 3 - Edited (1)
Chip Reeves talks to Nate Kaeding on the Real Success podcast. CREDIT LAS GROUP

Chip Reeves is the newly appointed CEO of MidWestOne Bank, the largest headquartered bank in Iowa and official sponsor of this podcast.

Chip shares with me what it was like to pick up his life and move from Florida to Iowa in the middle of winter, how he sees the future of technology impacting the future of the banking industry, and how his athletic background has influenced his approach to teamwork in business. Chip also explores why it’s so important for banks to be supportive assets to their communities, how he believes a leader’s success is measured by the success of others, and Chip pulls back the curtain on banking and shares some insight for the next generation of professionals.

Sponsored by MidWestOne Bank, this is the latest edition of the CBJ’s new podcast feature with Nate Kaeding and notable Iowa business and cultural leaders, available first to CBJ members. Listen to this episode below, and subscribe on SpotifyiTunesGoogle PlayStitcher.

NK: You’re one of the newest CEOs here in the Corridor. What was the most exciting thing for you about this opportunity at MidWestOne Bank?

CR: Over the last 22 years, Charlie Funk built MidWestOne to be the largest headquartered bank in the state of Iowa. You look at it and say, “Wow, we have some great markets from the Corridor here and over to Des Moines, and then MidWestOne banks also in the Twin Cities, and we have just outstanding people and a great culture,” and you go, “I want to be a part of that.” 

I grew up in Cincinnati and my wife is from Chicago, so this is a kind of a return to Midwestern roots and values, and by the way, I’m a huge Hawkeye fan, so this works pretty darn well.

You have a son in eighth grade. Looking back on yourself when you were in eighth grade, what were your passions? What were your pursuits?

I was passionate about both business and athletics at the time, and I think it’s an incredible mix in terms of what you learn on the athletic field and how it translates into entrepreneurialism. Back then, I ended up playing basketball at a place called Miami, Ohio. I was 6’6” in eighth grade. I was almost fully grown in eighth grade.

The worst year that we had from a record standpoint is when we had the most talent because, from a teamwork perspective, we weren’t all on the same page, and our least talented squad probably had the best record because we were all rowing in the same direction. So teamwork was number one. 

But then there’s competitiveness. The ability to actually get hit in the head with a billy club and get back up and go after it all over again. That resiliency that I think athletics teaches is powerful in the future.

Where did you land after college?

I wasn’t as fortunate to professional like yourself. For me, it was going to Luxembourg in the lowest-rated European League for $1,000 a month, a studio apartment, and a Vespa. But, for some unknown reason, I said no because I had a job offer from Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fifth Third today is billions of dollars in size across the Midwest and Southeast. I joined Fifth Third and spent 23 years there during my formative years in the industry.

What was it about banking that worked for you, and why did you stay with Fifth Third for all those years?

For me, Fifth Third was one of the first banking organizations that really began to marry the two sides of banking. It wasn’t just “sit behind a desk.” You had better go out and become a salesperson and an advisor, and speak to the client base. So that matched my personality and profile. 

Fifth Third did an outstanding job of leadership development. They moved you every couple of years to either a different department or a new city, and I learned so much from that.

Was there a role in particular that stood out to you?

I ended up being on the commercial banking side of the house for the most part. I was all the way in southwest Florida at the time with Fifth Third and had an opportunity to move to Chicago and run some of the various departments there. That decision to go ahead and move back to Chicago, my wife’s hometown, where Fifth Third had just made an acquisition, was really the accelerator to my career. 

What was your first leadership position like within the bank?

The first time I was leading groups was actually down in Florida with the organization when I was all of 27 or 28 years old. I think that’s when I began to learn that leadership is far less about you as an individual and far more about the success of everybody else on your team, and I learned more about servant leadership. There are plenty of times where you have to carry the flag and charge up the hill but, in essence, it’s “how do you help everyone else get to the promised land?”

Did you always want to be a CEO, or did you have different goals?

It was absolutely a goal. I’m a goal-oriented individual. Leading an organization had always been a goal of mine. I will tell you, especially from the Chicago time frame, you wake up and five years later, you’ve gone to three different departments and you’re succeeding each time. The next thing I knew, I was president for Fifth Third Bank in Chicago, and I can’t say that one was absolutely planned.

Take us back to a year ago when you were first introduced to this opportunity here at MidWestOne and what went into that decision.

So, we were in Florida at the time. I was CEO of an institution that was smaller than MidWestOne, but highly entrepreneurial and focused on commercial banking. I had been there for four or five years. We were able to restructure the organization, turn it around, begin to see some growth, and then we ultimately received that proverbial offer that was too good to refuse. For our shareholders, it was the right decision to sell the institution. So, at that point, I was working with the new organization.

Charlie Funk and I had actually spent some time two or three years ago on a phone call. We have some similarities in background. Charlie played basketball as well and we’re both sports junkies. We hit it off. It wasn’t the right timing for either of us a couple of years ago, but he made a phone call back when he announced his intention to retire in February or March of 2022. I was very intrigued at the time. 

What also helped was being able to spend some time with other MidWestOne board members, getting to know the community, and gaining an understanding of the compelling markets that we’re in. Plus, there’s a family piece to it — returning to the Midwest and, for my wife, a return to all of her family still in Chicago. It just made a lot of sense for us. 

What are some of the things that jump out to you about this area now that you’ve been here for a bit?

I look at the Corridor now and I don’t think I, as an observer or visitor, appreciated the vibrancy of this Corridor. You don’t tend to think of high growth entrepreneurialism in Iowa, but this Corridor has it and has it in spades. It’s obviously driven by the university and the health care systems, and then that brings some spinoffs and entrepreneurs. We’re starting to get the ecosystem of entrepreneurialism. There’s more to be done, but it’s actually happening. We just announced that we’re opening up a Cedar Rapids office. MidWestOne had not been in Cedar Rapids previously. I’m excited about that marketplace as well.

If there was something that you think most people should know about banking, what would that be?

I think banking is such a noble profession. I don’t know if anyone grows up and says, “Oh my gosh, I want to be a banker.” But for all those young individuals who might be listening to this, you really should. When you think about what we do within the communities and for the individuals or the small businesses, or even when we provide a mortgage for somebody’s first home. That’s powerful connectivity in the community. Our team does it every single day.

The importance of community banks was never more apparent than during COVID-19. You heard some horror stories of folks trying to call some of the more nationwide, corporate banks about PPP loans and you get stuck. “Hey, you’re in the queue. You’re number 58, Johnny.” But if you know that person … you go to church with them. They’re your neighbor. They’re your community banker. They’re picking up the phone. They’re helping you when you need it the most.

How are you approaching leadership coming into this role and a company culture that was so established by Charlie?

Well, that’s a great question. I spend a heck of a lot of time in these first hundred days listening and really beginning to understand the organization. I believe, before individuals will trust you (which means they will then follow you), they need to know who you are and what you stand for. So my messaging around the institution to date is not necessarily “Here’s all the things we are going to do.” It is listening. My question-to-statement ratio should be pretty high.

From there, once you establish the trust, then we begin to put together the strategic plan. MidWestOne has done such an outstanding job to get to where we are, but this industry is changing every single day and every single year we’ll need to continue to evolve. But the first thing to do is to understand the organization and to build trust in the organization.

If you were to fast-forward to 2033, how will the banking industry change the most over the next 10 years?

My children don’t even know how to write a check and they think Venmo is a bank. So it truly ends up being “How does technology continue to either affect or improve our industry as a whole?” So being in front of the curve is where we spend a lot of time now.

How do you approach technology in an institution like this?

We just hired a Chief of Digital Innovation. That individual’s charge is to look at technology a few different ways to improve our own processes, convenience, and ease of use. What can get done with AI (Artificial Intelligence)? What manual processes ultimately can be improved upon by technology? Then we have the customer experience and all of the external facing pieces. Nate, your kids will never set foot in a branch. The bank is their phone. So all of our mobile applications, online applications, chats, even investment advice – all of those pieces need to be transferred for a seamless customer experience. We still have to have great bankers at the same time, but anything that has been more transaction-oriented is gone.

How will you measure success over the next 10 years?

There’s this proverb that I’ve taken to heart probably 15 or 20 years ago when I was in Chicago. Vision without action is essentially a daydream, right? Then, if you have action but no vision, it’s a nightmare. So we’re looking out over a 10-year time frame and saying, “Here’s where we desire MidWestOne to be,” but then working backward and going literally into a three-year strategic action plan, including all the steps underneath that in order to achieve those milestones every single year. That ultimately gets you to the vision.

So when people see you outside of the bank, what will they find you doing?

I still try to play a little bit of hoops. So we’re going to be at the Iowa Field House. I have four children, and three are older. They’re 26, 24, and 23. But then we took 10 years off and had a caboose child who’s 13, and the only thing that this 13-year-old wants to do is beat his father in one-on-one. So I have to try to stay in shape. I have to keep a ball in my hand, and I swear he’s not going to get me until he is at least in high school. Then, outside of that, believe it or not, I’m a little bit of a history buff. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> probably around the Civil War and World War I and II. 

If you were to define real success in one sentence, what would it be?

The enduring impact that I can have on other individuals in the community that I live in.