As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rod Washington. He serves as Dallas regional president for Frost Bank, where he oversees the teams working to build and strengthen business relationships within the Dallas community. Washington joined Frost in 2007 as an executive vice president in charge of its Dallas-area real estate banking group and has more than 35 years of experience in the banking and real estate industries. Born and raised in southern Dallas, Washington serves on the board of directors of Dallas Methodist Hospital Foundation, including its Finance Committee, and the board of the Real Estate Council Community Fund and its Loan Committee, and he’s passionate about being a part of the community in which he lives and works.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Finance in the mid-80s, right before the banking crisis, when the Texas market and economy were strong. My plan was to go into banking for five years or so and then figure out my long-term plan. Clearly, I did, because I’m still in banking today. While I started at a Mercantile Bank, I’ve now been at Frost Bank for 14 years.
Before I joined, Frost was looking for someone to help with the commercial real estate team. I knew of people at Frost and enjoyed working with them previously, so I started to visit with Frost about potentially leading the commercial team real estate team in Dallas. Looking back now, that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made when first starting out was more of a personal mistake than it was business. But I recall going on a business trip to Detroit when my kids where young, and it just so happened that I was scheduled to come back on my son’s birthday. I perfectly planned to land two hours before his party to meet my family there. I arrived at the airport early and was so excited that everything was going as planned. While I was waiting to board the flight home, another banker and I started talking and lost track of time. When I looked up, I realized I had missed my plane home. I learned a valuable lesson that day: you can do all the planning in the world, but you have to execute, too.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The first book that helped me in my career and prompted my interest in learning about organizations, business and how to be an effective leader was In Search of Excellence by Robert H. Waterman and Tom Peters. I’m also a fan of John C. Maxwell and his writings about leadership. I’m currently reading How to Lead by Dave Rubenstein. He interviews a number of leaders in his book, and I really enjoy learning about how others lead their organizations.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your career, what was your vision, your purpose?
Initially, my vision was just to do a good job, show up at work and prove to myself and others that I could be a capable commercial banker. As time went on, I started leading real estate teams, which provided me the opportunity to mentor younger bankers. This really helped me evolve and identify my vision — help others grow and develop.
Now, I continue to serve that purpose by leading groups of commercial bankers and through community involvement in Dallas. I helped Frost Bank establish a presence in the Dallas Real Estate Community with the goal of benefitting businesses and individuals in the entire community. It brings me joy to see our bankers, as well as individuals in the community, identify their own purpose.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes, the number one principle that guides me is: the ups are not as great as you think they are, and the downs are not as bad! Things will always turn around.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The number one personal and family-related challenge I’ve faced during this crisis is the isolation and lack of being with family and friends. My immediate family is spread across the U.S., but fortunately for me, my wife is good at keeping contact with our children and relatives. My family and I try to check in more often than before to stay connected. For example, on Thanksgiving, we all joined a Zoom call to visit each other like we normally would during the holidays.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The primary work-related challenge I’ve faced during this pandemic is distance — and there’s not a perfect alternative for overcoming that, as Frost is first and foremost a people-to-people business. To address this challenge, I began hosting regular check-ins with my colleagues to discuss how people are doing — not only professionally, but also personally. I also check in with customers more frequently, as they’re concerned about the impacts of the pandemic on their financial well-being. Like you said, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, so it’s important to check-in on how people are doing in both their professional and personal lives.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The method I’ve used when supporting my family and loved ones who are feeling anxious is reminding them, as well as myself, that we’ve all faced challenges before, and we’ve overcome them before, too. And while the pandemic is a challenge affecting us all worldwide, I’m optimistic and like to remind everyone that we will overcome this. I have a belief in hope and faith, and I would encourage others to be optimistic, too.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Because many people are tirelessly waiting to get back to normal interactions, I believe there will be an opportunity for industries that are based on gatherings to do well in the Post-COVID economy when it is safe for us to be together again. I believe there will be new restaurants, hotels, entertainment companies and more that will thrive in a Post-COVID economy, as well.
There’s also an opportunity to continue implementing the efficiencies we’ve adopted to have a more balanced business model, such as more restaurants doing take out and increased online sales for retailers. Additionally, businesses that leverage technology and implement what we’ve learned during survival mode will fare well in the Post-COVID world.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
With challenges and uncertainty also comes opportunity. From an operational standpoint, we will be more flexible and efficient. It’s been astounding to see how we’ve continued to operate in this COVID-19 world, from the way we’ve adapted as employees in the service industry to how we’ve continued to service customers.
I also think we’ll see a hybrid work model with more flexible work-from-home scenarios, and a change in the way we use office buildings. However, I believe having an office will be important, as companies need physical office spaces to help build a strong culture. While it’s tough to build a culture remotely, those who are doing well while working remotely built a strong culture prior to the pandemic.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
In order to rebuild and grow Frost Bank in the Post-COVID economy, I plan to be a closer, more intentional resource to my clients. Being available to help them deal with any issues they’re facing — especially small businesses — is a top priority for me. Whether that’s helping them pivot, operate more efficiently or manage through recovery, I plan to be there every step of the way.
I also plan to be a closer resource to my colleagues. Re-establishing those internal relationships and reinforcing our culture and bond is paramount. If we continue to build comradery internally, then we can work together to build relationships externally.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would first encourage others to re-examine their business model in light of COVID-19. Then, re-establish relationships with employees and clients. Finally, think forward and prepare for the next cycle. There will always be some recession or event, so the better prepared you are, the more you can withstand any type of setback.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is the biblical verse, “To whom much is given, much is required.” It reminds and challenges me to make sure I’m being a good steward of the opportunities I’ve been given. And to some respect, pass that along to others where I can.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow Frost Bank at www.frostbank.com to follow the work we’re doing in the community.