The following article by Commerce Bank president and CEO Luke Yaeger was featured in the March/April 2019 edition of
Hoosier Banker Magazine.
If there is one word that can describe community banking, it probably would be “dynamic.” As with any small business, job No. 1 for a community banker is “duties as may be assigned from time to time.” That may include taking out the trash or helping an elderly client park a vehicle.
Additionally, an important part of my job as president and CEO of Commerce Bank is to ensure a mutual understanding among all levels of our team. Every rung of our constituency groups – from shareholders, to board members, to associates, to the community as a whole – needs to hear consistent messaging and understand where we are on the roadmap.
My entry into banking came 17 years ago, following small business experience while studying at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. After some work during college framing houses and other construction duties, I had the chance to co-own a landscaping business with a fraternity brother.
What we learned as small business owners was that we could differentiate ourselves through simple steps. We made it a point to be cheerful, to communicate clearly, and to leave each client’s yard spotless. These small things helped make us stand out, and I’ve always remembered that lesson.
Later, as I was preparing to graduate from college, some other fraternity brothers who had started a local bank – which later sold to Old National Bank – suggested that I go into commercial banking. So I entered into banking, wanting to learn about other businesses and the technical side of putting a deal together.
I was looking for an opportunity to be entrepreneurial, and that opportunity came about when Tom Austerman, now chairman of the board of Commerce Bank, called me to say he was starting a bank in Evansville. That’s the happenstance of how I found a home in banking.
I view this industry as a service calling, which is very important to me. My father, grandfather and uncle were all in the U.S. Army and highly service-driven. I also am aware of and appreciate the sacrifice of current servicemen and women, who lace up their boots every day for the benefit of others.
Frankly, when I was first deciding on a career, I felt a certain level of inferiority relative to those serving in the military. It wasn’t until I talked with a mentor, who was in the banking business, that I began to look at the industry through a different lens.
I refocused my perspective and came to see that banking plays an important part of our country’s success. It provides the tools for folks to realize their dreams of sending their kids to college, or starting a business from scratch, or living out their golden years in happy retirement.
One of the things that I enjoy about banking is that it is a people business with a strong community focus. The notion that a rising tide lifts all ships may be more appropriate to banking than any other occupation. We have a responsibility to be involved in our communities.
At Commerce Bank, we’re fortunate that most of our associates find ways to get involved in community endeavors that tug at their heartstrings. For me, I’ve enjoyed my involvement with a variety of organizations, including the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Evansville, Junior Achievement of Southwest Indiana, and Tudela Futbol Club in Evansville.
I also am involved with the Indiana Bankers Association, including its Future Leadership Division. My interest with the IBA stems primarily from the advocacy perspective, because public policy has always been intriguing to me.
The IBA has been a helpful conduit, exposing me and others to priorities that are elevating around us, be they at the local, state or federal levels. The business of banking is all about relationships, and the IBA has given me the opportunity to get to know policymakers and banking peers who share an interest in advocacy.
Another area of community involvement is showing the next generation what it’s like to be in a professional career setting. There is a bit of a mystique toward what we as bankers do all day, every day, so my associates and I go out into the community to talk with young people. We challenge them to think about reaching for a higher calling, over and above earning a paycheck. Banking is a field where you can do both – earn a living and take care of your community.
In addition to finding my calling through banking, I am blessed with a wonderful home life. My wife Emily and I are parents to two girls, ages 9 and 11, who demonstrate unique talents of their own. Our oldest daughter is a ballet dancer, drawn to creativity and the arts, and our youngest is an avid soccer player … who also swings a golf club pretty well!
Emily, too, is very active in the community, especially through the YMCA. She has a background in retail and some banking, but after the girls came along, she reset her priorities and has turned her talents to professional photography.
There’s rarely a dull moment in our household, and the same holds true for banking. Thank you for the opportunity to serve on the IBA board of directors, and I also would like to thank the board of Commerce Bank for their support. I look forward to learning and growing from this new experience with the IBA, and getting to know more of my banking peers across Indiana.