David LePori of Frost Bank: “We always offer a fair deal”

Having a strong management team at the regional and corporate level is imperative. If you don’t have exceptional leadership then you have organic problems. Our management teams really distinguished themselves during the pandemic, and because of the strong leadership, we’re continuously finding ways to work together when the chips are down. As part of my series […]

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Having a strong management team at the regional and corporate level is imperative. If you don’t have exceptional leadership then you have organic problems. Our management teams really distinguished themselves during the pandemic, and because of the strong leadership, we’re continuously finding ways to work together when the chips are down.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David LePori.

David LePori is regional president of Frost Bank’s Houston region, overseeing all aspects of banking operations and is responsible for ensuring Frost Bank’s expansion in the Houston market runs smoothly. David joined Frost Bank in 1997 after working for a community bank and larger regional banks. He was also commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army and continued as a reservist in the Texas Army National Guard, retiring at the rank of colonel in 2011. David attended Texas A&M University, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance. He also graduated from the United States Army War College, earning a master’s degree in strategic studies.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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 Texas A&M University in 1981 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and from the United States Army War College in 2005 with a master’s degree in strategic studies. I was also commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army and continued as a reservist in the Texas Army National Guard, retiring at the rank of colonel in 2011.

During the 90s, I was working at another bank which underwent big organizational changes that led to an unfavorable work culture. Fortunately, Frost Bank had reached out to me, and I knew I needed to make a change. With these changes, I was blessed with the opportunity to grow professionally and develop my skills. Frost’s culture allowed me to continue to enjoy a high degree of success which led to a number of assignments with greater responsibilities.

In 2011, I became theregional president of Frost Bank’s Houston region where I oversee all aspects of banking operations. As regional president, I work toward exceeding growth goals, delivering great customer services and providing an environment that promotes growth opportunities for Frost employees. Currently, my team is also focused on ensuring that Frost Bank’s expansion in the Houston market runs smoothly.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Hard times and banking were synonymous during most of the 1980s, where bank failures and consolidations impacted not only the number of jobs available but also opportunities for professional growth and development. My wife and I were blessed with three daughters, and we chose to move forward on my salary alone. During those years, there were two periods where I was between jobs, so I was forced to consider other career paths. Fortunately, I was in the National Guard which provided opportunities that helped support us during those times. In retrospect, I would say the combination of how my parents raised me, support from my wife, the motivation to care and provide for my family, the many lessons learned from Army training and my innate will to succeed provided me the drive to soldier through hard times and disappointment.

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?

Where do I start given that I have made so many mistakes and none were funny! Mistakes are going to happen, so we as individuals and our organizations must learn from the mistakes, mitigate the impact and not repeat them. Successful organizations must not only train and educate their workforce, but also offer support and supervision that in turn provide safety nets for mistakes that are part of the learning process.

Some of the moments where I experienced interesting adjustments were when I transitioned from military duty to, or back to, the corporate atmosphere. While there were not mistakes per se, throttling back from the high-paced and high-energy operational tempo of the Army to the civilian workplace did require effort. Beyond the tempo alone, you find that everyone around you is fully knowledgeable on the many details surrounding the business activities and opportunities with both customers and prospects that do take a while to process and understand. Reintegrating into the daily flow of the workplace without slowing down the organization was something to which I tried to be very attentive.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I believe our culture at Frost is what delineates us and helps us continuously press the bar to a higher level. We have a great legacy and are known to be dependable and trustworthy corporate citizens. We seek to have our efforts guided by our value proposition:

  1. We treat people significantly — each other, our customers and prospective clients. It all starts with treating people right.
  2. We always offer a fair deal.
  3. We provide safety and soundness. When people look at their personal wealth and finances or try to fund their business and support employees, they are looking for safety and soundness — which we will always provide. Our chairman has developed a theme, stating that our job is to make people’s lives better, and I really think that’s what we’re out to do.

One of the most recent examples of our culture in action was during the pandemic when Frost’s employees stepped up to provide Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans to those in need. In the first round of loans, we provided 19K+ loans for 2.5 billion dollars. With these results, we exceeded expectations of a regional bank, and we did so because we knew our customers needed relief. Today, we are involved with the next round of PPP loan provisions and were recently named a national leader in these efforts. Here at Frost, it’s all about taking care of our customers first.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

From strictly a work standpoint, I feel if one is vested in the culture, understands and shares the organizational vision and has professional relationships with both senior management and employees, then they will remain motivated, not just for personal goals but also team and corporate goals.

From a more personal standpoint, another important way to avoid “burn out” is by prioritizing your physical, mental and emotional health — which are extremely important. I do this by going to the gym frequently, which helps me burn the nervous energy that can accumulate and reset so I can continue to thrive in my industry and organization.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There was not just one person who helped me get to where I am today, but many, which I can divide into two categories. The first category being my formative years. My father, Firmin LePori, Jr., Bob Smith, Noel Byrne and Bob Sale were bankers that provided direction and opportunities that set me on course. The second category is my leadership years, where I would have to credit Dave Beck and Paul Bracher for their patience, guidance and feedback.

The story I would offer dates back to the early 90s when opportunities in Texas banking were very limited. During that period, Bob Smith and Noel Byrne provided me opportunities that were truly game changers for my family and me.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

A good company enjoys a better-than-average corporate climate, moderate employee turnover and average financial performance. I would define a “great” company as one that has well-built employee and customer relationships, a strong culture rooted in core values that connect the employees with management, low employee turnover and a consistently high financial performance. That can look like many things, but right now for Frost, it looks like an organization that has done all it can to make people’s lives better during the pandemic and the energy sector interruption, all while exceeding budget and the expectations associated with the bank’s Houston expansion.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Having a strong management team at the regional and corporate level is imperative. If you don’t have exceptional leadership then you have organic problems. Our management teams really distinguished themselves during the pandemic, and because of the strong leadership, we’re continuously finding ways to work together when the chips are down.
  2. Management must have a strong relationship with their employees. Leaders have to be real and make a serious effort to connect with employees. It can be difficult for management to build and maintain relationships with so many people, but it is possible! We have great staff development programs at Frost, which help foster those internal relationships.
  3. Never stop training and working on your organization’s core values. At Frost Bank, we have a Frost Philosophy class and a Frost Core Values class. Through these courses, we try to understand our personality as an organization, as well as individuals, to better define who we are and build a strong sense of self-awareness.
  4. Always recognize success. When people do something well, it’s important to take time to celebrate those successes. We always try to give credit where it’s due during statewide and employee meetings so that great work is constantly being recognized.
  5. You must have a strategic vision. Every organization needs to have a vision for their future and employees. Once you have a vision, you can use it to lead your decisions and work.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

I believe it all starts with having a vision for your organization. It’s extremely important to have a purpose that pushes everyone to reach their goals. From there, being purpose driven and having a social impact angle is imperative. As an organization, you have to find a way to give back to your community and contribute to their success. The reward in so many ways is the relationships formed and being able to witness the community grow and prosper.

At Frost Bank, we take great pride in being heavily involved with our community. Because many of our banks are in underserved areas, we feel as though we have a responsibility to our community to help make people’s lives better. And through our Houston expansion, we’ve been very cautious to make sure we have a presence in all parts of our community so that people have access to job opportunities and the various programs we offer on topics such as financial literacy.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Growth is a function of the market segment, taking market share from competitors or both. If growth has ceased due to internal reasons, the cause could range from cultural issues to a stale business model. The best advice I could give is to maintain a study on your business and industry, focused on innovation and the transitioning behavior of your customers. Further, make sure your employees feel appreciated and significant.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

I believe it all goes back to having a strong culture, and one that inspires employees to do their best and go above and beyond for their customers. When employees feel personally connected to the culture, they’re more likely to forge ahead during turbulent times — which is why I have to give credit to our employees. As an essential business, we had to quickly pivot and equip our teams with the information and resources they needed to work remotely. We also had to heavily rely on the relationships we built with our customers to help us understand the details of the factors impacting our clients and the ways our business needed to adapt to serve them. Throughout the pandemic, our employees have gone above and beyond to meet the challenges of COVID-19 with confidence and initiative, finding unique ways to overcome unexpected and significant obstacles.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

I would say that training and staff development are often underestimated. Certainly, every business must train their new employees, but as businesses grow and owners find themselves managing multiple major functions, they’re often slow to develop and empower employees. However, if you take the time to do this and allow your employees to reach their full potential, your organization will benefit — which is why we feel so strongly about treating people significantly at Frost.

An example is a recent customer who was doing things right. He had taken the time to mentally evolve as an entrepreneur and understand where he could apply his talents, as well as the value of providing people the opportunity they need to grow — which is so important when it comes to running a company.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

No doubt a part of Frost’s mission statement is to “grow and prosper.” Our bankers’ tasks fall into two groups; relationship management and business development, and our growth comes from both. While we do monitor our “look to book” ratio, we do so to identify coaching opportunities for professional development. At Frost, our goal is not to sell a product, but rather to establish a relationship with our customers, understand the challenges they have and identify solutions. Training and developing our bankers to provide solutions by becoming trusted advisors is our goal, which yields the new business that provides the growth we seek.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

I believe it all comes down to the customer relationships you establish and maintain. Like I said previously, at Frost, our goal is not to sell a product, but rather establish relationships with our customers, understand their challenges and provide solutions. This only deepened our customers’ trust, and we saw this a thousand times last year amidst COVID when our customers and prospects were facing unprecedented challenges. Our employees worked hard every day to do the right thing for our customers, and in turn, they talked about us. This polished our brand for our customers and made our brand stand out for prospects.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

There is nothing magic about being honest, dependable and caring — which is what we believe to be the key to a “wow” customer experience. This starts with employee development and is continued through strong supervisors who are available to help those in need of guidance, and in turn, empower others to help their customers.

As an organization, you must be willing to stop everything you’re doing to take care of customer needs. These are the basics that you have to get right every day, as well as practice to avoid degradation.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

If you’re not on social media, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity as an organization. It’s a powerful way to reach customers and prospects at their convenience. Through our social media, we do more responding to customers than we do sending messaging to them via social media. It’s a great intelligence-gathering source because you get an unfiltered view of what people are thinking. The benefits often outweigh the risks when it’s used properly. However, while a useful tool, social media can also be a minefield. It’s important to remain disciplined and careful of potential reputational risks and think through them at length. While some might jump to external reputation risks, it’s also important for us at Frost to educate our employees that what they say and do when not at the bank still reflects on our reputation.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I have great respect for the boldness of an entrepreneur embarking upon making a concept into a successful enterprise. Startups are inherently challenging under the best of circumstances. Most often they are undercapitalized, and in many cases, the business plan is a bit optimistic. My advice would be to fully vet all aspects of the business model and forecasts with subject matter experts, as well as to not over rely on the debt component of the capital structure.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Treat people with dignity and respect and follow The Golden Rule.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Readers can follow our work at frostbank.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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