David Findlay didn’t set out to become a banker.
After earning a degree in history from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp. hired Findlay as a commercial banker in the mid-1980s. He didn’t take accounting or finance courses in college, and says that he struggled through the company’s training program. At his 90-day review, he was put on probation. Findlay persevered, he adds, because “Northern, where I spent the first 11 years of my career, was an organization much like ours that says, ‘We’re here to help people succeed.’”
Findlay’s gone far since those early struggles: Today, he leads $6 billion Lakeland Financial Corp., in Warsaw, Indiana. Year after year, it’s one of the most successful banks in the country, according to Bank Director’s RankingBanking analysis, consistently ranking among the top 25 public banks in the U.S.
The reflections on his 38-year career — including his years at Northern Trust — inform a leadership course he teaches at Lake City University, a training program for the company’s subsidiary, Lake City Bank. Any employee can take the class — or any of the classes taught by Lakeland’s executives and leaders. On average, employees participate in these in-person training classes five or six times annually.
Focusing on his past can be a humbling experience, he says. “Teaching this course helps keep me grounded, to remind me of the challenges that I’ve had during my career,” says Findlay. “It’s sharing our own personal successes and failures — and the failures [are] as important as anything to show that you can work through them and have a career path that you can be proud of when it’s all said and done.”
If that sounds hands-on, that’s just an indicator of Findlay’s leadership style. In previous reporting, executives described him to me as a CEO that values direct connection with the bank’s employees and clients. He’s also developed a flat organizational hierarchy where decisions aren’t concentrated in one individual. Put simply, he trusts his bankers.
“An organization that places too much emphasis on one decision maker or a small group of decision makers, I think finds it very hard to move forward and be as progressive as an organization as you need to be. People think of banking as a pretty slow-moving, boring business. But it’s a pretty dynamic business,” he explains. “We love to tell our investors that we’re an execution-oriented organization. … We gather information, we assess the circumstances, we make decisions, and then we go, and obviously that’s contributed some long-term, consistent success for the bank.”
In this edition of The Slant podcast, Findlay also shares his views on how commercial banking has evolved, the impact of technology on relationship building, whether it’s harder to be a CEO in today’s environment and his views on the year ahead. He’s looking for a return to normal, he says. Lake City Bank doesn’t rely on M&A to grow; it focuses on growing its customer base and taking market share from competitors. That slowed in the pandemic.
“We lost that momentum of market share take,” Findlay explains. But he expects business development to pick up. “[It’s what] I’m looking forward to the most; that’s the idea that we are back out calling on our prospects, developing those opportunities.”
In late January 2023, Findlay will participate in a panel discussion at Bank Director’s Acquire or Be Acquired conference that shares perspectives from the leaders of three top performing banks in the RankingBanking study.
This episode, and all past episodes of The Slant Podcast, are available on Bank Director.com, Spotify and Apple Music.