Get to Know 2022-2023 VBA Chairman Chris Bergstrom
John Marshall Bank President & CEO

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You were installed as chairman during our Annual Convention in June. Tell us why the role of VBA chairman is meaningful to you.

The VBA Chairman is able to participate and have a bird’s eye view on nearly all of the association’s activities, including board and executive committee discussions, management services, benefits, government and member relations, education and training, and of course audit. The level of engagement from numerous participating Virginia bankers is extraordinary and impactful. You really get an appreciation for all the meaningful benefits the VBA has to offer its members. I am amazed how the association’s small, dedicated and mighty staff is able to provide the breadth and depth of high-quality member benefits and services. It’s an honor to be selected as VBA Chairman.

What specific traits or skills have you obtained from your 40-year banking career and community involvement that you deem as necessary and influential in your current role at John Marshall Bank and also as VBA chairman?

It’s somewhat cliche to say you have seen it all over 40 years. The pandemic reminded me that you will never see it all and lifetime learning is more important than ever. However, experiences over 40 years do provide benefits, insight and are helpful in business and life. Having a strong team is critical. The investments you make in communication, coaching and mentoring with any team have a multiplier return. Listening, understanding that you don’t know it all and learning how to navigate the diverse backgrounds, wants, needs and aspirations of people are necessary traits or skills in my current role at John Marshall Bank and the VBA. Finally, if you never reach for the stars, you can never touch them.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Investing in yourself and relationships are critical. How many people could explain block chain technology two or three years ago…or, perhaps, even now? While no one can know everything about everything, pick your spots to keep learning. It’s important to take care of yourself mentally and physically. I believe that maintaining reasonably good physical health helps with mental health. Continually investing in your personal and business relationships is important. These relationships often merge at some point. A good friend of mine said the three keys to happiness are as follows: having people and/or something you love; having something to do; and having something to look forward to. Relationships can factor into all of these keys to happiness.

How has a career challenge or obstacle set you up for later success? What were some key leadership lessons to emerge from this experience?

The first half of my career centered on lending, business development and sales management. In 2005, I reluctantly agreed to become the interim chief credit officer at my bank while maintaining my existing responsibilities, despite the conflicts. The expansion of my responsibilities continued after 2005 as I assumed responsibility for all of risk management for the company, the bank’s $5 billion mortgage company and our $3 billion wealth group. Eight years later, I was able to transition out of this interim chief credit officer position. Shortly thereafter, I became the company’s president and CEO. Getting out of my comfort zone and accepting the interim chief credit officer position significantly broadened my skills and experiences and positioned me for increasing responsibilities. It all worked out OK.

When you think about the future of the banking industry, what keeps you up at night and what makes you hopeful?

Providing “world class customer service” previously provided a competitive advantage for banks. Today, it’s a prerequisite for staying in business. As we all know, banking is a mature consolidating industry. However, fintech companies have reinvented the financial services industry. Banks must continue to be receptive to new business models, change and evolve to thrive. The industry’s role as economic first responders during the pandemic reinforced the criticality of banks and provided a firm rebuttal for those who may consider banking a commodity.

In this world of constant change, communication and connectivity, in what ways do you view the VBA as an indispensable resource for both yourself and John Marshall Bank?

There are so many examples of how the VBA provides indispensable resources. Navigating through the pandemic without the services and support provided by the VBA would have been tough. I view the VBA as the primary resource for almost everything about banking. If they don’t know the answer or have a solution, they will find it and get back to you.

What is something about you that would surprise our readers?

A nun, Sister Mary Evangelist, signed my birth certificate. So, I have that going for me which is nice! Since Georgetown Hospital is now owned by MedStar, I don’t think that happens anymore. Also, I was the only 1978 graduate from Garfield High School that went to James Madison University. There were approximately 700 in my graduating high school class. Fortunately, the requirements for admission into JMU were much different in 1978 than they are today. Times have changed.

My Media Mix (this is what you’re currently listening to, watching and reading):

Music: I have two playlists in my iTunes library. One is called “Dad’s Playlist” and the other is called “Country Playlist”. Both playlists have approximately 1,000 songs each. The artists on “Dad’s Playlist” are all over the place from Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Van Morrison, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cream, Tom Petty and Incubus to Al Green, Roy Orbison, Nat King Cole and Stevie Ray Vaughn and everything in between. The artists on the “Country Playlist” are, shockingly, country artists. These artists range from George Strait and Glen Campbell to Brantley Gilbert and Eric Church.

TV: I like to watch sports on TV including all the Washington D.C. professional sports teams. I just started watching season six of Peaky Blinders on Netflix. I’m looking forward to season three of Ted Lasso on Apple TV and season five of Yellowstone on Paramount.

Books: I thought Think Again by Adam Grant was a particularly good new book with business and personal applicability.