Get to Know the 2024 Washington Summit EBL Scholarship Recipients

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Why did you decide to attend the Washington Summit on behalf of the VBA Emerging Bank Leaders?

JT: I decided to attend the Washington Summit for multiple reasons.  I feel the most important reason is to understand how politics truly plays into the banking industry.  I have been in the industry for almost 15 years and have never had an opportunity to be around so many like-minded professionals, who all had a common interest in fighting for our banks and speaking for our communities.  Without this opportunity, I may not have fully understood the impact of what lobbying truly meant.

Ahmad: I decided to attend the Washington Summit to expand my horizons on the influential organizations that impact banking. I was able to get a deep dive into the motivations and goals of politicians when addressing matters in the banking space. I graduated with a degree in finance from Shippensburg University, so my education in Politics has not been extensive, and the Summit put things in better perspective. Being able to surround myself with like-minded individuals who want to improve the wellbeing of the community was incredibly fulfilling and I am already looking forward to next year!

Zach: I decided to attend the Washington Summit to better my understanding of the impact that our policymakers have on the banking industry, which directly impacts the communities around us. In addition, throughout my future banking tenure, I intend to engage in meaningful dialogue that will bring about positive change and ensure a fair playing field between banks and credit unions. Advocacy events like the Summit provide you with the necessary exposure and resources to better your banking “toolbox”. 

Blake: I graduated from Longwood University as a political science major. Politics has always interested me. I’ve had the opportunity to attend Banker Day in Richmond for the past two years, which is my favorite event of the year. The Washington Summit has always been intriguing because it’s Banker Day on a federal level.

You were all first-time Washington Summit attendees. What was your favorite moment from the experience?

JT: My favorite moment was the panel discussion with the different bank CEOs from around the country.  It was interesting to hear their perspectives on the issues that our industry faces daily.  Even more interesting from a leadership perspective was that each of those CEOs had their own style and way of doing certain things.  That served as a reminder that all leaders don’t have to look alike, sound alike, or even have the same views.

Ahmad: My favorite moment had to be listening to the motivational speakers - their speeches were very impactful and stuck with me long after the Summit came to a close. I know that if they can overcome their challenges, I can overcome any obstacles that come my way.

Zach: I would say the opportunity to network was my favorite part of the Summit. Having the ability to connect with bankers from across the United States who represent diverse backgrounds led to the ability to exchange ideas and forge meaningful relationships. When collaborating with one another, you begin to witness the passion and drive to shape the banking industry and foster innovative ideas.

Blake: Making new connections with emerging leaders and creating new peer relationships was an absolute highlight.

As a part of the event, you also attended the Emerging Leaders Forum. What were one or two of your top takeaways from the sessions, which included The Language of Leadership, Engaging Policymakers Where It Matters, and Putting Leadership Theory into Practice?

JT: I would have to say that one of my takeaways has to be from listening to Brent Beardall.  Often, as emerging leaders, we feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to complete all the tasks we envision ourselves completing.  Listening to Brent’s story, and the way he views life/business after his encounter was refreshing.  Also, as simple as it sounds, he talked about simply doing the right thing.  He gave one example of his bank giving provisional credit to someone who had some potential fraud on their account.  As a leader, sometimes doing the right thing is as simple as that.

Ahmad: My top takeaway was that you have to take responsibility for your reactions to what life throws at you. Scott Mann spoke on his experiences as a Green Beret. When things seemed absolutely hopeless for people on his team, instead of surrendering, he fought tooth and nail to get his teammates to safety. If he can have a strong mindset when lives are on the line, I know we as bankers can do what is hard when we are performing our own tasks.

Zach: During the Emerging Leaders Forum, we heard from the CEO of WaFd, Brent Beardall. During this time, he shared his gut-retching story of when he was involved in a plane crash with a very close friend who passed away. He shared that he is the luckiest guy in the world and embodies such a positive outlook on life. Our time here on earth is continuously dwindling and is a reminder to infuse every moment with kindness and meaningful work. In doing so you will leave a long-lasting impact that will echo long after we are gone. Cherish each moment of life and seize every opportunity to bring a smile to the people around you.

Blake: One of my favorite sessions from the Emerging Leaders Forum was The Science of Optimizing Productivity and Performance. During this session, I realized that I have so much technological hygiene to clean up. Dr. Sahar Yousef reminded us to not let the default settings of our technology define us. She encouraged all of us to create settings that work for us and our needs.

You are all members of the Emerging Bank Leaders, a VBA group in which members are encouraged to participate in advocacy events and initiatives. What are the benefits of being a part of that group, or more generally, of being involved with the VBA?

JT: This is the second event that I have attended on behalf of my bank, and EBL. I would like to increase my engagement with the EBL because the events that I have attended so far, have been great.  I still tell people about the Leadership Conference that I attended this past fall because it had such a great impact on my leadership skills.

Ahmad: I’d say the primary benefit is being able to connect with people who have a similar career path and grow professionally by being able to bounce ideas around and share experiences. The members of the VBA are a very enthusiastic, upbeat group of people and it is always an uplifting, and insightful experience when we meet as a group.

Zach: Being a member of the EBL is invaluable. Over the past two years, I have attended the Leadership Conference and more recently joined the EBL steering committee and became Regional Director of the Central/Southside region. Through the EBL you can network with peers and industry experts, which fosters valuable relationships and boosts collaboration. In addition, you are provided resources that enhance your personal leadership skills and the ability to share insight that fosters continuous growth in our industry. The entire VBA staff is extremely welcoming and embodies advocacy throughout our state.

Blake: Over the past six months or so, I have increased my engagement with the VBA, and have not regretted it one bit. In the fall of 2023, I completed the VBA Management Development Program, which was fantastic. I recently joined the EBL Steering Committee, and through this group, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some incredible emerging leaders in the Virginia banking industry. But most importantly, the VBA has allowed my voice to be heard as a banker and a Virginian by our state and federal lawmakers

What would you say to someone who is considering attending an advocacy event, such as the Summit, in the future?

JT: Very simple…GO!

Ahmad: Don’t hesitate! Jump on the opportunity, it will completely reframe your mindset.

Zach: Take the leap and GO. Events like the Washington Summit provide an opportunity to amplify your voice on important topics and connect with like-minded professionals.

Blake: Do it! Don’t be nervous - there will always be someone in the room willing to speak, and even if you are quiet, your presence still matters.

Lightning Round: 

What is a productivity tip that improved your work life?

JT: Putting my phone up for the first hour of the day in the office.

Ahmad: Work for one hour with zero distractions and give myself a 5-minute break, then repeat throughout the day.

Zach: Maintaining a task sheet for each day to ensure I remain on target.

Blake: Color-coding my Outlook calendar to emphasize the most important tasks for my day.

If you had a time machine, would you go back in time or into the future? Why?

JT: I would go back in time, with today’s knowledge.  I guess that’s a cheat code, but some may call it innovative.

Ahmad: I would go back in time to benefit myself and others with present-day knowledge.

Zach: I would travel into the future since the past is known, and the knowledge of the future could shape our present for the better.

Blake: Back in time! I am 100% a history nerd!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

JT: Take life one day at a time.

Ahmad: Slow and steady wins the race. You have to be consistent and disciplined to achieve your goals.

Zach: Take time to stop and smell the roses. Happiness is found in the simplest of things.

Blake: My grandad always told me growing up to go to school and learn. He said that no one can take your education away from you.

And finally, our most hard-hitting question… Pepsi or Coke?

JT: Coke!

Ahmad: Got to go with Coke.

Zach: Without a doubt, Coke for the WIN!!

Blake: Coke, especially with a wedge of lime :)