When Paul Fissel joined Citizens Republic Bancorp, the company was working to integrate recently acquired Republic Bank into the fold. And as the new president of Citizens Bank’s Ohio market, Fissel was tasked with integrating the former Republic employees into the Citizens’ culture, which proved no easy job.
“They have to believe you have their best interests at heart and that you are working for something larger than yourself,” he says.
The Ohio market has been booming for Citizens Bank, and Fissel increased his work force from 64 to 87 employees in the past year.
Smart Business spoke with Fissel about the challenges of blending two cultures and why sometimes the results themselves aren’t as important as how they were achieved.
Q. How do you handle the mixing of cultures?
That’s the part of most mergers that gets the least attention and is probably the most critical.
To try to blend two different cultures is often a real challenge. People are used to doing things one way. Not everybody runs a branch and tries to provide a customer experience that is consistent with what we’re doing.
Some folks we’ve hired have been very successful in their prior roles with another institution. But they’ve done it differently, and that’s not the way we want it done. So we look at our people and evaluate them on a regular basis, not only from a results-oriented standpoint but also are they exhibiting the kind of behaviors we find necessary for longer-term success?
Achieving results is certainly important, and something we focus heavily on, but how they get there and how they conduct themselves on a dayto-day basis with their customers and with their fellow employees is also a critical part of our evaluation process.
Q. How do you convince acquired employees to adapt to your culture?
It’s not like, ‘This is the way we’ve done it. We were the acquirer, so we know what’s best.’ We truly are looking for the opportunity to create the best in our operational side and in the back office that we can be.
That may be that we borrow and steal from somebody else, but we do engage our employees in that process. We make them part of the team.
That’s a big key — we look at focusing on our people and letting them know that they are the people who make the difference. We all have checking accounts, savings accounts and investments to put our clients into. It’s the people who are the key, and they really do make the difference.
Q. How do you get employees to buy in to your vision?
The corporate vision we have — there are some very sound principles behind that. There are things like how we want to stay independent. To do that, we have to make money for the shareholders. So we have to sell our products and services, and we have to make money.
Our vision is to have a solution-based sales process. Part of our vision is to have operational excellence. We all make mistakes; the key is how you deal with mistakes from an operational standpoint and how do you communicate that back to the customer. We want to have open communication across the company, up and down the organizational structure but also across various business lines.
Within that framework, we have to figure out what works best in Ohio. How do we achieve that corporate vision in Ohio?
Q. What steps did you take to achieve that vision?
One of the opportunities we had was that Citizens’ presence in the Ohio market came about through the acquisition of Republic Bank. Republic’s focus in this market was radically different than Citizen’s focus.
What’s interesting is that the folks who are still here who were part of the Republic organization are people who really see that we have to be more than what we were. They are energized by the opportunity to learn, grow and expand, and be part of a winning team.
We’ve added 23 people in the last 13 months. My guess is the employment levels were pretty flat between the time the merger was announced and the integration. There were a lot of meetings to go over some of the more personal things but also to focus on and educate our team on the broader suite of products that are available on the retail side.
To be honest, that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that requires constant education.
HOW TO REACH: Citizens Bank, (440) 845-7945 or www.citizensbanking.com