A whole new ballgame Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

If you deal with banks on a regular basis, chances are you’ve spent your fair share of time waiting in line to make a deposit, withdraw or payment — at least Gary Lewis Evans hopes you have.

More than a decade ago, Evans, president and CEO of Bank of Internet USA, began considering the potential of using the Internet to provide banking services without the hassles of more traditional banks.

“I started working in the concept of Internet banking in 1992, when I first saw the Internet and what it was doing,” Evans says. “It was in its infancy. The vision was there, and it was something I couldn’t let go.”

In 2000, after years of working through regulatory red tape, Evans launched Bank of Internet USA and has since grown the company’s annual revenue to $34 million in 2006 despite employing just 27 full-time staff. Evans says that efficiency has been a key to Bank of Internet USA’s success.

Smart Business spoke with the Net banking pioneer about the benefits of embracing change and constant improvement in a growing company.

Q: How would you describe your culture?

We are constantly tearing down and looking for a better way. Everything can be done better, we just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. So we’re constantly tearing down, redoing it, using a constant improvement philosophy, and we have created a bank operation that is very unlike any other.

The newer the company, it can be a real task, because sometimes you start going down a road and maybe you’ve taken a hundred steps, but then you can really fine-tune a process, speed it up, make it more efficient and keep the organization lean.

In our development, our whole strategy was to automate for the customers, give great service but really keep the growth in our staff to a minimum, to really get the most efficiency out of everybody and design systems and styles to be the most efficient. As a result, it’s very easy for me to manage by wandering around, and all of the managers, as well.

It becomes a direct one-on-one communication, and people can literally see what we’re trying to do on a daily basis. For a company of our size, that’s critical.

Q: How can a leader motivate his or her staff?

People really do have different motivations, different hot buttons, so to speak. You really have to tailor it to the different managers’ styles. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

The better a leader is, the better they understand their different employees and how they can work the best with them. For some people, it’s a very matter-of-fact — this is how you do it.

Other people have a more intelligent way of working through it. You have to get them to really understand and buy in to it completely. Everyone is unique.

It changes day-to-day, and as the process moves, we have to modify as leaders, and the leaders below me have to modify their staff, as well, and communication is, of course, the most important part of that, no question about it.

Q: How does a leader’s responsibility change as his or her company grows?

As a company grows, you develop greater depth in management, which is really positive. So as a leader, you really pull back and let the other people lead.

You always have to be a leader, but your tasks clearly change as the organization grows, and it changes in that you’re letting other management take more control. It’s important to develop the depth to grow and to get other points of view.

As we grow, we need other ideas and other concepts. If everyone is thinking based on the original philosophy — in our case, continual improvement — it lets them pass that through, as well.

Q: What is one trait that all successful business leaders share?

Their vision and how they can pass that vision through the company. Look at someone like Steve Jobs. He keeps his vision going and keeps his company moving in that direction.

Any great company is that way. It could be the Fords, the Rockefellers, the Firestones, you can go right down the line and all the way up to the current Internet-type entrepreneurs. Having that vision, that very clear vision, and working hard is a huge part of it.

If you don’t have that vision and the drive, you don’t have a foundation for that new company. Maybe you could become a franchise operator, and that’s not to knock it, but if you’re creating something new, you really have to have that vision and drive.

HOW TO REACH: Bank of Internet USA, (877) 541-2634 or www.bofi.com