Down to earth Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Elvis is alive and well and working in the banking industry inthe person of John Featherman.

Or so he would have you believe. Last year, Featherman — chairman and CEO of First Chester County Corp. and First National Bank of Chester County — donned a jumpsuit reminiscent of The King and climbed aboard his company’s float at the Christmas parade.

“We paraded around in front of 10,000 people who are customers as well as our employees,” Featherman says. “The people enjoy the parade, and it’s consistent with our role as being a community bank.”

With 258 employees and $68.2 million in 2007 revenue, First Chester County Corp. is the bank holding company for First National.

A proponent of infusing fun into the workplace, Featherman’s also been spotted in a tuxedo at his company’s recent annual employee meeting, and he opened the ceremonies at his company’s Hollywood-themed gala that included dinner, an annual company report and employee participation awards.

Smart Business spoke with Featherman about how he manages the fundamentals of leadership.

Know all the characters. I’m a huge relationship person. I focus on building relationships with all the parties that I’m involved with. That includes our employees, customers, clients, executives, shareholders, vendors, investment bankers, community members and competitors.

On a personal basis, I know most of the CEOs of the other banks and financial institutions that we compete with. I’ve been here for a number of years, so I know a lot of them just through business activities, community activities or social activities.

When you get to know your competitors as best as you can, it helps you to understand their business model. You see what succeeds for them and what doesn’t succeed, and you learn from that. It’s a big part of knowing your marketplace.

Manage by walking around. I try to be as visible as possible. I look for participation and collaborative efforts.

For example, we hold our executive meetings once a week, and we move them around to different areas of the bank. I’ll arrive early at the meeting, and I’ll go into the employee lounge and talk with whoever’s coming in to get coffee. I’ll say, ‘Good morning, how are you doing, what’s going on, what’s new?’

Then, after the meeting, I try to have enough time to walk through that building and talk with people that I see or stop into someone’s office and inquire about a project that I know we’re working on. You can learn a lot about what’s going on, and the employees see you in a different light.

Another example is our Chairman’s Birthday Breakfast for the employees who celebrate a birthday that month. We have a breakfast at a local country club. During the breakfast, we each have the opportunity to talk about what we’re doing at the bank and what we’re doing in our personal life — our families, our children. That’s another opportunity for me to meet with the employee in an unstructured atmosphere.

They seem to enjoy that. I pick up a lot of information, and they have the opportunity to ask me questions about anything going on with the bank.

Other companies could do something similar to that, in which the employees bring their own lunch to a lunch meeting so it doesn’t cost the employer anything.

I’m an optimist, and it’s an opportunity for me to show confidence and optimism about the direction that we’re heading, in the way I carry myself and the way I conduct the conversation. Also, it gives the employees the opportunity to express their concerns, and I wouldn’t get that information if I just stayed here in my office and did all the work from this location.

Foster employee relationships. If we hire a new teller at the main branch, I purposely do personal banking in the branches just so that I can select a teller or a customer service rep that I don’t know well or haven’t worked with before and interact with them. I’ll talk about something in addition to the business so I can form a relationship with them.

The more people, the more difficult it is to know everyone. To me, it’s all about people. You have to care about them, and that’s something that goes on 24 hours a day.

That’s not fake; I want to know what’s going on.

Practice good listening. One of the most important skills that a successful business leader needs is to be a good listener. I find that it’s absolutely imperative to listen to people but also watch them and try to ascertain all that they’re trying to convey.

I was a lawyer for 35 years before I took on this job, and I learned early in my career to listen to clients who came in to see me. Many times, what they thought they wanted wasn’t really what they wanted at all, and if I listened long enough, they would eventually get around to expressing their ultimate concern.

When you go into a business meeting, whether it’s with other executives in your own company or with your customers, you need to remind yourself to listen and be conscious of that. Perhaps, you can listen until everyone else has spoken, and then if you feel you have a contribution to make, speak and ask questions. And never, ever interrupt or talk over someone — it’s a matter of showing respect for the other person that you’re dealing with. You’ll see the results and see how engaged the other participants are.

HOW TO REACH: First Chester County Corp., (877) 362-0100 or www.fnbchestercounty.com