Ready for success

U.S. Century Bank may never have gotten past its first day of operation back
in 2002 without a little hands-on leadership from its president and CEO, Octavio
Hernandez.

“It was probably 10 times more than I had
expected,” Hernandez said of the crush of
prospective new customers who filled his
lobby from wall to wall. “There were just
people crammed in the building to open
accounts.”

The response to the new bank in South
Florida was so great, in fact, that
Hernandez grabbed a pen and began
opening new customer accounts
alongside his staff.

“I was out there helping people to
fill out forms because it needed to
be done,” Hernandez said.

That team concept is something
that Hernandez has instilled in
every aspect of the bank’s operation and in every member of his
staff, which has grown from nine
employees that first day to 145
today.

Revenue has also grown, from
$13.8 million in 2004 to $36.8 million in 2005.

Smart Business spoke with
Hernandez about how he’s developed a philosophy that emphasizes inclusion in the pursuit of
financial success.

Q: How do you keep corporate
politics from being an issue?

The biggest evil in any company is corporate politics. If you
can keep it to a minimum, you’re
going to save yourself a lot of
headaches.

It’s not easy to do because it’s just a way
of life. You do it by not showing favoritism,
by showing that results are what count and
not who can kiss up the best.

You need to make sure everybody
knows that brown-nosing doesn’t work
and that you’re going to be fair with everyone. If it’s your top guy and he is wrong,
he’s going to be told he’s wrong. It’s not
just because he’s your buddy or he’s the
buddy of one of the directors or the chairman; that doesn’t matter. It’s all for the
good of the company.

Q: How do you deal with failure?

Everybody fails. It’s not that you have to
blame anyone or get depressed and have
that show with your people. You basically
say, ‘This is what went wrong, this is how
we’re going to fix it, and let’s move on.’

Your people cannot see you stressed. You
have to take it in stride and figure out what
happened and come back with a plan.
Everybody is looking at you to correct
whatever is wrong and come up with ideas.
That’s what you get paid for.

We all know what we want, and we all
know where we’re headed and we all work
toward that goal. If you don’t know where
you’re going, how are they going to follow
you? That can really derail you if you’re not
focused.

Q: What skills does a CEO need to be successful?

People will only follow someone that
they trust. They may not necessarily agree
with your decisions, but they trust you
enough to know that your judgment is the
right decision. They have to feel that
you’re acting in the best interest of the
company, not necessarily in the best interest of yourself.

Even if it’s not what the person wants to
hear or if you disagree with them, they
have to believe that you are being honest
with them. You also have to be approachable; they need to feel comfortable to come
up to you with a problem at any time.
Above all, you establish trust by respecting
them at all times.

I keep our employees very
informed of the financials of the
company so they feel they are part
of it. I’m obviously very eager to
share our successes with them. But
if we’re falling short in something, I
drop an e-mail saying, ‘Guys, we
need to do more on this.’

Everybody knows where we stand
and what needs to be done and buys
in to it to become part of the team.

Q: What does a CEO need to succeed?

I cannot imagine anyone who is
thrown into this position of CEO
where they don’t know anyone in
the business or have any contacts
that they can draw on. That would
be disastrous if you’re thrown in a
situation where you don’t know
anyone.

Over the years, I’ve been able to
find a group of people that I feel
very comfortable with and that I
know are very smart and very capable in their fields. That allows me the
ability to delegate to them without
having to constantly go back and
check up on them.

Once you have those people, you treat
them well, you pay them well, you show
them respect and you value their judgment. You turn them loose and let them
do their job.

Surround yourself with people who
know a lot more than you, but who know
that you are the guy that is putting it all
together.

HOW TO REACH: U.S. Century Bank, www.uscentury.com

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