Wisconsin's bankers are the definition of "community advocates" in all that you do every day to improve your local economy through your bank's products and services, as well as through your generous philanthropy of time and money. This column shares and celebrates the diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and innovation of some of the extraordinary bankers in this state.

Gus Hernandez profileThe following is a brief interview between WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and Johnson Financial Group Milwaukee Regional President Gus Hernandez.

Rose: How did you first get into the banking industry?
Gus: I was initially interested in an opportunity to be involved with finance and business development, but the added benefit of engagement within the community I live, work, and play made banking an ideal career for me. Following graduation from UW-Milwaukee, I landed a credit and collections position at Manpower's corporate headquarters, providing me a taste for basic credit. I also worked in that position while attending Marquette University to secure an MBA. Once I graduated from Marquette, I searched for and was fortunate to find a comprehensive training program in commercial banking. In addition to both credit and sales knowledge, I developed my public speaking and leadership skills through Toastmasters, Dress for Success, and etiquette education which were all included in the training program.  

What is your favorite aspect of your role at your bank?
I have to admit that my favorite aspect of my role has changed over the years. Early in my career, I absolutely loved the analytics. I remember taking projection models home and adjusting scenarios for hours. As time has passed, I have become more focused on business development, leaving the analytics to the experts! Business development earns pats on the back and seems glamorous; however, it is one of the most difficult roles in banking. Selling a prospect on the value of working with the bank requires building a high level of trust. One of my colleagues says that relationships move at the speed of trust—he is exactly right. We also need to work through many questions with our internal team to ensure we can mitigate risks and that the shareholder will benefit from the relationship. For Johnson Financial Group, we are fortunate that we often earn opportunities because of our reputation – the family-owned nature of the company, the Johnson family's history of supporting the community, and the incredible drive for service delivery that small and mid-tier banks can deliver so well. My sales mantra has always been "never hear the first no, always respect the second no," and it has served me well over the years.

What do you wish the general public understood about the banking industry?
Banking (credit) helps to fuel the economy – we support and accelerate growth in our communities. Much of the public thinks of us as human calculators (geeks), but while we do analytics on financial statements, we bank companies and we bank on people. Keen gut instinct about character and credibility cannot be replaced by data. We have to be right 99.5% of the time in lending, so there is no room for error.

Where do you believe the industry's greatest challenges are in the next three to five years?
Banking, like every industry, will be challenged with finding talented people to support client needs. When I consider the colleagues I have today, I feel very confident in our ability to deliver value, but we will likely need to continue investing in technology and in people to keep pace with our competitors both inside and outside the banking sector who may have fewer regulations than we do.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work as a banker?
In my role as regional president, I'm engaged in recruiting talent and retaining and attracting new clients. My primary involvement is on the wholesale side of banking, wealth management, and insurance.

In addition to serving our clients, I help support the Milwaukee community through charitable contributions in the region. While there are countless deserving causes, we aim to support causes that will have the greatest impact. Our overall goal is simple: to make the communities where we do business a better place because we're there. 

One of my favorite days each year continues to be our annual companywide service day in May. It's an opportunity for 1,200 associates to come together to make a difference at nearly 60 organizations across our footprint. There's no better way to make an impact than by rolling up our sleeves and lending a helping hand to those in need. I feel privileged to work for a company with a strong legacy of community involvement, anchored in the philanthropic spirit of the Johnson family.

Do you know a banker who should be recognized as a Community Advocate for the work that they do? Nominate them today by emailing Rose