Ray Davis Interview

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Ray Davis Interview

CEO of Umpqua Holdings and author of Leading For Growth

David Pierpoint:  Today I have the pleasure to be talking with Ray Davis. Ray is the president and CEO of Umpqua Holding Corporation and a true leader of change in the banking industry, revolutionizing how banks look, feel, sound, and operate. He’s the author of “Leading for Growth: How Umpqua Bank Got Cool and Created a Culture of Greatness” and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Businessweek, and Fast Company magazine. So, welcome, Ray.

Ray Davis:  Thanks for having me, David.

David:  Great. Let’s just jump right in. My question for you today is, what is your favorite marketing strategy or tactic that’s working really well for you right now?

Ray:  It’s interesting. I get asked that, actually, more times than you would think, and my answer normally surprises people. My first answer is I’m not a big believer in traditional bank advertising. I think that’s pretty much just about run the course. So what we really focus on is what we call handshake marketing. And handshake marketing is where we actually allow and empower our people, in our bank stores and our commercial banking centers, to make day‑to‑day decisions within their markets as it comes to marketing that will impact the markets.

And that could be as simple as somebody going over to Starbucks for the next two hours and buying coffee drinks for people – compliments of Umpqua Bank – to going to restaurants and doing random acts of kindness. I mean, I’m interested in creating buzz instead of having nice‑looking ads in a newspaper or television. So for me, it’s about buzz.

David:  Got it. Can you tell me a little bit more about why that has been such an effective strategy?

Ray:  Well, the proof’s in the numbers. Umpqua Bank’s organic growth strategy, which means growth within ourselves, has resulted in one of the fastest‑growing banks in the United States. And it’s predominantly because of empowering our people to do what they think is right for the communities they serve, or the neighborhoods they serve – by being creative, by doing the type of things in the examples I shared with you, just to shake up and create some word‑of‑mouth buzz.

David:  Perfect. Now one of the things that really stuck with me from your book was your comment about “finding the revolution before it finds you.” Is that an element of what you’re talking about here, in terms of empowering your individual people and your associates?

Ray:  Yes. In some ways it is. You have to stop and think. The world is changing. Every day it changes a little bit, and that means that the way we all conduct our businesses is changing as well. I also say in the book it’s impossible to stay the same. I mean, it’s much easier to get better or to get worse. And it’s too costly to stay the same. It’s just too difficult. Whether we like it or not, things are going to change. If it’s not regulations, it might be new laws. Or it might be new products and services that are coming out, depending on what business you’re in.

So the comment about finding the new revolution is, first of all, about embracing change, knowing what’s coming next, and being proactive trying to respond to that change. And coming up with strategies that you think could grow your company, even in the light of a pretty rough economy.

David:  Interesting. Now, from a strategic perspective, I think many businesses – from small businesses to medium‑size businesses – try and take a very formal approach to putting together a marketing campaign. And yet, as you talk about empowering your people to create buzz and make individual decisions, that might sound kind of risky to the typical business owner. So, how do those two strategies work together?

Ray:  Well, I don’t know that they have to go together. I think one of the things that I try to fight here at Umpqua, and not just myself but the rest of our associates as well, is conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom will tell you, “Well, that won’t work,” or “You have to do it like this,” or “This is the way we’ve always done it.” And in our company, I think we’re known in some circles for being quite innovative in the way we do things. And that’s because, just because somebody says, “Well, it’s never been done before,” or “That’s scary,” that doesn’t deter us from moving forward.

I don’t think any of these go together. I think everybody in business right now, we’re all doing the same thing. I don’t care if you’re a bank or if you sell tires or if you’re a hairdresser. Everybody’s trying to get people to walk inside their stores with the potential to buy their products or services.

And to do that, all of us have to try to determine, how do we differentiate ourselves? In other words, why would somebody do that? And that’s the $64,000 question that every business, no matter how big or how small, is wrestling with every single day.

[…read full interview]

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