Career Choice Pleases Smith
After spending his career with larger financial institutions, he was initially apprehensive about the new position as vice president of commercial lending at a small Holland bank. But the position with Paragon Bank & Trust did represent an opportunity return home.
Nearly three years later, the move has since turned out as a significant step up for Smith, who in June was named Paragon Bank’s president and chef executive officer.
“It’s been the best career decision I’ve ever made,” said Smith, a 15-year industry veteran who’s worked primarily in commercial lending and, after joining the company in October 1999, quickly found the style of community banking that Paragon Bank offers well to his liking and style.
“I really enjoy this atmosphere. To me it just put the fun back into banking that I felt when I went into banking,” Smith said.
The 40-year-old Holland native took over at a time when Paragon Bank is setting the groundwork to expand its presence in the community and share of the market.
Paragon Bank is planning to move early next year into a new full-service banking office on East Eighth Street, east of downtown Holland, and expand its customer base. With assets of more than $100 million, Paragon Bank is often perceived as a bank that serves only high-end retail and commercial customers, with its high level of personal service and lack of traditional teller windows.
The goal for Paragon, which has experienced solid growth in the last two years, is to get beyond the community perception and penetrate new customer segments that will welcome the kind of banking for which the bank is known.
“We think we’re very good at what we do. It’s all about getting the news out there,” Smith said. “The perception in town for people who aren’t familiar with our bank will change naturally. They’ll say, ‘oh, I can bank there.’”
A 1985 graduate of Hope College, where he earned dual degrees in business and psychology and played tennis and football, Smith began his banking career after earning an MBA from Western Michigan University in 1997 when he joined the former Old Kent Bank as a credit analyst in Kalamazoo. The job put the career path in motion for Smith, who during college had not given any significant consideration to a career in banking.
“Once I got into it, I realized I loved it,” said Smith, who viewed his role as a commercial lender as “helping people reach their dreams.”
Smith left Old Kent in 1993 to become vice president of commercial lending for Key Bank in Indiana. Four years later he went to Bank One, where he led the commercial lending group in Peoria, Ill., a position he says provided him “the next step in my development.”
In 1999, after 15 years away, Smith began to feel the urge to move back home to West Michigan so he could live closer to family. He and his wife, Chris, saw the region as a good place to raise their two children.
“After a while, I just kind of kept my eyes open and my ears to the ground,” Smith said. “It worked out better than we anticipated.”
The opportunity to come home arose when Paragon Bank came calling in 1999. Despite the apprehensions of moving to a smaller organization, Smith decided to join Paragon Bank as vice president of commercial lending.
On a personal level, the position brought back to his hometown. Professionally, Smith concluded that the position with Paragon Bank offered opportunity for advancement and growth.
Two months after joining Paragon Bank, he moved up to senior lender in chare of all lending - retail, mortgage and commercial. He then became chief operating officer last December, overseeing over day-to-day operations of the bank, as Paragon Bank began a transition period that saw its long-time CEO, Scott Kling, move into running the trust services in Michigan for Paragon’s Lansing-based parent company Capitol Bancorp.
In June, bank directors named Smith president and CEO.
“Coming here, I was convinced, was going to give me an opportunity to expand my banking knowledge,” Smith said in retrospect of his 1999 career move. “It’s worked out pretty good.”