Inside Track: John Irwin has been a banker from the get-go
The new president of Huntington Bank West Michigan is the son of an Indiana banker and a 32-year banking veteran.
John Irwin was a gung-ho Hot Dog back in high school in Frankfort, Ind. He’s still known for his enthusiastic athletic endeavors — as well as his bow tie — but he’s also known now as the president of Huntington Bank’s West Michigan region.
Huntington National Bank, which is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, and will be 150 years old in 2016, announced the promotion of Irwin in January. He took over the position held by Jim Dunlap, who continues in his role as director of the bank’s statewide activities in Michigan. Irwin reports to Dunlap.
Irwin is a 32-year banking veteran who has been part of Huntington’s West Michigan commercial banking business for nearly 11 years, most recently as corporate banking regional manager. He now leads the bank’s commercial business segment, orchestrating business development and service activities among Huntington’s businesses clients in the West Michigan region.
Irwin’s father was the president of a small bank in Frankfort, located almost in the center of the Hoosier State.
“I grew up in a banking family,” he said, adding that the experience impressed him with the importance of bankers being involved in the communities where they live. He also picked up a lifelong love of active participation in sports, starting as a member of the Hot Dogs — the sports teams’ name at Frankfort High School.
“I have always been an athlete,” said Irwin, 56, and he still is, as his fellow employees at Huntington are well aware. He describes himself as a “competitive age group triathlete” who has participated in probably 50 or so triathlons over the years. “Competitive age group” means he isn’t out to come in first among all competitors, just those in his age bracket.
“The foundations of my life are my faith, my family and my fitness,” said Irwin, who is a member of Ada Bible Church. He is also a board member of the Gerald R. Ford Council of the Boy Scouts of America, St. Cecilia Music Center and Women’s Resource Center. He also serves on the Huntington Colleagues’ Good Government Fund (Huntington Bancshares Inc. Political Action Committee).
After high school, Irwin attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., where he earned a degree in economics. After graduation in 1979, he was hired by American Fletcher National Bank in Indianapolis, one of the largest banks in Indiana. It later became Bank One and then, later still, became part of JP Morgan Chase & Co.
After starting his first career job, Irwin attended grad school at night at Indiana University.
At American Fletcher National, Irwin spent his first two years in management training for commercial banking. Then he was assigned to the International Banking Group, because, he said, he had studied abroad during his junior year of college and management felt he would be familiar with European banking.
“As a 24-year-old, I got to travel to every western European country, calling on the world’s largest banks. That was a part of the career that I don’t think you could have today,” said Irwin.
But the big break in his career came later, in the early 1990s, when he was asked to move from the commercial side of the bank’s business to the retail side. Back then, he said, changes like that seldom happened. So his unusual career path took him from the familiar world of commercial banking to the entire gamut of consumer banking — “all things I knew little to nothing about.”
The change gave him the chance to experience a much wider scope of what goes on “in the entire organization,” a real advantage in an executive management career.
In 1996, Irwin and his wife and children moved from Indianapolis to Phoenix where Bank One had bought a bank. By 1999, he was promoted again, and he and his family were moved back to the Midwest, this time to Columbus, Ohio. A few years later, after his former mentor at Bank One had joined Huntington Bank, Irwin got a call from a fellow at Huntington named Jim Dunlap. Dunlap had been there not quite a year, but he had heard about Irwin and wanted to talk to him about his plans for Huntington in West Michigan. The two met at a neutral location, and Dunlap wasted no time in making a pitch.
Irwin said he politely remarked, “Grand Rapids isn’t on my hit parade, Jim.” Dunlap responded that it hadn’t been on his hit parade either but then told Irwin, “You’re going to love it.” The conversation lasted for hours. Thirty days later, Irwin and his wife and kids were living in the Grand Rapids area. This summer will mark their 11th year here.
Irwin says out of all the places he and his family have lived, “this is our favorite city.” Among the reasons: It’s a faith-based community with a great school system, and there are plenty of public/private partnerships and collaboration that make a big difference in getting things done.
In addition to running in marathons and participating in running/biking/swimming triathlons, Irwin enjoys upland game hunting for grouse and pheasant, and fly fishing for bass, all of which can be done fairly close to Greater Grand Rapids. As an avid hunter, he trains his own hunting dogs, favoring the Vizsla, a pointer-retriever breed that originated in Hungary.
When asked about the biggest change in banking he has seen, Irwin said it is the risk management requirements and regulatory environment, which is “incredibly different than it was” before the recession.
Irwin was asked for his prediction on where banking is headed in the U.S. over the next couple of years.
“I think the cost of regulations, of staying on top of the various risks and keeping in compliance, is going to get so high for some banks that don’t have very rigorous risk management practices. I think the cost to stay in the game is going to be excessive and that you may end up seeing consolidations across the American landscape,” said Irwin.
When asked who is going to consolidate whom, he deftly ducked the question.
“Our focus at Huntington is on organic growth,” he said, which includes taking advantage of the bank’s deal with Meijer Inc. that has Huntington branches in 31 Meijer stores in Michigan.
On the issue of banking regulation, Irwin was asked if he had any thoughts on the talk in the news media of the possibility that Congress may attempt to roll back some or all of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. He replied that he had no comment.
Irwin evidently enjoys a challenge, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in sports or banking. About 10 years ago he decided to begin taking piano lessons, and soon was progressing and playing in recitals. He claims his classmates ranged in age from 8 to 12.
“Music is my escape and relaxation,” he said.
Then there was the time years ago when he was living in Indianapolis and met an elderly lawyer in the locker room at an athletic club after a workout. When the lawyer started tying his bow tie, Irwin asked him to demonstrate how it was done. Later, he decided to take the plunge and wear a bow tie every day — “and I never turned back. I have taught a lot of people how to tie bow ties.”