The Last Word

The wit and wisdom of Harris Simmons.

A. Scott Anderson May 1, 2016

Zions Bancorporation Chairman and CEO Harris Simmons is recognized within the banking industry by regulators and members of Congress as a visionary business leader and an expert on banking and banking regulations. I recently traveled with Harris across Utah and Idaho to speak to Zions Bank employees, and was impressed anew with his leadership, vision and ability to communicate. As I listened to him, it dawned on me that everyone, not just Zions Bank employees, can benefit from his wit and wisdom.

A. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank President and CEO
A. Scott Anderson, Zions Bank President and CEO

Business Is a ‘Con’ Game…Confidence

Banking, says Harris, is like air. It is all around us — it facilitates our education, builds our homes, expands our businesses and helps us plan for our futures. But like air, we take banking for granted — until it no longer works. During the Great Recession, we saw how the economy and our lives suffered when the banking system didn’t work. Harris describes banking as the real “con” game — it is based on the confidence and trust of the people. Banking is a local business, and it succeeds when banks have close ties to their customers and their communities. Just as with all businesses, banks thrive when customers trust them and have confidence that they will be treated fairly and with respect.

What’s In a Name?

Recently Zions Bancorporation modified its legal structure to simplify its operations. To illustrate how this new legal structure would not impact the bank’s local identity, branding and close-to-the-client culture, Harris asked an employee what toothpaste she used. Puzzled by the question, the employee answered, “Crest.” Harris quickly responded with, “Don’t you mean Proctor & Gamble?” Harris then explained that Crest is the brand and Proctor & Gamble is the company. The point is simple but profound. People choose to purchase or work with brands they trust. The legal structure of the organization is of little importance. What matters are the people and the products they produce. Business is built on trust.

The Language of Change

In a discussion about dealing with change, Harris shared comedian Steve Martin’s story of a trip to Paris. Upon his return, Martin was asked about his trip. “It was terrible,” Martin said. “It was so confusing. The French have a different word for everything.” Dealing with change, Harris said, is like a foreign language. When you first hear it, you can’t make any sense of it. It is confusing and frustrating. However, in time, you become familiar with it; you begin to understand it; and you begin to speak more understandably. Finally, you find yourself thinking in that foreign language. Dealing successfully with change can make or break a business. As businesses work through the difficult challenges of change, we would all do well to remember Harris’ wisdom about learning a foreign language. Practice does make perfect.

Balancing on a Tightrope

“How can Zions continue to provide exceptional customer service in the face of increasing regulatory pressure?” Harris was asked. He responded by asking how many had seen the movie “The Walk,” which tells the story of Philippe Petit’s eight tightrope walks between the World Trade Center towers in New York City in 1974. Petit’s remarkable accomplishment was made possible with the aid of his balancing bar. That is the trick, continued Harris. We need to balance all the pressures we face from regulations, competition, customers and stakeholders to accomplish our goals. Business success is merely the skill of balancing priorities and demands well to create an extraordinary experience.

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