Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about First Independent Bank and the duties of your position.
Mike Hix: The bank was founded in 1999, as a single-branch bank, and we now have seven branches in Reno, Sparks and Carson City. We consider ourselves a community-minded bank. We don’t do any residential mortgage lending; our success has been based on relationship banking and commercial real estate deals. We were purchased in 2007 by Western Alliance Bank, which is a $10 billion bank.
I manage business development and the branch’s operational managers. My side is more human resources and business development. I’m also the marketing guy for this bank. When I was first hired at the bank it was as a loan officer and working in marketing.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Hix: I started at Nevada National Bank in 1981 as a collector. I had graduated from Wooster in ’79, and I went to college, but in my first year my dad had multiple sclerosis and I wanted to stay at home and help out. I found a job for a collections agency here in town, and it was a good job, but it was a really tough job. There was a position at Nevada National Bank as a collector, and I had gone through classes to learn to be a collector and thought if I could get a job at a bank it would progress to bigger and better things. So my first two years in banking were working as a collector, which during the day was working at calling people eight hours a day and saying, “Make your payment.”
NNBW: How did that early training in collections help your career?
Hix: There’s an aspect of acting in collecting. Your character is not to be mean and a jerk, but there’s times you have to be, especially towards the end of the month. During those early 80s, I probably repossessed at least 100 cars. It’s not something I’m very proud of, but that’s how I started in banking. Nevada National had a really good officer-training program, and my goal was to become a lender. But working as a collector, it was really excellent training to be a lender because we saw the things that made a deal go bad and things that may have been missed at the application point that flowed into someone becoming delinquent.
NNBW: What’s one thing you’ve learned in your 33 years of working in the banking industry that helps you succeed on a daily basis?
Hix: For me to help customers the best way I can, I need to try and learn as much as I can about their company through conversations to build that relationship or doing research on their industry. When a business customer or an individual comes into their bank, they are looking for help, and it’s typically in the form of a loan. I want to get a really good understanding of the challenges with their company within this region and in their industry. We get a chance to talk with a lot of business customers, and I use that knowledge with other customers to help their business grow and grow profitably. For us, it’s all about relationships.
NNBW: The recession brought on a lot of challenges in the local banking industry, and a lot of smaller banks were shut down. How was First Indendent Bank able to weather the storm of the recession, and what challenges did those times present for you personally?
Hix: They key to a bank’s success during those troubled times was profitability and a strong capital position. We were fortunate that during the First Independent years that the bank was very well capitalized, and with the acquisition by Western Alliance Bank, the capitalization grew even more. We have continued to remain profitable, and when banks are profitable they continue to grow their capital. On the personal side, the challenge was having to deal with customers struggling through those times and having hard discussions about their income statement and trying to help them figure out a way to help them pay back their loan.
NNBW: Tell us about your dream job. Why aren’t you working it?
Hix: It would definitely be teaching. Talking about the bank to customers, I have always felt like I was educating folks. I’m learning, and they are learning. The teaching profession is very appealing to me — my wife is a teacher and a lot of our friends are teachers.
NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession?
Hix: Having a good, strong college education is key. The thing with banking, when you come into it you have to pay your dues and be willing to work at a low-paying position. But you need to learn everything you can within that position and outside of that position. It takes time to move up in the industry, and you have to be patient.
NNBW: What do you like most about your job?
Hix: Meeting and helping customers with their professional goals and building those strong relationships.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Hix: Outside of being a paperboy, I worked as a busboy at Marie Callenders.
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Hix: It’s usually golfing — the bank has a membership at Hidden Valley.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
Hix: A journalist. My declared major as a freshman was journalism, but I got involved in banking and that was something where I thought I could really build a career, so I changed my major to finance.
NNBW: What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
Hix: Golfing in Hawaii. And spending time with my family.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like most about working/living here?
Hix: I grew up here. My dad was in the gaming industry. My dad passed, but my mom still lives here. In the banking industry, you can take your profession to other areas, but the family and the community and that environment made me want to stay here. My parents lived here, my wife’s parents live here, and that made me want to stay. It’s those ties to the community.
To suggest a candidate for NNBW’s weekly question and answer column, look at our editorial calendar (http://apps.nnbw.com/utils/pdfs/9683736R.pdf) and contact reporter Rob Sabo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 775-850-2146.