It's All About The People

It's All About The People

“There’s a saying about family businesses being like a tree,” says Greg Weed, CEO of the Eastern Colorado Bank in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado. “The first generation plants the seed in the ground. The second generation waters it and makes it grow. And the third generation…” He pauses, knowing he speaks as the head of that third generation. “The third generation chops it down and uses it for firewood.” He pauses again, shaking his head. His tone carries a hint of sheer honesty. “I don’t want our generation to be the one that does that.”

It’s a blustery, cold winter day in December, and Greg sits in the board room of the Eastern Colorado Bank that has been owned and operated by his family since it was opened more than 75 years ago. He’s joined by Angie Weed, his wife and Senior Marketing Director for the bank; his sister, Megan Harmon, COO and president of the Eastern Colorado Bank of Colorado Springs; and Brett Legg, President and CFO who’s starting his 30th year with the ECB and is viewed as a member of the family. Each person represents a story within a story—the story of who they are, as individuals, and the story of how they each ended up sitting at that table in that board room.

True to Greg’s metaphor, the Weed family tree, at least as it relates to the Eastern Colorado Bank, goes three generations deep. The patriarch—the one to plant the seed, if you will—was Victor Weed, a generous yet tough and determined man who never backed down from a fight, defied those who said what he wanted to do couldn’t be done and risked everything he owned in the world to open the bank in 1944.

Victor and his wife and partner, Leona, gave birth to two sons: Louis in 1936 and James in 1943. When Leona died in a tragic auto accident in 1958, Lou, who had gone to college with plans to enlist in the military, returned with his wife, Judy, and brand new baby, Victor, to Cheyenne Wells where he began to work alongside his father. He and his wife would ultimately have three children

In 1969, after law school and a brief but successful career in the Navy, Jim and his wife, Mary, returned to Cheyenne Wells, as well. “We weren’t sure if we were going to stay,” Mary recalls. "Jim, coming back, was low man on the totem pole for quite a while. But he loved banking, and he loved helping other people. And he was very generous. So were Vic and Louie. If a person came into the bank and needed a little help but couldn’t get it, one of the three of them would always offer something out of their own pocket. That’s just the way they were.” And so, what started out as a “look and see” kind of venture soon became a permanent move home.

Over the next ten years, Jim and Mary had three children: Greg, Amy and Megan while life at the bank continued on. Sadly, in 1985 and at the relatively young age of 74, Victor passed away from a massive heart attack, leaving Lou and Jim to keep “watering the tree”. In 1989, they brought on Brett Legg, which turned out to be the best hiring decision they ever made. Almost ten more years passed and then, another tragedy struck the family when Jim suffered a serious stroke in 1998.

By this time, Lou had spent more than half of his life working at the Eastern Colorado Bank. He wanted to retire, and, upon selling his shares to the bank in exchange for the family ranch, he did exactly that, almost forty years to the day after he’d started.

Growing up as the eldest of Jim and Mary’s three children, Greg was well aware of the enormous burdens and blessings that came with his family owning the only bank in Cheyenne Wells. He saw just how hard his father worked and how devoted he was, not just to his family but also to the people who worked for him and those who entrusted him with their family’s assets. He saw the triumph in people’s eyes when there was a good harvest that brought a good price and all that implies for the farmer’s family and their future. And he was present when farms were sold, sometimes even working the auction at farms that belonged to the families of his friends. And, for a period of time, those things were on his mind.

After graduating from high school, Greg attended the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley where he studied Business. Upon graduating from UNC, Greg didn’t plan to immediately return to Cheyenne Wells. Jim had encouraged him to work other places and learn all he could, and it was advice well taken. It was during this time that Greg met his future wife, Angie, the result of a fortuitous pairing when they were both in the same wedding party. (As Angie explains it, “They put us together because we’re both short.”)

It meant a great deal to Greg when his father called, asking him to move back to Cheyenne Wells to work with him. Even so, Greg had one condition. “I wasn’t going unless Angie was going with me,” he says. Luckily for both Greg and the bank, Angie said yes. She was committed to Greg, and living in a small town was not a concern for her; she’d grown up in the small town of Eaton just outside of Greeley. By the end of 1999, Greg was working alongside his father and Brett, Angie had taken on the role of Marketing Director, and the beginning of the transition to the third generation had started.

When Megan speaks of her decision to work for the Eastern Colorado Bank, she doesn’t speak of banking. She’d already worked in a large firm for several years. She doesn’t speak of returning to Cheyenne Wells. She would commute. She had one reason for returning, and it was a reason any daughter can understand. “I wanted to work with my father,” she says, “and learn how to help people as he had done for years.”

Brett Legg tells his story, quietly and to the point. “It was taking a long time for me to finish college because I was messing around with working and trying to take classes, too,” he says. “I decided to just get it done, so I went to the bank and borrowed money from Jim and Lou to finish college. That allowed me to finish up my degree in Business.” When he graduated, he started looking around for jobs and then came to a conclusion. “I went back to the bank,” he says with a slight chuckle, “and I told them that, if the Weed brothers wanted their money back, they’re going to have to give me a job.” It turned out to be a wise move on his part, but it was also interesting, too, for Brett had grown up in a family where his father was part owner of a bank. Sadly, in his case, the bank hit some very hard times and was taken over by a much larger bank out of Denver. The event was so stressful and painful for Brett’s father that some in the family believe it contributed to his father’s death. When asked why he would choose to go into banking, he answers in a soft but certain tone. “I wanted to do it differently,” he says.

After his stroke, Jim continued to work as much as he was able but, despite his determination for it to be otherwise, he wasn’t able to do much. The situation called for a change in leadership, so Brett assumed the role of bank president; Greg worked alongside learning all he needed to learn, and Jim kept his eye on it all, offering his advice as needed.

Even with such fundamental changes going on, it turned out that another change—a big one—was on the horizon as, in 2000, the Eastern Colorado Bank opened a branch in Limon. In 2003, they opened a branch in Colorado Springs with Megan as branch president. In August of 2010, they opened a branch in Sharon Springs, an especially significant acquisition given it was the same bank that had been dismissive of Victor 75 years before. And in December of 2012, they purchased Kit Carson State Bank, assuming control of branches in Burlington and Kit Carson. Each purchase was carefully thought out, talked out, worked out and more, including making certain the culture of the communities where the banks were located was a good fit for the culture of the bank. It was also planned, from the beginning, that all banks would follow the same procedures, ensuring that was done in other locations still reflected what was done “at home”. Nonetheless, by all appearances, the Eastern Colorado Bank was rolling into a new century and not even hell or high water was going to stop them.

Then, in 2013 and on the heels of so much growth, Jim Weed passed away, and the loss, although inevitable, was devastating. For years, he had been the rock upon which so much was built; his voice had been the one to both lead and encourages leadership in others. Yet, even in the midst of sorrow felt by those who remained, there was still comfort in knowing Jim had seen his son grow into the position he would ultimately assume as CEO. He had seen the bank transform into something that was stronger than ever before. And he knew he had done all he could do to ensure the future for his family, his employees, the customers of the bank, his community and his legacy, at large.

Six years later on this cold December afternoon, the board room where Angie, Greg, Brett and Megan sit reflects, in many ways, these members of the Weed family who now sit at the helm. A wall with windows has a clear view of one of the main streets in town as cars, not too many but not too few, pass by. The large, polished, wooden table where they’ve gathered is clear of everything but the laptops they’re using and a few office supplies. This is a room where long hours of work have been done and, most likely, long and important conversations have taken place, for these four are now the stewards of the tree planted so long ago. Their collective vision will direct where and how that tree will grow. And that reality begs the most important question of all. What values define who they are? What lessons have they learned that will guide them as they move forward?

Each one of the four has an answer to those questions that is unique to who they are. Angie speaks of being a business that’s family oriented and a support to programs in each community. Megan speaks of being both “good bankers and good people” who are dedicated to taking care of each other. Brett speaks of being partners with their customers and teaching farmers to be as good at managing a business as they are at growing crops. Greg speaks of the loyalty that’s born in “sticking with people when things aren’t good” and the loyalty that’s returned, as a result. And Mary, when asked that question, answers with the heart of a mother and wife as she speaks of what good, honest and practical people her children have become and how proud their father would be.

Different answers from different people who have each traveled their different journeys to get to where they are, yet there is one common principle, one common theme that runs through all that is said like a slow and steady stream. And it’s a theme that is as simple as it is true.

“It’s all about the people.”

At that precise moment when the conversation begins to draw to a close, a sound drifts in from the lobby, which is some distance away. Someone is greeting a customer who’s just come into the building, and it’s a soft, friendly and welcoming voice reminiscent of what’s so often heard in large, old, sturdily built houses where people are coming and going about their lives. The pace isn’t pressured. The tone isn’t tense. Those who are speaking are at ease with where they are, who they’re with and what they’re doing. The overheard interaction is brief, lasting no more than a few moments at most, but it exemplifies what is genuinely a guiding principle of this bank, and it runs all the way down to its roots.

“It’s all about the people.” And, from the look of things, it probably always will be.