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Jack Gustavel: Banking on it

Jack Gustavel, CEO of Idaho Independent Bank. Photo by Patrick Sweeney.

Jack Gustavel, CEO of Idaho Independent Bank. Photo by Patrick Sweeney.

Jack Gustavel’s parents thought he should be a dentist. Gustavel was not convinced.

“My brother (Terry) did go on to be a prominent dentist in Boise. I went to school and found out that wasn’t for me, so I switched to business,” says Gustavel, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or to be more specific, history in the making.

When Gustavel founded Idaho Independent Bank in 1993, it was the first new state-chartered bank in Idaho in 20 years. Today, as IIB’s chairman and CEO, Gustavel oversees 11 branches throughout the state that employ nearly 200 people and hold a total of $550 million in assets. IIB was rated in the top 10 percent of community banks in the nation (with less than $2 billion in assets) by U.S. Banker Magazine. Starting the bank was a challenge, and Gustavel admits there have been tough times along the way. But he knows from experience that most challenges simply require a little innovation and a lot of hard work – a lesson passed down along family lines.

The Gustavel family legacy

The Gustavels, throughout many generations, have been known for their work ethic and determination. Jack Gustavel’s great grandfather, Julius A. Zittel, was orphaned in Germany at the age of 11. He decided to emigrate to the United States, where he went on to become a renowned architect, designing a number of government buildings, schools and Catholic churches in the Spokane area. He died the year Jack was born.

“So I never really did know him, but I know a lot about him,” says Gustavel. “He was an inspiration.”

Roland “Gus” Gustavel, Jack’s father, was also a major influence in his life. He worked in the airline industry and moved the family several times while the family was young. Once they arrived in Boise, however, Jack’s father decided to put down roots, telling his employer that he’d found the place he wanted to raise his children. For young Jack Gustavel, it was a “perfect” place to grow up. He played sports, and remembers hunting  pheasant after school. His father, whom Jack referred to as “Gus” instead of Dad, was coach of his and his brother’s football teams.

“He was really good and positive and a good inspiration for me,” says Gustavel. “He would say that your character is everything. That your integrity and your word is your bond, and if you say you’re going to do something, you did it, and you did it well.”

Staying true to your word is a lesson Gustavel has worked hard to instill in his own children and grandchildren. After seeing a sign at a Coeur d’Alene middle school which read, “Life is a game that must be played,” he was inspired to start a list of life lessons. That list eventually became the Gustavel Family Creed – 29 bits of wisdom and advice such as: “Be the best you can be and commit yourself to constant improvement;” and: “Give others the credit for their accomplishments, and sometimes even yours.” The intent is to be a helpful sort of guide about how to live life to the fullest, but of course, says Gustavel, it is not the be-all, end-all for the subject.A note at the bottom of the list encourages the family to “add to this as you grow and become more sophisticated. Love, Dad.”

Integrity – Not just a buzzword

Staying true to his principles has earned Gustavel a great deal of respect during his 54 years in the banking industry. Colleagues describe him as honest, fair and hardworking.

“I have had the privilege of working with Jack for over 22 years,” says Yvonne Hanneman, vice president and human resources administrator at Idaho Independent Bank. He is an “effectual leader with extremely high ethical standards, honesty and integrity. Jack built Idaho Independent Bank from the ground up and because of his leadership it is a strong well-respected institution that is here to stay,” she says.

He looks at the bigger picture – but also pays attention to details. “I was very surprised when I found out years ago that he proofreads many internal and external documents for content, grammar and punctuation,” Hanneman says. “Although extremely busy, he cares that much about the quality of everything he is involved in.”

His style is “to lead by example with an emphasis on superior service, high ethical standards, quality, and trust.” Since founding IIB, his vision for the company has always been to be “The Idaho Bank.” And, in his own words: “Details matter.”

Gustavel has an open-door policy and makes it a priority to celebrate employee successes, regardless of his own busy schedule.

“Mentoring is important, but (it’s the) little things (that really count). I call them up on their anniversary with the bank, or, when they get promoted, I send a card. I try to develop a lot of goodwill and family atmosphere within the bank,” Gustavel says. “We are a relationship bank. The relationships start within the bank, and that carries over to our customers.”

The rapport between IIB and customers has proven to be invaluable over the years. When the financial crisis began to intensify in 2008, Gustavel says relationships between the bank and clients were a big part of the reason his bank survived, even though IIB did not accept federal TARP money.

“While many of our competitors or peers and even larger banks went out of business or got recapitalized, we just had enough of these good relationships where character prevailed. We made it because of the hard work of all of our people and trying to work with our customers to salvage the situation,” says Gustavel. He spent many nights and weekends in the office, finding ways to restructure IIB for the better.

Gustavel says he knows from experience that taking a hard look at operations can pay off.

That experience dates back to his tenure from 1974 to 1992 at First National Bank of North Idaho (now Wells Fargo). Gustavel was president and CEO there, and worked hard to reduce the bank’s reliance on long-term, fixed-rate, residential real estate loans. By the time the Savings and Loan crisis of the 80s and 90s hit, sending interest rates as high as 20 percent, the bank was well-positioned to weather the storm. Many competitors were recapitalized.

“That’s what would have happened to us if we weren’t diversified. So making that one move was really important,” Gustavel says.

Giving Back

In addition to his 9 to 5 banker’s hours, Gustavel spends time serving his community through professional and business associations as well as civic organizations and nonprofits. He is a member of the board of directors of Blue Cross of Idaho and was its chairman from 2004 to 2010. He was also a director of the Portland Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 1978 to 1984. In addition, Gustavel was a director of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a director of Avista Corporation, a New York Stock Exchange-listed energy and utility company that services Washington, Oregon, and northern Idaho, a director of Mines Management, Inc., treasurer of the Idaho Bankers Association, and a member of the Comptroller of the Currency Regional Advisory Committee for the Thirteenth National Bank Region.

He also is a past president of the Kootenai County Division of the American Heart Association and past president of the North Idaho College Foundation.

Putting memories in the bank 

With founding a successful bank under his belt, it is evident that Gustavel knows a thing or two about good investments. But the best one he’s ever made, he says, is investing in memories for his family. Every year during the holidays, he takes his wife, children and grandchildren on a two- or three-week vacation. So far, they have been to locations such as Hawaii, Costa Rica, Mexico and Puerto Rico. They’ve been on a safari in Africa. The getaways have been such an important bonding experience that Gustavel decided to offer a trip to each grandchild upon graduation from high school. They can travel with a cousin or a sibling and can choose anywhere in the world as their destination, but with one caveat: Grandpa comes along. His first trip was with granddaughters Brynn and Brooklynn to France and Portugal; next year, he’ll travel to Australia with his twin grandsons. With 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, he is likely to become a real globe-hopper.

Of Gustavel’s four grown children, several have played a key role in the bank’s development and growth. His son, Kurt, is president of Idaho Independent Bank. Daughter Jill is IIB’s assistant vice president and credit administration officer. Another daughter, Lynn, helped him start the bank, but is now taking time off to raise her triplet sons. Daughter Brooke is married to a helicopter pilot and living in Tokyo.

Gustavel says his wife of 54 years, Judy, has been a great

source of support. In fact, she had a hand in creating IIB’s distinctive look. When Gustavel founded the bank, Judy, who had a background in design, helped come up with the bank’s logo. She is always offering to help someone in need, says Gustavel, who calls her a “loving partner” who is “caring and protective of her family.”

“Growing up you just knew that family was a priority and he has always been there for his kids, grandchildren, and everyone in his extended family – including at work – with a piece of advice, encouragement, and the occasional leg up when you need it,” says Kurt Gustavel. “I am thankful for having him not only as a father, but as a mentor, advisor, and friend. His example has definitely influenced and inspired me to work to be a better person, father, and husband.”

Keep moving, young man 

Gustavel’s priorities – family, hard work and self-improvement – are clear to everyone who knows him. But he is always on the lookout for motivating ideas, thoughts and life lessons worthy of adding to the Gustavel Family Creed. Most recently, Gustavel found inspiration where he least expected it – at the bedside of a dear friend in poor health. During the visit, he couldn’t help but marvel at the spirit and energy of his friend’s 90-year-old mother, who was there tending to her ailing son.

“She was vibrant, and healthy, and happy, and laughing. And I asked her, ‘What’s your secret to life?’ She said, ‘Keep moving, young man. Keep moving. Keep moving, young man.’ It struck home (because) what I want to do and what I aspire to do is to keep moving, keep involved. Stay positive. Try to do more positive things. Do things with the family.”

The idea of committing oneself to constant improvement (which is listed as No. 26 on the Gustavel Family Creed) is never far from Gustavel’s mind. He delights in learning on the job, but doesn’t hold back from trying new things outside the world of banking. Inspired by his Labrador Retrievers and their penchant for gnawing on their bedding, he is developing a dog bed that can withstand a high level of wear-and-tear.

“It’s a really durable, good-looking dog bed that’s very difficult to destroy,” he says. Gustavel and his business partner have spent the last several months creating a prototype of the new product and are getting ready to begin production.

While he advises his loved ones not to rely on wishful thinking and to “make your own luck,” Gustavel acknowledges that a great part of his own personal success can be attributed to good fortune. He’s thankful he was born into an extraordinary family at a time of great opportunity.

“It was lucky I grew up in Boise and have lived and worked my entire adult life in Idaho.  It is lucky that I have a wonderful, healthy family,” says Gustavel.

“Lucky me.”

 

 

 

 

 

About Shannon Paterson