The trick to sharing leadership roles is to focus on the what, rather than the how, according to Gerard Nalezny and Mark Kross. And for 11 years, the formula has worked well for the company that the co-founders co-lead.
Nalezny and Kross had a sense of each other’s style before they teamed up to start what’s now known as Verus Bank of Commerce in Fort Collins in 2005. They’d already worked together for 15 years.
“We would listen to what customers wanted, but we couldn’t do anything about it,” Nalezny said, referring their previous work together.
“So when we decided to form this bank, our primary drive was to do what customers asked us to do.”
To start out, Nalezny and Kross created a business plan, objectives and values to make sure they would stay on the same page with the company’s direction and to create a culture that would stay true to its roots.
“It’s important that people have different perspectives, but to get along as co-leaders, we couldn’t have turf,” Kross said. “There are areas I focus on, and areas he focuses on, and we then come together to discuss them.”
Acknowledging different ways of achieving results helps them stay focused on the end, rather than the means.
They chose the bank’s name to keep their initial business goal in front of them.
‘Verus’ is Latin for ‘right,’ which Kross and Naelzny use as a key theme for the bank. It means they focus on doing the right thing for the community, the shareholders, the employees and the customers.
“For example, we want to have the best people possible as employees, so that means we have to pay them the best and provide a great environment,” Kross said. “When we have the best people, they treat our customer the best, our shareholders are happy so the bank is able to help the community by creating jobs and helping companies grow.”
Being entrepreneurs themselves helps when other entrepreneurs come in for financial assistance and advice, Nalezny said. “We’ve been where they are. When we say we’re a local institution, we mean that our board is here, and our perspective is the same as our clients.”
Kross used the challenge of creating a work-life balance as an example of a potential obstacle to success that the co-founders have with their customers.
“It boils down to the fact that your business needs you all the time in the early days, but if you set up goals, objectives and values early on, the organization develops a culture that can go on without you,” he said. “It also makes the transition of not having to be there all the time easier.
“Our conversations aren’t necessarily always just about banking,” he said.
“There’s a saying that ‘it’s business, not personal,’ Nalezny added. “But with us, it’s personal.”