What Matters Most – 120th Anniversary Conversations with Jason Rush

Today we speak with Jason Rush, Chief Operations Officer at First United. Jason talks about his background, how he got started at the bank, and what it means to be part of a company that has a history, 120 years in the making!


Male Voice: Welcome to the “What Matters Most” Podcast, presented by First United Bank and Trust. That’s my bank. Visit us today at mybank.com.

Eric: Hello and welcome to What Matters Most, the podcast all about finances, community, savings, and security for you, your family, and your business. This podcast is brought to you by the helpful folks at My Bank, First United Bank and Trust.

I’m your host, Eric Nutter, and in today’s episode of What Matters Most is the next in our First United’s 120th anniversary series. And for today’s discussion I’m honored to be joined remotely today by Jason Rush, Chief Operating Officer at First United Bank and Trust. Hey Jason, how’s it going?

Jason: How you doing today, Eric?

Eric: I’m doing well. I really appreciate you joining today. You know, we’re in the middle of doing a whole series, talking to a lot of different folks, current and former associates at First United, just talking about 120 years of banking. And so I appreciate you joining me today to talk a little bit about your history here.

Jason: Sure, yeah, 120 years, that is…it’s hard to imagine but yeah, that’s exciting.

Eric: It is. It is. So you’ve been a former guest on with us before and it’s one of our more popular episodes, but we also didn’t talk about you. So that’s what we’re gonna get to do today. So why don’t you tell our audience a little bit about yourself and your background?

Jason: Well, first off I’m pretty sure it was the topic that made it one of the more popular than [inaudible 00:01:35] listening today, but…

Eric: Surely not. Surely not.

Jason: So yeah, I am a native of Garrett County, I grew up, graduated from Northern High School right here in Garrett County, went on, graduated from Frostburg State University. You know, both of my sets of grandparents were…you know, both sides of the family go way back here, so we have a lot of roots in Garrett County, much like the bank over the years and, you know, as far as now I’m married to Angie, I’ve got a daughter that’s a senior at WU [SP] and a son that’s a senior at Northern this year, and just, you know, enjoying time with them and being outdoors as much as possible. So that’s kind of my background.

Eric: Well and we, you know, we’re in 2021, so I’m certainly looking forward to a better year than last year. We certainly had a lot of slugs hitting us last year but, you know, ready for a better year this year. So Happy New Year to you by the way.

Jason: Yeah, Happy New Year to you.

Eric: Thanks. So you grew up in Garrett County, so you were aware of First United probably all growing up. Like, being that the bank was around for 120 years, what’s your earliest memory of First United?

Jason: Well, I actually…the house that I lived most of my life in was two doors up from the old Lake office. My mom, whenever I was growing up, she worked at the Lake office. Later on she moved to marketing in the training areas, but whenever my brother Josh and I were growing up she would…we were only two doors up, so whenever we were outside beating on each other with sticks or something she would yell through the drive up at us to straighten up or, you know, one of the other tellers at the Lake office would give us a good yell or whatever.

So I would say probably I remember First United whenever…well, was still First National then and, you know, probably whenever I was just a little kid. I know Martin Liddell [SP] whenever I graduated from high school he was the manager at the Lake office. He actually…I was able to get a personal credit line for, if I remember right it was like $200 at the time, but he did make me…he made me my first loan. So long history long before I started with the bank, that’s for sure.

Eric: Well let’s talk about when you started. So what brought you to a career at First United?

Jason: My health insurance if you would believe it. I had just graduated from Frostburg and that was in 1993, and then back at that time you didn’t…you had a couple of months, if I remember right, you could stay on your parents’ health insurance. And you know, I was looking for a full-time job. Like I said, my mom worked at the bank so I was certainly aware of it, but the other thing was I cleaned…Dick Stanton, who was the CEO at the time, I used to clean his car up every…you know, every month, every couple weeks or something. He would call and ask if I’d clean up his car.

And he knew that I had graduated from college and I guess about the same time the bank was just getting ready to cross 500 million in total assets and they had a compliance exam and I guess someone from the regulatory body decided that the bank should probably put more resources towards compliance, and Dick asked Barb Schweitzer, who was in the HR department at that time to give me a call and see if I was interested, and I guess as they say, the rest is history.

Eric: It’s interesting. I think people that have listened to all of these episodes, really the 120th probably might get the impression that we are only talking to compliance people. Because everybody that we’ve spoken with started off in some way related to compliance. So we talked with Bill and Gene and both of them mentioning compliance as well. So it’s pretty funny.

Jason: Well, I mean, that is funny because there are gonna be, you know, two or three people usually that work in that area at the time and it’s a great area to start out, and I always say because you get to learn a little bit about everything about the bank, from the compliance, from the audit [inaudible 00:06:35] because it is…it is funny but all three have started that way.

Eric: Well, and it does, it touches every part of the bank. So you’re right, it gives you a good exposure to a lot. So what other roles did you take in your progress from starting off in compliance to now chief operating officer?

Jason: I’ve had the good fortune of moving, you know, all across a lot of different lines of the bank. I started out in compliance, I was there for a couple years, then I moved to the branch network and I was in our Oakland office for a while and then I got to go to Grantsville, and I was Community Office Manager for Grantsville Community for a number of years, and came back to Oakland, [inaudible 00:07:27] mortgage origination while I was in the retail offices. I was in treasury management for a while then eventually became the…well at the time it was called regional area manager, which is now, more recently has been referred to as market president. I was regional area manager for Garrett County, now Anne [SP] County and Mineral [SP] County.

In 2006, Bill Grant, who was the CEO at that time, I got a call from Connie Forbes who was the executive secretary, and I was on my…I remember I was on my way to Grantsville actually and she called and said, you know, Bill would like to see you in his office as soon as possible. So I went back to Oakland and he asked me if I would…to think about it over the weekend, that was a Friday. But he said I’d like or you to think about moving to the operational side of the bank and, you know, take it over as director of operations.

You know, that was in 2006 and since that time I’ve been working on the operations and risk side of the bank and it’s been a lot of fun.

Eric: That’s cool. I think the takeaway for anyone listening who is even remotely considering a career in banking and then wondering, you know, what can you do within a community bank, I think it’s important to understand just how many different paths you can take and how many different career opportunities there are. You know, there’s just…there’s more to banking than just being a banker. And I think that’s…it’s a really cool thing to see. And someone like yourself has kind of taken that path kind of around the…that winding path around the bank.

Jason: Yeah. And particularly in community banking because you get the opportunity to do a little bit of everything. I mean, you…one day I might be…well, one hour I might be working on, you know, something for human resources related to, you know, benefit plans, and then the next hour you’re talking about cyber security and something IT-related. Or you might be, you know, meeting with a contractor on the renovation of the…or building of a new location or something.

So it’s just always, you know, looking at loans and potentially, you know, help…being able to, you know, help somebody get the home that they want or to expand their business. I mean, it’s just always something different and that’s what makes it exciting for me.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we’ve been talking with everybody about the 120th anniversary and sort of celebrating being around since 1900. It’s crazy to think that the bank has been around since 1900. We’re now at 2021 but we’re celebrating our 120th anniversary. What does 120 years of being a community bank mean to you personally?

Jason: Well, for me, Eric, I try to…you know, I try to put it in perspective when I think about it. I’ve been at the bank for 27 years, so you know, let’s just round that up to 30, and that’s basically, you know, that’s 25 percent of the time that the bank’s been around and I just think about the changes that I’ve seen and, you know, that less than 25% of the time that the bank’s been around.

You think about the leadership over the years, the great people that have been with the bank, and the number of, you know, good decisions that were made along the way to make it possible for an organization to, you know, be successful for that long and keep growing.

I mean, you know, then you think about…if you think about it through the eyes of the bank, I mean, you know, they survived the Great Depression of the ’30s and there were a lot of community banks that weren’t able to do that, you know, a couple of world wars thrown in there and landing on the moon and, you know, just all the history, just all the good decisions that had to be made and, you know, also just the expansion of the communities.

I mean, at one point in time First United was really just the First National Bank of Oakland, but now to have 25 offices in…you know, in two states and, you know, all the different communities that it’s part of, it’s just hard to imagine, you know, just everything that went into getting to where the bank is today.

Eric: Certainly. Yeah, it’s cool to think. I mean, I don’t know the stats but I know a lot of businesses don’t…aren’t able to last, you know, 5 years, whatever the number is, it’s some percentage that are…they fail within 5 years and to think, you know, First United has been going for 120, it’s wild to think of that.

Jason: Right. Yup, that’s for sure.

Eric: So being that you’ve been here 25% of the time that the bank has been open, what are some…I’m sure that generates a lot of memories. Do you have any favorite memories you can share?

Jason: Yeah. I mean, you know, the favorite memories are always going to revolve around the people, people that I’ve worked with, the customers that I’ve got to know. I mean, I think of my time at Grantsville and, you know, the customers that I got to know there, you know, a lot of good friends. No matter what area of the bank I was in, there was always great people to work with.

The things that I’ve learned over the years, I’ve got to serve under at least three different CEOs now between, you know, Dick Stanton whenever I first came to the bank, and then Bill Grant for the, you know, for the longest part of my career, I mean, 20 years and, you know, working directly for him for I think was about 14 of those years, and in the last several years working under Carissa, and just the different leadership styles but also the passion that they all three brought to the bank and to the community they served, and just, you know, really enjoyed my time working under them.

But you know, some of the times that I always remember, I mean, they weren’t…at the time they weren’t always good memories but in the end they end up being that way. I mean, I think back to Chris Palmer and I, we worked together for 20 years. She’s on deposit and loan operations for a number of years here at the bank and we’ve worked together. I remember a…you know, you always hear about the software conversions that you…that a company goes through and sometimes things don’t always work out great and this would be an example of one that didn’t go so well.

I remember I got a call one morning from one of my friends and they were like, my savings account, I got my statement note from the [inaudible 00:15:07] the balances and they were [inaudible 00:15:09]. And I got a call from somebody else and they said pretty much the same thing and we quickly found out that our conversion didn’t go so well.

So, you know, Sunday morning we’re all reprinting statements and trying to get everything out. You know, that’s been, I don’t know, probably 15-20 years ago at this point. So at the time it seemed like it might be the end of the world, and certainly to Chris and I probably seemed like it was going to be the end of a career, a couple careers, but now whenever we’re sitting in a meeting and someone’s talking about a conversion where things didn’t go just exactly right, we just kind of look at each other and we’re like, it won’t be as bad as that conversion, I’m pretty sure.

So I mean, there’s those types of memories and, you know, it’s the people.

Eric: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, one of my favorite that involves you is actually we were talking with Gene Helbig a few episodes ago late last year and Gene talked about the different skits and things that we did, and they were usually for the, you know, once a year we kind of gather all employees together and, you know, we have an annual meeting. Of course we didn’t for Covid reasons last year but normally we would have those especially when Gene was around.

And he had some kind of promotion, some kind of contest that he was running within his area that he ran, and he called it the Big Dog Contest and, you know, he had this enormous stuffed dog that he was touting as sort of the prize, I guess, I don’t remember, and… But the thing I do remember is that someone took the dog and he didn’t know where it was, and he pinned it on you, and I don’t even know if you did it. I don’t think you did it, but he assumed you did. And so one of the skits we had to do in front of the whole of the company was to kind of grill different people and you were one of them, we were grilling you whether you had taken the dog or not.

Jason: Well, chances are Gene won’t listen to this, so I’ll go ahead and admit that yeah, I might have had a little something to do with that. No, you’re right, I was actually…whenever you started talking about skits we used to do I was actually thinking… I recall one years ago where we did the…for some reason we did the YMCA and I remember Gene was…I can’t remember what…if he was the cowboy, I think I was the Indian, I can’t remember how it was, but anyway we were both at the YMCA skit. That will probably end up coming back to burn me at some point in time [inaudible 00:17:59]

Eric: Well, you know, when…usually when retirement does arrive, anyone we have video footage, picture evidence of, that stuff finds its way back to the top. You know? So you get to look forward to that.

Jason: Well, we used to do a lot of skits and there’s probably…for some reason they always liked to put the dog guy in, so I guess that’s how I ended up in a lot of them, you know?

Eric: So the other thing I wanted to talk about is, you know, we’re talking about favorite memories, but you know, just coming to work every day, especially for such a long period of time, you know, what gets you out of bed every morning? What’s your favorite thing that kind of brings you, you know, brings you to the bank every day for 27 years?

Jason: Well, you know, I touched on a couple of them already, but I’m gonna have to, it’s gonna sound like a broken record. So I’ll go ahead and repeat it anyway. But it’s the people. I mean, I really enjoy the people that I…I’ve always enjoyed the people that I work with and I continue to enjoy the people that I work with. I mean, I think there’s a lot of teamwork within the bank, there’s a lot of, you know, a lot of good times. I mean, yes, it is working but, you know, we do have fun too. I mean, there’s a lot of things that we do along the way, either, you know, joking around with somebody or giving somebody a hard time. I think we all get along really well.

But you know, end of the day it’s all about helping the customer and helping, you know, those within our community, and I think that’s what First United has always been about and will continue to be about. That’s, you know, what brings me to work every day.

And then the other thing is like I said earlier, I mean, I get to do something different all the time. So, you know, it’s just…it’s a lot of fun whenever you enjoy what you’re doing, and you know, that old saying, I guess was it variety spice of life or whatever? I mean, for me that’s what it’s all about. I mean, I can…you know, I might be working on a…working with the IT department on something related to cyber security one hour and another hour we’re meeting with the contractor on a remodel project or, you know, looking at, you know, how can we make this mortgage loan that this young couple would like to have? How can we make that work and make it work for them and…I mean, there’s always something different, that’s what’s fun about [inaudible 00:20:54]

Eric: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I think you’re absolutely right, the culture, the…because sort of the heart of First United is about people wanting to help other people, and that’s really what it comes down to. You become close to everybody internally, you know, you’re basically family and everybody just wants to do the best we can to push the thing forward and to help customers, and it’s really cool to see… You know, everyone I’ve spoken with for this is…says…echoes the same sentiment. Everybody feels that way.

Jason: I mean, work makes up at least a third of your life. I mean, most people do at least eight hours a day, so I mean, you might as well have fun while you’re doing it. So, you know, that’s kind of the approach I would like to take to it.

Eric: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, and speaking of the variety, you know, when I started, never did I think I’m gonna host a podcast someday, and so…but here we are. So…

Jason: Yeah, and it’s fun. Yeah.

Eric: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So last question for you, sir. After 120 years of helping people, First United’s been around for 120 years, what do you think is next for First United?

Jason: You know, Eric, I really don’t look for it to be much different whether it be, you know, 10 years from now, 50 years from now, whatever we’re talking about. I guess I should explain that a little bit, because it will be a lot different, I’m sure. But the cracks of what we are about, and you know, we touched on this a second about, I mean, we are here to help. And we are here to be an adviser, and you know, people place their trust in you to give them good financial advice. And if you think back what it was like in 1910 or whatever, you know, somebody coming in wanting to build a house or to expand their business really isn’t that much different than what it is in 2020. I mean, they have a need and our job is to try to satisfy that need.

What’s changed over time is the delivery channels, the process of how we do it. I mean, you know, now everybody’s got, you know, a computer and a phone that’s a computer, where, you know, whenever I started at the bank I remember there was one computer in the bank or two computers in the bank or whatever it was, and we don’t have those old general ledger cards or whatever, any punch cards or anything like that, but…

So I’m sure 10 years from now, 50 years from now the technology is gonna be different, the way we do things will be different, but really deep down it’s still going to be about being a trusted adviser and providing advice and the services that the customers need and the community needs. And I think, you know, as a community bank, First United is very well positioned to do that.

Eric: Very well said, as always. So thank you so much, Jason, for your time today, I really appreciate it. I think it’s been a fun conversation. Do you have any final…

Jason: Absolutely.

Eric: Do you have any final thoughts, any parting words for people who have been a fan of First United for a portion of that 120 years?

Jason: I would just say thank you to those that have been a fan or been a customer of the bank, and we certainly appreciate that. And if there’s anything that I can ever do to help any of them, I’m more than willing to do what we can.

Eric: Excellent. All right, thank you again, sir, I appreciate your time today.

Jason: Thanks, Eric.

Eric: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. That brings us to the end of our show. You can always find more episodes by visiting mybank.com/podcast, or find us on your favorite podcast app. And we’re on basically all of them. So find us on your favorite one that you like and subscribe and give us a five-star review. That helps other people find our podcast. You can also always leave feedback, ask questions or request a topic for us to discuss by sending an email to podcast@mybank.com. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with more helpful content. But until then we wish you the best in focusing on what matters most to you.

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