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A conversation with Mark Keeny

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, at 12:09 a.m.

What good is a geology degree if a graduate winds up going into banking?

It’s pretty handy, actually. In Kansas anyway.

That’s what Citizens Bank of Kansas CEO Mark Keeny discovered.

The Wichita native went to the University of Kansas in the early 1980s when he said “the oil business was pretty hot.”

By the time he graduated in 1985, he says, “it was in the dump.”

Keeny started his career with Pawnee Products, which makes roll-out trash containers.

His father-in-law, the late Max Deterding, then encouraged him to become a bank examiner. Eventually, he joined the family bank.

Today, he owns the majority of Kingman-based King Bancshares with his mother-in-law, Shirley Deterding, his wife, Amy Keeny, and sister-in-law, Jane Deterding. There are seven Citizens Bank of Kansas branches.

“Shirley, Amy and Jane are really a good group of ladies to work with,” Keeny said. “They’re all very smart. They’re all very business savvy, and so it makes for a good mix.”

What did the start of your career with Pawnee Products teach you?

That’s where I got my first taste of customer service and collections and receivables and all those kinds of things. And that kind of piqued a different interest. … It was just interesting to me how all that worked.

Did you find you had a knack for collections?

Not necessarily. I’ve always been pretty good with talking with folks and working things out.

So you started focusing on finance?

During my time at Pawnee, I went back to school at WSU, started taking some accounting and finance, took Intro to Finance and just absolutely loved it.

Why?

Just all the different aspects of it. The time value of money. … Interest. A dollar today is not worth the same amount it would be three years from now.

Then your father-in-law suggested banking?

He approached me and said, “You know, if you’re really going to continue doing this, you might want to think about going into banking.”

He’d been an examiner with the FDIC, right?

He said, “It was the best experience I ever had in my life. It taught me what to do and what not to do. If you really want to learn banking, that’s really where you ought to go.”

Did you know you would then go work for him after that?

I thought that would be a possibility down the road. His comment to me (was), “There’s no commitments out there. You’ve got to go out and prove yourself.” That’s the kind of guy he was.

Anyway, he was right about examining. I really enjoyed that. … What I really enjoyed was talking with the bankers and figuring out how they did things.

In the banking business, there’s several different ways and paths for how to get to an end, and different people had different philosophies for how to get there.

Why did you leave?

After about four years, I was getting a little worn out of the travel. … Max said to me, “I don’t want you to examine too long. You might start thinking like those guys.” It’s different on the bankers side of the table than it is the examining side of the table. Getting on the other side of the table, I realized I only knew about 25 percent of what goes on.

What did you learn from your father-in-law?

Banking is not a money business. It’s a people business. To be in this business long term, you’ve got to … build relationships. Because really your customers are going to have ups and downs, and they need someone they can depend on when times are good and the times are not so good.

So is it true that you’re the laid-back one at the bank?

I’m very much emotionally (a) middle-of-the-road kind of person. No big highs. No big lows.

Do you miss geology?

No, I don’t, actually. In this part of the country, having that geology and oil background has been very beneficial. It’s really been good to understand that part of the business.

What I really liked about geology is there’s a lot of science involved in that. … It’s solving problems, which is very applicable to banking.

What’s your least favorite part of banking?

Ah the regulatory paperwork. … I kind of grew up in that regulatory side, and it’s nothing like it was 20 years ago, and I think that’s kind of spurred a lot of bankers to get out of banking. They’re just kind of tired of it. What we call regulatory fatigue.

But you continue to plow through it?

You put up with the paperwork because it’s really fun to help the customers out. … Seeing them expand their business, start a business, buy a house. Those are the fun things in business.

What’s the state of banking today?

It’s getting to be a better time to be a banker. During ’09 when there were a lot of troubles, mostly in the mortgage industry, it wasn’t a whole lot of fun being a banker. But our fellow Kansas bankers really did a nice job and avoided a lot of home loans and investments that others didn’t. Really, in Kansas we fared fairly well. … It’s getting better.

And at Citizens?

We’re really kind of in a fun spot ourselves. Our capital’s good, and we’ve got money to lend. … That’s when it’s fun.

Anything keep you up at night?

Not as much now as it was in ’09. There was a lot of sleepless nights in ’09.

What’s something few people know about you?

About three days out of the year, I get the opportunity to be a carny – to operate a carnival ride for our local (Kingman) county fair. I was part of a group that started kind of a … re-energizing of the county fair.

We’ve got a group of about 40 to 50 volunteers to run that county fair. I operate the ferris wheel. It really is a lot of fun. People of all ages enjoy that. Little kids to grandmas.

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.

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