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A conversation with Brian Heinrichs

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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Brian Heinrichs has forged a career in finance that took him from Wichita to Chicago, New York and Kansas City.

Now Heinrichs is back, this time as chief financial officer of Intrust Bank.

While there was a span of about eight years when Heinrichs wasn’t living in the Wichita area, the Mulvane native and father of a 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son was making trips back to the area on a regular basis because of his volunteer work on the Wichita State University Foundation’s National Advisory Council and Barton School Advisory Board.

A 1996 WSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business and finance, Heinrichs and his wife, Joy, in the early 2000s set up a scholarship fund specifically for Mulvane High School graduates attending WSU.

And, he said, the distance never stopped him from attending any WSU men’s basketball games in the NCAA tournament, either in the team’s Final Four run last year or when the team made its Sweet 16 run in 2006.

“I won’t miss an NCAA Tournament game,” Heinrichs, 39, said. “The running joke at RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) was I would have quit my job.”

Heinrichs grew up the son of a Sedgwick County sheriff’s detective and a legal secretary.

When he started at WSU, he planned to major in math and physics.

“I’ve always been good at math,” he said. “I was thinking about what am I going to do with my career? I remember going to the (WSU) library … and they had those career guides. Just flipping through there I found a financial analyst, and I switched my major. I had some really good professors there, and I was just really good at it. Things you’re really good at you tend to like. It fed my passion.”

Heinrichs’ first job was at Koch Capital Services, where he was an associate analyzing Koch Industries’ oil business and researching potential deals for the company. He worked his way up to a senior trader in the company’s capital markets group before joining Kansas Farm Bureau as vice president of investments and head trader, following his former boss at Koch who had been hired as Farm Bureau’s CEO.

How did the transition from Kansas Farm Bureau to Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets happen?

Another guy I had worked with at Koch had moved to Chicago, starting a derivatives desk for RBC for municipal clients. We’d always been tight, kept a close relationship.

Then you were transferred by RBC to New York in 2005, where your office in Manhattan was in proximity to what is now a historic site. Where was it?

I worked right across the street from Ground Zero. I took that train into what was Ground Zero every day.

Likewise, how did you go from managing a multibillion-dollar derivative book for an international investment bank to being a senior executive of an Olathe-based senior living company?

(Because of the daily commute from New Jersey to Manhattan) I didn’t see my (newborn) daughter Monday through Friday … and I felt like I wanted to do something of value. As a trader … there’s nothing tangible that you can say, ‘OK, I helped people’s lives.’ They (Bickford Senior Living) really needed a finance person … and at the same time the product of that (company) is we’re caring for 2,000 seniors. So it was a good time and place to detach from Wall Street. It had value, personally and professionally.

How would you characterize Bickford Senior Living’s growth in the seven years you were there?

We grew more in terms of our cash flow and our financial position than we did in terms of buildings or units. The first thing I did (at Bickford) was an estate transfer from father to sons. He had cancer and has since passed away. We recapitalized the business and a portion (of the proceeds) went to pay out former shareholders. We probably did about a billion dollars worth of transactions … really cleaning up the balance sheet, step-by-step.

And once you did that, you helped Bickford form a joint venture with NHI, a real estate investment trust, which essentially meant you worked yourself out of a finance job there?

Part of doing that deal was kind of the end of what I was doing for the company, which is the whole point. Bickford should be focused on taking care of residents, and I was the deal guy the whole time.

How did the job at Intrust come about?

I happened to see something that said CFO and Intrust Bank. So I made a call to Elizabeth King (president and CEO at the WSU Foundation) and said, “Hey, do you know anything about this?” And she said, “Let me call over to J.V.” (Lentell, Intrust vice chairman). I think within two weeks I was hired.

You’ve had a little time in your new role now. How is what you’re doing now different from working in Chicago or New York? Is the pace different? Better work-life balance?

It’s much slower. But I’d say the bigger thing versus the speed is the predictability. When you live in a big city, life is not predictable. If there is rain, if the president is in town, a one-hour commute became three hours. All sorts of things that seem small turn your life upside down. The difference between New York and Chicago is Chicago is still like living here, it’s the same feel. New York, New Jersey, everything is a fight … there’s just so many people, everything’s an effort. It’s a hard way to live, frankly.

From what you’ve learned thus far in your career, what parts of it can you apply to your new job at Intrust?

Being at Bickford the last seven years, I think I have a very good perspective of what it feels like to be a customer. As a bank, hopefully I can say we need to put our customer mind on.

Your support of Wichita State and its athletics is deeper than simply being an alumnus?

WSU is kind of the underdog, and I think I related to that growing up. I used to go to the games when we were terrible. I’ve kind of always been an underdog, chip on my shoulder, prove-people-wrong person. I feel like nothing’s been handed to me, nothing’s been handed to Wichita State. That’s why I think I relate to it. It’s important to know where you came from.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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