The most challenging time in Rhonda Dennis' more than 30-year banking career came during one of the industry's darkest moments, at the twilight of the savings and loan crisis.
Two years into her job at Capitol Federal Savings in Wichita, she was involved in assisting customers of the failed Mid-Kansas Federal.
Capitol Federal was one of several banks that acquired the various branches of Mid-Kansas, which was shuttered in 1991 by the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal entity set up to acquire and dispose of the nation's failed savings and loans and their assets.
"The customers (of Mid-Kansas), I felt so sorry for them," said Dennis, Capitol Federal first vice president in charge of retail banking for the Wichita area, Salina and Emporia. "They had no idea who had their account. They were coming with just mounds of paperwork saying, 'Can you help me?' "
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For 2 1/2 months Dennis would come to work at 7 a.m. and get home at 9 p.m.
"I didn't fix dinner for my family. I didn't clean my house. I didn't do laundry," said Dennis, 52, a mother of two. "I can remember my husband (J.R.) saying, 'Are you ever going to be fun again?' "
But the balance of Dennis' banking career, which has taken her from Arizona to California to Wichita, has been fun, the Phoenix native said.
What attracted you to banking?
"It was the professional atmosphere. You got to dress up and go to work every day, and you dealt with a lot of professional people. It was a great way to meet people and get to know people.
"Not only that, when I think of banking and the young people that are coming in, I've said everybody needs to work in a bank for a while. You learn things that carry you through the rest of your life, whether you're applying for a mortgage loan whether you want to know how to... balance a checkbook. If you work at a bank and even if you leave and pursue a different career, you're going to remember what you've learned."
What keeps you engaged?
"Working for the bank I work for. We have a great reputation, the core values, the integrity of the bank, that's probably what keeps me here.
"And I think that Cap Fed is very active in the community and I really like that. Being a transplant... that's a great way to learn about the community and the needs of the community, being out and being involved. I wasn't born and raised here so when you get here it's like, 'What's happening in this community?' And you find out through community service. That's probably my favorite.
"And, of course... employee development is probably one of the major things that keeps me motivated to come to work every day. I don't deal with customers so much anymore but business development, employee development, customer service, community service, it all goes hand in hand."
Why the interest in employee development?
"Oh I love that, love that. Whether it's a part-time drive-up teller or a CSR (customer service representative) or an assistant manager, helping them learn to grow, develop customer service skills, conflict resolution, dealing with people, that's probably the absolute favorite part of what I do.
"The greatest satisfaction I have is when somebody gets promoted. You see somebody come in and you're looking for potential in somebody... and you kind of watch them move up through the company. It's so exciting when you see somebody actually achieve something."
Where did you develop that interest in employee development?
"I guess I learned that from my mentor, Joe Aleshire (executive vice president at the bank's Topeka headquarters). He would coach and you wouldn't realize it was happening. I think that was my goal."
What's been the highlight of your career?
"Probably becoming area coordinator 10 years ago because of Joe being my mentor and him leaving and me being able to sit in the same seat. I have a lot of respect for him and what he did in the community. He was involved in a lot of things — the United Way, the Chamber, several different boards. Those are big shoes to fill and I haven't filled them yet, but I'm still working on it.
"From a business (standpoint) in 2005 we celebrated our 25th anniversary in Wichita and our foundation gave $250,000 to 10 different nonprofits. I was really proud of the company for doing that."
What's the best business advice you've ever received? I assume it's from Joe.
"Yes, it is from Joe. Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. People always say, 'Gosh, you were really lucky.' Well, I don't know if luck has anything to do with it. I think an opportunity is presented to you and you are prepared."
What's one piece of advice you give to young bankers?
"I think it comes down to doing the right thing. I like to say, 'Do the right thing in the right way and for the right reason. If you do that you'll be fine.' The right thing isn't always the easy thing, and I tell them, 'Don't do what's easy, do what's right.' "