How two brothers found 'love and happiness' in business while moving Wichita forward

Fidelity Bank: Never Stop Starting

Fidelity Bank released the latest video in its “Bravely Onward” series this week, called “Never Stop Starting.” (Video courtesy of Fidelity Bank)
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Fidelity Bank released the latest video in its “Bravely Onward” series this week, called “Never Stop Starting.” (Video courtesy of Fidelity Bank)

You see it in every family.

Two brothers at a table recalling shared experiences but nitpicking at each other over their interpretation.

"Let's tell him the back story. This is really a good family business story."

"Am I going to like this?"

"As I say, I'm the older brother."

"Quite a bit older."

But these are no ordinary brothers.

On Thursday night, Clark and Clay Bastian will receive the Uncommon Citizens award at the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce's Honors Night.

They're being recognized for what they've done for the city.

The brothers, who together own Fidelity Bank but separately run the $2.1 billion bank and its holding company, have for decades served on the boards of nearly two dozen organizations and community groups.

Clark is chairman of the Wichita Community Foundation and a board member of the Wichita State University Foundation. Clay serves on the boards of the Salvation Army and Wichita Downtown Development Corp., the latter for more than two decades.

The brothers and their foundation have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a variety of efforts over the past few decades. Their most recent donations: $1 million for WSU's new business school building and $1 million to stimulate entrepreneurial activity and to support arts, education, human services and nonprofits.

Two other things the Bastians have done in the past decade have had a lasting effect on the city, said Greater Wichita Partnership president Jeff Fluhr. They are the six-year-long Fidelity Bank "Bravely Onward" advertising campaign that's as much about celebrating and challenging Wichita as it is promoting Fidelity, and the Bastians' multimillion-dollar renovation of the Carnegie library building downtown, which Fluhr called a "unique component to our landscape" and a "gift to the city."

"I truly believe they look at opportunities and say, 'Why not?'" Fluhr said. "They very much are collaborative, forward-thinking in moving the city forward."

The Bastians say it's their responsibility to contribute to the city.

"More than anything, we're lifers here," Clay said. "This is where we made our lives. ... We've got roots here, (and) when the city benefits, our business benefits."

It's something Clark, 65, and Clay, 61, said they learned from their father, Marvin, who received the chamber's Uncommon Citizen award in 1995.

"Dad was a huge booster of Wichita, and I think he raised us with the idea that our prosperity depends on this community, and that means giving back to the community from our prosperity," Clark said.

A 'horrible idea' averted

Even though the Bastians can quibble like brothers do, it's clear they've found a way to successfully run a business that employs more than 450 people and is under its third generation of family leadership.

"That's the generation that usually screws it up," Clark said, laughing. "I think we've just about passed the finish line."

Clark, who is chairman and chief executive of the bank, joined the business in 1975 after graduating from WSU.

When Clay joined the bank in 1980 after graduating from the University of Kansas, it worried Clark. It worried him because "at some point he was on the organizational chart reporting to his brother," Clark said.

It also worried him that he might share the duties of the bank's top post with Clay.

"I kind of had this feeling — I don't know that it was ever said directly to us — but our parents envisioned us as co-presidents some day," Clark said.

"I didn't get that impression," Clay said.

"Which is a horrible, horrible idea," Clark finished.

It was a horrible idea, Clark said, because after Clay joined the bank, situations arose where some employees didn't like the answer they got from one brother, so they went to the other one hoping to get a different answer.

"And it made it difficult to manage," Clark said.

It was Clay's idea for him to move over to the holding company as its president. There he could manage the family's investments and do its estate planning.

"It worked great, from my perspective," Clark said. "Because the issues went away with people being confused about things, how to get things done, and at that level, we kind of did become the equals that my parents envisioned."

"Plus, I'd say Clark is more of an organization person, does a lot of interpersonal work with other managers here," Clay said. "And I guess I'm maybe more analytical. I'm quite content working on spreadsheets and reading legal docs and contracts."

Clark said it's been beneficial, too, because with Clay's move to Fidelity Financial Corp., "he became my best critic. He would tell me stuff that nobody else would tell me. And I really depended on him."

"That's how two brothers find love and happiness in a family business, by creating some separation."

'Quiet and understated'

The brothers have "instilled this incredible culture" at Fidelity that's employee-driven, said Sheryl Wohlford. Wohlford recently joined Fidelity's board of directors and has worked with the Bastians on community service projects at the Rotary Club.

"Their style is very quiet and understated, because that’s how they are," said Wohlford, president of Wichita manufacturer Automation-Plus. "They’re not looking for the spotlight. They’re not looking for recognition. They are actually looking to move things forward."

That quiet and understated nature the Bastians share might also explain why they genuinely don't feel they deserve the Uncommon Citizen recognition they will receive Thursday night.

"Most days we're not worthy of getting coffee for them," said Clay after Clark produces a list of past Uncommon Citizen award winners.

It includes people like Cessna chairman emeritus Russ Meyer, former Bank IV chairman Jordan Haines, former Beech Aircraft chairman Olive Ann Beech and former Coleman Co. executives and brothers Clarence and Sheldon Coleman.

"We kind of grew up meeting these people and knowing what they did for Wichita, and it's, um, it is very humbling," Clark said.

"Mostly it means we're getting old," Clay said.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark