Texas Longhorn Brings His A-Game to Commercial Banking
In a pandemic, business owners need empathy and expertise. Mark Wade's team delivers both.
By Megan Ryan | October 22, 2020
Mandy Austin breathed a sigh of relief when Big 12 football started up on Sept. 12.
“If Texas Longhorn football doesn’t happen this fall, Mark Wade is going to need a new hobby,” said Austin, Dallas market president for Bank of Texas, prior to the season.
Wade’s love for the burnt orange runs deep—he, alongside all of his three siblings, attended the University of Texas. Some of his fondest memories are attending UT football games with his two sons after attending with his dad and brothers when he was young.
While Texas football is back, it will be through an adapted format—new schedule, fewer fans, no tailgating. And just like his beloved Longhorns, Wade is managing the ups and downs of the banking business in a global pandemic, whether huddling with clients on how to keep their businesses moving forward or a personal development opportunity for one of his employees.
He has spent nearly two decades learning and refining his own skills while pushing his BOK Financial teammates to improve their own. He begins each day by focusing on 14 traits he has chosen to define his leadership style.
From care to authenticity, transparency, connecting and having a sense of humor, Wade’s commitment to intentional leadership has served him well.
In fact, it’s that approach to leadership that led Wade to his new role as executive director of commercial banking for BOK Financial in late 2019.
“Some people talk leadership, but not everyone walks, talks and lives it,” Wade said. “If you truly believe in leadership and adopt it into your daily professional life, you can make a tremendous difference in people’s lives.”
Wade led the Bank of Texas team in Dallas for many years. Austin first met him when she interviewed for a job after graduating from college.
Reflecting on those early conversations, she recalls 15 years later, that he was a tough questioner during the interviews.
“But, I liked him because I could tell he knew what he was talking about and he really focused on his people; that team and culture focus was really important to me.”
Moving from a market role to leading a line of business across eight states during a pandemic has been a significant transition for someone who thrives on connecting with people.
“I miss seeing people in person,” he said. “It’s important to me to get to know the individuals on my teams, what motivates them and hear about their families. If you truly know someone and they truly know you, the relationships you can build will be far stronger than if you are just someone they hear on the phone or see on a screen periodically.”
He takes the same approach with commercial banking clients.
“We have a relationship not only with the company but with the owners and their families,” Wade said. “We know them inside and out. A large majority of the time we are their only bank and they rely upon us to help guide them as they make decisions for their company. We are truly their partner in business.”
Earlier this year, Mark and his team led the effort to support businesses through the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP), turning an SBA team of five into a team of 500—literally overnight.
“The task to get our PPP response up and running was monumental,” said Norm Bagwell, regional banking executive with BOK Financial. “And Mark nailed it. We were able to provide $2.1 billion in support from scratch and that’s a great tribute to his leadership and discipline.”
The stakes were high for businesses trying to survive the pandemic, and Wade praised his team for helping their clients in a way that was “life changing” for both.
“People across the company pushed everything else aside and focused on helping our clients save hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Wade said. “So many were raising their hand and asking how they could help. The team has also been there for moral support, to listen and help. This is one of the primary reasons I’m in banking—to make a difference.”
As the pandemic continues, maintaining those personal relationships can grow more challenging. Video calls and virtual happy hours are working today but Wade stresses the need to get back in front of each other.
“The conversations outside of official business meetings are where you really get to know where these business owners need the most support,” he said.
Leading by example
There’s no doubt that Wade is driven. He works hard and sets a high bar for his team, but that hardly paints a full picture of the man.
He is the first to put on a silly costume to raise money for United Way or rock an ugly sweater to be part of the team.
“Mark takes his job very seriously, but not himself,” Austin said. “He’s unafraid to show up in full costume; it’s kind of shocking, really. He’s such a great sport and is willing to do whatever needs to be done to drive engagement for the team, and it has made our market super successful.”
Wade said he embraces that role. “I like to help people have fun and you can’t take yourself too seriously. If wearing a costume and making a fool of myself makes me more approachable—even when my wife asks what in the world is wrong with me—I’m happy to do it.”
But while he’s willing to take a pie in the face or a dip in a dunk tank to rally employees, he also gets down to business.
“Mark doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He’s honest and tells you how it is,” said Vicki Stinson, Wade’s long-time executive assistant. “But, he’s also one of the most supportive and caring people I know. He gets business done, but he really cares about everyone along the way.”
Bagwell, who has worked with Wade since the 1990s, said he is “one of the most coachable people I’ve ever worked with. He wants feedback, transparency and he always wants to know what he needs to do to improve his game.”
One of Wade’s best attributes is that he is an advocate for many, Bagwell said. “He finds ways to create visibility for people at all levels of the organization and their contributions to the company’s success. He’s really great at connecting with people and making everyone feel a part of something bigger.
“He has strong social skills and good banking skills—and that’s a real art to balance.”