I’ll never forget when I was working at a bank during a tough economic time. It was the early 1980s. People in the community were getting laid off and industries were closing their doors. I started to see that people had the ability to survive most things if someone just gave them a hand.
I had a situation in which a man in Maryland faced foreclosure on a piece of property he had pledged for his business. We were able to work out a deal so that he didn’t have to file bankruptcy or go through foreclosure. He deeded the property to the bank and we let him stay in his house for six months while he made other living arrangements.
The bank avoided the hassle of going through bankruptcy filings and legal expenses, and he got to stay in his house a bit longer. So although it wasn’t a win-win for everybody, it wasn’t a lose-lose, either.
The day he handed the keys over, when he and his family were moving out, he thanked me.
That was a defining moment for me.
I learned that although you see the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world — and not everyone has an epiphany like Scrooge did — in business you can be a decent person.
I’ve always been a people person.
Even growing up, I always took the leadership position on my teams and organizations. I was student body president at George Mason University.
When I graduated, I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally. The only thing I knew was that I loved to lead. So when I saw an advertisement in a newspaper to be a management trainee at a community bank, I responded immediately.
I started out as an adjustment manager collecting accounts. I repossessed cars, went to court, sued people, made phone calls and wrote letters. But I learned how to deal with people who were not in the best position. I learned how and why they reacted the way they did.
I learned that it is best to communicate with people sooner rather than later, as concisely as possible, and honestly. I didn’t have to be a bad guy.
I wore a lot of hats at the bank because it was small.
I started to question my career path and thought I should try working at a large bank. That only lasted about two years because I learned about bureaucracy.
So I went back to a community bank, an industry in which I’ve remained.
I had the opportunity to start a community bank called Heritage Bank. That’s where I began my commercial lending career in earnest. There, I got a chance to work on my first bankruptcy, a complicated Chapter 11 matter. Heritage eventually was bought by Cardinal Bank.
I started to think that it would be nice to run the bank and look at all the different pieces. It seemed like a neat job. But I didn’t like all the other stuff that comes along with being president — the PR and ingratiating yourself with shareholders. I thought maybe operations was the way to go.
After working for a few other banks, doing everything from revamping a computer system to doing business development commercial lending, I had the opportunity to help start First Virginia Community Bank.
Today, people don’t always know if people will take the time to help them. When you talk about finance, you’re talking about people’s money, livelihood and ability to realize their dreams. That’s what I love about community banking. Everyday you have the opportunity to help someone that you hadn’t planned on helping.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief operating officer of First Virginia Community Bank, based in Fairfax.
Career highlights: Chief credit officer, First Virginia Community Bank; senior vice president and business lending manager, United Bank; vice president commercial lender, Business Bank
Education: BS, management, George Mason University.
Personal: Lives in Centreville with wife Sally and two daughters.