National Baseball Hall of Fame legend Yogi Berra was once quoted as saying about life, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
For Columbia Bank’s Chris Merrywell, the journey from bank teller to bank executive has taken him through a series of career forks in the road, most of which he was able to successfully navigate thanks to one overriding career philosophy: “If you want any hope of moving forward, do the best you can at the job you’re in. That’s what will get you in the conversation when opportunities come up.”
A focus on learning, with an eye on moving up
When brief early careers in insurance and finance didn’t answer what he felt were callings to lead people and take on more responsibility, Chris essentially started over by taking an entry-level teller position at a Seattle-area bank. He quickly discovered that his new position was teeming with opportunities.
“I wasn’t trying to look too far down the road. I was really just focused on learning and doing the best I could with that job and then paying attention to the opportunities that seemed to naturally present themselves.”
By the time Columbia Bank inquired about his services, Chris had successfully navigated his way to the executive ranks at national and international banks. Fine companies, Chris says, but the positions left him feeling a bit distant from the people he desired to lead. “Columbia Bank was smaller at the time, but that’s what attracted me—the chance to be closer to people and make decisions that directly helped them.”
Never wavering from a job well done
Today, Chris is the chief operating officer and executive vice president at Columbia Bank. During his ascent to his current position, he never wavered from his driving career philosophy to keep learning, doing his best, and watching for the right time to move. Even so, Chris isn’t about to discount the importance of a culture that supports career movement at Columbia Bank. “We have a real sense of empowering people to make decisions. It’s refreshing and very satisfying to watch. People here sometimes do more than they ever expected.”
Appreciating the value of that very first job
And how did starting out as a branch teller impact Chris’s journey and the way he works today? “Honestly, it helps every day. You know, most people think of their bank as the person they interact with in the lobby. Most often, that’s the teller. It’s an important position. Having been there, you really get a sense of what the customer is looking for, and how we can help our front-line people—tellers—support that.
At Columbia Bank, tellers go by a different title: client service specialist, or CSS. And there’s a good reason for that. “Tellers today have the opportunity to do so much more than tellers did 30 years ago, especially at Columbia Bank.”
Indeed, at Columbia Bank, every department—including banking, marketing, IT, and HR—represents a potential career direction for a CSS.
“When people start here, they quickly learn that there’s a whole lot more opportunity than meets the eye. So many of our people have started out as tellers and now work in a wide variety of departments throughout the bank. And when I talk to them, I always mention that I started out as a teller. This is completely possible.”
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