Sunday, March 11, 2007

Klaas W. de Waard

Klaas W. de Waard:
Active, Honest, and Easygoing

By: Joseph W. Norman

Klaas de Waard, Branch Manager of the Community Bank in Mount Morris, has been in banking for thirty-eight years. What seems most compelling about this man is his history though. Born and raised in Holland, he had exposure to America on a student exchange through the American Field Service program. After the program, he decided this was where he wanted to live. At the age of twenty-four, he immigrated to America and this was only the beginning of a successful professional and personal life. He has been married thirty-eight years and resides in Avon, New York. At the age of sixty-two, he lives a very active life, spends much time with his wife and family, and constantly makes his presence known in the communities he lives or works in. To describe Klaas in a few words it would be genuine, honest, and at ease.

As a child in Holland, his father ran a family farm. Had his siblings or he taken over, it would have been the thirteenth generation of his family managing the farm. Although he did not take over the farm, he still loves farming and “if I really retire, I’ll probably help some local farmers out,” he said. At his bank now, he does many farm calls so he has continuous exposure to his roots.

After high school, Klaas traveled to America for the exchange program. He reflected, “My year as an exchange student was wonderful.” At that time, they did not travel by plane, but by boat. Therefore, he spent “ten days in a boat, with seven hundred exchange students, all seventeen or eighteen years old from Europe.” He said, “That was fun.” After returning to Europe, he studied Civil Engineering in Holland for a year, was drafted for two years, studied another two years, and then decided to immigrate to America. “My studying wasn’t the greatest in the world but my social life was great,” he quipped.

In America, he met his lovely wife who he has been married to for thirty-eight years. In fact, he got engaged to his wife on the Eiffel Tower, came over on a visitors VISA, two months later got married, and in another two months had his green card. Then, three years later he became a citizen. Some question whether he married his wife out of love, or just to stay in the country. “I think I proved that point,” he replied.

Reflecting on marriage he gave a few words of advice; “It’s not easy to stay married, because you don’t really know each-other when you get married.” He went on to describe the union wittily, “It’s like jumping into a pan with cold water.” Also, “It’s an adventure,” he said. “If you both go into it with an attitude that you want to make it work, it will work.” His wife and he had children when they were young, so one of the most difficult times in his marriage was when they finally left the house. “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘What do we do now?’” They spend much of their spare time together, going out to eat, seeing plays and performances, walking, and watching movies.

In respect to Klaas’s professional life, he started at Marine Midland / HSBC in 1969 shortly after he immigrated to America. With a background in civil engineering, banking just sort of happened by accident. There was a job open as an assistant manager at a branch for Marine Midland, so he said, “Okay, let’s try it.” From that point on he has worked in the industry.

Klaas's Office in Mount Morris

At HSBC, his role was primarily in branches and branch management. “I didn’t really like branch administration because you don’t really deal with customers much, you deal with bank people,” he said. “That gets real old, real quick.” This statement speaks of Klaas’s easy going persona. His motivation and work ethic are unquestionable, but even through his vigorous efforts he has a way of keeping people at ease.

He has an incredible focus on the customer, which is what serves him well as a branch manager. “Our real goal is to help our customers reach their financial goals.” He does this by getting to know them, being open to conversation, and building relationships with them. More often than not, one can find him out in the lobby chatting with customers and his staff making sure everybody is doing well. He insists that there are many ways banks can help people. “At this bank they told me when I started, ‘Don’t worry about your goals this year just get to know your customers.’” He enjoys his current role in Mount Morris and plans to be there for another five and a half years. “That will be enough banking for me,” he responded.

Some of his fondest memories include his year as an exchange student, college in Holland, and getting married. On the other hand, he reflects on the most challenging moments as being laid off in 1991 by Marine Midland. He had another job with them as a branch manager in a few weeks, but “that was stressful.” Another case was when he was forced to retire in 2002 from the company. “Losing a job is very stressful; you are never ready for that,” he reflected. “You should be prepared for it, always have a resume ready.” That is handy advice for the ever changing world we live in.

The little things that make Klaas who he is primarily involve his wife. When asked about what he does in his spare time his first response was, “the Honey-Do list.” In addition to the many activities they do together, Klaas enjoys staying active within the community. He teaches a few classes through the Junior Achievement Program put on by the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce. He is also active in the Avon Lion’s Club and he serves on a few non-profit boards including the Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts. It his important for him to stay visible within the community in his line of work, so he takes joy in all of these activities.

Besides being involved in the community, Klaas loves to read. Growing up where he did in Holland he read constantly because there were many long, cold winter nights. In fact, he describes himself as a “garbage reader,” reading anything he can get his hands on. He finishes three to four books a week. Some of his current favorite authors are James Michener and John Grisham.

Other than reading he enjoys Sudoko puzzles, sleeping, white water rafting, and flying. In fact, he gets eight hours of rest a night and he wanted to be a pilot when he grew up. He has one cat and the first movie Klaas ever saw was The Lady and the Tramp in the early 1950s in Holland. He does not eat candy. His favorite food is pasta, because his wife, although not Italian, loves to cook it. However, when they go out, she prefers chicken while he is more apt to eat veal. He claims, “We know most every restaurant in the Rochester area.”

Some of Klaas’s pet peeves include dishonesty and micro-management. He said that he will hold a grudge against somebody if they lie to him. In respect to the latter, “If you pay me to do a certain job, let me do my job.” Both of these traits reflect how he runs his office. He treats his customers and staff with respect and compassion. They always have the freedom to do their job and his honest opinion when a situation arises. “You make mistakes,” he says. It is important to be forward about it, reflect on it, and move on.

Three people Klaas would like to meet are Bill Gates, whom he admires a great deal because of his down to earth persona and entrepreneurial spirit and John F. Kennedy, whom he actually met at the end of his exchange program at the White House. This was merely six months before Kennedy’s tragic death. Another, and the most unique, is the Greek philosopher, Demosthenes. As a youngster in Holland, Klaas read the philosopher’s works and developed a tremendous respect for him.

In retirement, Klaas plans to travel much with his wife. She currently works at the University of Rochester in Heart Research. They have two children; a son, 37, that works for British Petroleum, in Johannesburg, South Africa and a daughter who is a speech pathologist in the Rochester area. Spending more time with them will be a must after they finish working. Also, he would like to do some volunteer work on some farms and possibly work as a volunteer business management consultant. There is an organization in Rochester that does the latter which interests him; SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business.

Klaas defines success in a few ways. First, he stated, “If I sleep well, I feel good about myself. That is the big one.” Next, he reflected on his influence as a branch manager, “I started a loan for somebody who started a Mary Kay business and she sent me a thank you note. I had never had a thank you note before, that made me feel really good.” He continued, “If people come back to you and say it was really nice what you did, that makes me feel good. I think that is part of your success.”

In parting, Klaas has a few words of advice that he has learned throughout his career as a banker. First, “All change starts locally,” he says. “You can do something about ‘right here.’” In addition, he reflected on how people deal with their finances. If people look for banking he said they should check the competition too. One needs to “do more research on whatever he or she is doing.” It is important, he says, to “plan your finances and not just shoot from the hip.”

In terms of education he recommends to get more of it. “It is important to find out what you want to do and go after it,” he states. Finally, he urges you to “feel good about yourself.” There are many things to do in life. “Don’t let anybody tell you what to do, you do it,” he states.

These timeless words of advice come from a man who has modeled them in his own life. When asked about a personal mantra, he simply stated, “I just want to help the customers.” One can always expect a smile and a friendly atmosphere when he or she steps foot into Klaas’s Community Bank in Mount Morris.

Jess Francis (Team VIP Member), Klaas, Joseph

Klaas W. de Waard

Community Bank, N.A.

46 Main Street

Mount Morris, NY 14510-1194

Office: 585-658-2245