Jared Utz, Regional President, Southeastern Region of Mid Penn Bank, spoke to VISTA Today about growing up in Philadelphia, near Fairmount Park. He was also drawn to sports, competing in cross country and tennis as well as teaching tennis as a high schooler.
Utz also worked for his father’s consumer finance company from a very young age and, after graduating from college, received his first full-time job in banking. He discussed how he was drawn to Mid Penn Bank because of its business philosophy, community involvement and moral compass. We discussed his plans to earn more exposure for the bank among Philadelphia businesses.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up, Jared?
I was born the oldest of two boys in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. At a very young age, we moved to a little area just outside the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia in Springfield Township, Montgomery County. My backyard opened into Fairmount Park. I was fortunate to have acres and acres of woodland to fish, ride bikes and have a tremendous outdoor experience in a large city.
And what did your parents do?
My dad owned a consumer finance company and my mom worked in library. I guess that you could say there has been a lot of lending and reading in my life! Back in the day, before home equity lines and credit cards, consumers only had a few options for financing, especially for things like improving their homes. That was the business I grew up in. It’s funny – if you had asked me what I wanted to do when I was a kid, lending was not it.
And here you are. You’ve become your dad.
I suppose that it’s in the DNA. In fact, I started as a collector at the age of 13. I was on the phone, working on past-due loan payments. One of the things that I still remember about the company is how we treated our customers. I still think about that today: People always remember how you made them feel. This is one of the most important concepts that I still practice today.
Go back to Chestnut Hill for a minute. What memories stay with you,
I was in the same school from kindergarten through 12th grade. When you grow up with people, you create a special bond. A lot of us are still around the greater Philadelphia area. I am very fortunate that I can keep in touch, both socially and professionally, with people I’ve known since a very young age.
What part-time jobs did you have when you were growing up?
My first job outside of the finance company was washing dishes at a restaurant at the corner of Northwestern Avenue and Germantown Pike. I was in sixth grade at the time and received a cheesesteak and a 20-dollar bill after my shift. I’ve also worked in retail, for a public works department, as a lifeguard, and in my mother’s library.
As a high schooler, I played a lot of tennis well before that. I was able to turn that into a job in high school and later in college. That was a nice way to earn a lot more than I did at the other jobs.
What other sports did you play besides tennis?
I ran cross country from a young age. In fifth grade, it was discovered that I had a mild form of asthma, and the recommendation was to start running, so I started running at a young age. It’s something I still enjoy doing. Running is all about pain management and perseverance. It’s mental as well as physical. When I was in my 20’s, I discovered that I had a talent for distance swimming. I used this, along with my running background, to compete and place in various triathlons.
I never played formally, but I also truly love basketball. I still play, and I coach a seventh- and eighth-grade team as well as a second-grade team, which has brought me a lot of joy. We will be in the finals in a couple weeks.
Of all the sports you played, what were you best at?
Probably cross country. I was never the best runner on the team but never the worst. I enjoy being on a team – cross country is actually a team sport. I enjoyed the camaraderie and working as a unit. With tennis, you’re pretty much out there by yourself.
Do you have a favorite race or match you remember all these years later?
I played Middle States Tennis for a well-known local team and camp. We played various tournaments and I remember one match when I had to play the number one seed in the tournament. He thrashed me.
I remember the car ride back and our coach saying, “What happened?” I said, “That guy was just better than me. I had no chance against him.” He pulled the car over, looked me in the eye, and had a stern look on his face. His point was, “With that mentality, you already lost. Who’s your opponent?” I said, “The guy I’m playing.” He said, “No, that’s not true. Your opponent’s the ball.”
That little mindset shift was everything, especially in tennis. It’s not about the person you’re playing, it’s about the ball coming over the net and your reaction to it. It should be the same reaction no matter who you’re playing.
When you were done with school – I’m going to guess you were a pretty good student – you could have gone anywhere. Where did you end up going, and why there?
I went to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I had a guidance counselor at Chestnut Hill Academy who suggested JMU. He knew I wanted to go a little ways away but not too far away. James Madison is four hours away from Philadelphia, and it had a good reputation. It was a state school, so the tuition was reasonable even for an out-of-state guy like me.
I went down there for a visit, and like a lot of other things in life, you know when something is right. I ended up attending JMU from 1994 to 1998. Part of the reason I had a great experience there was not just the school’s offerings, but I was in a fraternity with an interesting story. I pledged in the spring of my freshman year. Sometime later that year, the campus newspaper ran an article saying we all pledged under false pretenses, and in fact had no national charter or school recognition.
Outside of having a lot of fun, we spent the next couple of years getting the charter back. I was President of the fraternity during my senior year. We built it up to about 40 or 50 guys and got our charter back. It was a great experience and my initial entrance into organization leadership. This was probably the first time in my life that I saw myself as a leader. I also discovered that I am truly passionate about building an organization with a solid team around me. I’m still close with the folks from my fraternity. We didn’t know it then, but that solidified our relationship.
Looking back over your career, who were the people who saw promise in you and opened up doors?
I had a friend from college whose mom, Emily McCoy, was well established in the Human Resources department of First Union Bank in the Roanoke, Virginia, area. She encouraged me to try a career in banking. I ended up, under her guidance, applying for and getting a job at First Union in their customer service department during the merger with CoreStates.
Customer service is an important role within any bank. The challenge was, I came in under a terrible merger, so we had a lot of unhappy customers. For two years, I would field calls and conduct research. During this time I learned that truly listening to the customer is one of the most important things that you can do as a banker. From there, I moved into the small business lending group with that bank.
Who else saw promise in you, Jared?
The next pivotal moment happened when I left banking for about six years starting in 2005. I’d been in banking for seven or eight years and wanted to try something different. There was a young, growing company in the life insurance world which caught my attention. I started as a Financial Analyst. The owner saw potential in me as a wholesaler, and that became my first experience in sales.
I decided to go back into banking in 2011 and ended up connecting with the leadership of Milestone Bank out of Doylestown. I had yet to understand much about the community banking space since my experience had all been in large banks.
In my opinion, my interviews couldn’t have gone worse. My Garmin dashboard GPS stopped working and I became lost on my way to the interview. But the Chief Lending Officer, CEO, and CFO saw something in me and the rest was history. They made the right call, I suppose. I moved up the ranks quickly at that bank and was fortunate enough to get a seat on the strategic planning committee. One of the things I was tasked with at that bank was to explore what the term “trusted adviser” meant for our employees and customers. There’s actually a formula for trust – if you take consistency, reliability, and intimacy and divide it by self-orientation, that should create trust with whoever you’re talking with.
So, how did you end up at Mid Penn Bank?
I learned of Mid Penn Bank through the PA Bankers Association as well as some of the employees and leaders. While I didn’t know our President and CEO, Rory Ritrievi, I knew of him and his excellent reputation.
There was an opportunity to join the Bank in Newtown. I loved the brand and some of the softer things about Mid Penn. For example, how do you handle customers after the deal closes? A lot of community banks fall short on that due to staffing. We’re well-staffed – we can take care of customers by offering a team, concierge service. I like the approval process and the overall swagger of the bank. My philosophy on business and my moral compass aligned exactly with this bank. It’s a very customer centric bank that lives and breathes the word ‘relationship’. Everyone, starting with Rory, is obsessed with creating a positive customer journey for anyone doing business with us. I’ve never in my life experienced a culture like this (except for perhaps my father’s finance company!).
Here we are in the first quarter of 2023. What are your priorities to make that happen? What are you focused on?
Our focus in this region is our continued expansion. We want to continue to create opportunities for Bank exposure in the Southeast Region. How do we let folks know who and where we are? We have a very talented staff of lenders who are versed in business and investment real estate lending as well as SBA lending, cash management / treasury personnel, financial advisers, and insurance.
My other objective will be to attract new talent to the Bank. Mid Penn Bank is the best bank to work. We continue to expand, which makes it an exciting organization to be with. We have every resource available for employees to have an unparalleled journey. For example, we have Mid Penn Bank University, which is a state of the art, physical building where employees can take classes on a multitude of topics designed to enhance their current and future job aspirations. Each employee has an Individual Development Plan which is a road map, overseen by their manager and professional development representative, to keep them on track to achieving whatever it is they want to achieve.
Take a step back – how do you want Mid Penn Bank to be known in the Philadelphia region?
An unparalleled customer experience, meaning that at every point of your interface with the bank, your expectations will be exceeded. It could be anything in the business – from the commercial loan approval, to fixing issues, to proactive fraud mitigation. We want to be consistent, be reliable, communicate with folks, and anticipate needs whatever their financial needs are. We want to be known as the number one financial services solution for our customers.
So, what do you do with all your free time, Jared?
I have a wife and three kids. We have a dog and a house that we’re constantly working on. I coach a couple of different teams. I enjoy staying active – working out, playing basketball, running, swimming, and doing what I can to keep moving.
Do you read much?
I do. I enjoy books on leadership and fiction.
What’s something significant you’ve changed your mind about over the last 10 years?
I’ve evolved my thinking on the power of self-belief and vision. Anything that you’re going to accomplish, or not accomplish, has to start within.
It’s a crazy world out there, Jared. What keeps you hopeful and optimistic?
The points of personal connection I’ve made over the years. I think the human story and the human journey are one of tribes. We all are in the same plight, even though a lot of the overt issues right now suggest anything but that. When it boils down to it, we’re all wired the same and have the same needs. You can see that in talking with business owners, customers, and neighbors. We need to focus less on what makes us different and more on what makes us the same.
A senator from the Midwest said something after the January 6th incident in Washington, D.C. His point was that the fabric of America exists in the neighborhoods (community), not on a federal level. I think about that a lot. If you can focus more on your neighbor, local politics, and what’s going on outside of your doors, and you have a nation of folks focusing on what’s going on outside of their doors, we can get to a good place. This is the moral alignment that I alluded to with Mid Penn Bank. My professional life allows me to directly impact the community.
I throw a party at my house every August for my neighbors. I give this speech – I want folks to appreciate the fact that we live in a good neighborhood. We live in a place where our kids can drop their bikes in driveways. We live in a place where it doesn’t matter if you’re left, right, or center – that stuff doesn’t need to be worn on our sleeves. We can coexist and work toward common, community goals.
Finally, Jared, what’s the best advice you ever received?
I was recruited out of business school around 20 years ago as a Financial Analyst with a regional bank in our area. The Market President at the time met me on my first day of work. He approached me and said “you probably think you’re smarter than everyone because you have an MBA [laugh, I didn’t think this by the way]. The only thing that is going to distinguish you is your work ethic.” I decided at this point that I will never be outworked by anyone. This is one of my personal brand promises to my customers and colleagues.
When I left banking for a few years, a Director told me that, “All great customer-facing teams have an even greater internal relationship with other departments in the company.” This is something that has shaped my professional life as well. Forming strong internal relationships fosters empathy, and with this, we can better serve our customers as a team. Banking, at least on the level that we want to exist on at Mid Penn Bank, is a team sport. If you do it right, which we do, customers will feel this.