As the promise of 2022 looms on the horizon, most people are anxious to close the books on what is likely the most unsettling year — from the pandemic to politics to supply chain shortages — we will ever experience. Strong leadership has never been more essential than it is today. To share their best leadership practices, Az Business magazine sat down with Arizona business leaders to watch in 2022, including Mike Brown, Arizona regional president for WaFd Bank.

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Highlights of Mike Brown interview

BUSINESS UPDATE: “We’ve fortunately had the biggest year we’ve ever had in the company. We just killed it. As a company in the last three years, we’ve gone from $4 billion in loans in 2019, to $6 billion in loans in 2020, and it will be $8 billion in loans in 2021. So it’s been a great trajectory for the bank.”

KEY TO GROWTH: “We really, really focused on what we wanted. There were a lot of banks that kind of pulled back from the table a little bit because of the uncertainties of COVID. We made a conscious decision via our CEO, who said, ‘Let’s lean in. Let’s get a little market share.’ We did. We were able to capitalize on some things like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Last year, the company did 9,100 loans and half of those were brand new customers. We had never done an SBA loan before PPP came along. So it was a revelation for us and we are still in contact with all those new customers. They love what we did for them. They see our culture and the way we do things and they really like what they see.”

MAINTAINING CULTURE: “We’ve always been looking at hiring additional people throughout the years. One thing we always do, regardless of how good we think a particular person may be, is if we don’t think they’ll fit the culture, we don’t go forward with them. It’s critical for us to maintain that culture. Loan volume and deposit growth will come if you get the right people. If you get the wrong people in there, it will really impact the culture and that just doesn’t fit for us.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2022: “I think it’s quite good. Interest rates have moved up a little bit over the last month, which is great for banks because they were really artificially low. I think what also is going to help Arizona in the banking community is the fact that we are getting 250 families a day migrating into Arizona. That’s an astounding number to me. So once the people come, more restaurants will come, more grocery stores and retail will come, and more commercial activity will come, which is good for all of us.”