As the promise of 2021 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 PPP loans — we will ever experience. Strong leadership has never been more essential than it is today. To share some of their best leadership practices, Az Business magazine sat down with some Arizona business leaders to watch in 2021, including Brian Crisp.

Brian Crisp is the senior vice president of commercial lending at Enterprise Bank & Trust. For more than 30 years, Enterprise Bank & Trust has primarily focused on serving the lifetime financial needs of privately-held businesses, their owner families and other success-minded individuals. Here is our interview with Brian Crisp.

Transcript of full interview

Az Business: What’s been the impact of COVID on Enterprise Bank?

Brian Crisp: COVID has impacted us in a handful of ways. I think No. 1 is the way we work. I think prior to COVID, we were not really a virtual company. So we pretty quickly had to pivot to be able to work in a socially distant way. I think it also impacted us in the way we sell and we develop relationships. We are a relationship bank, so it’s a very personal way of going out and meeting new prospects and trying to win their business. So to adapt to a virtual environment was a challenge for us.

Pre-COVID, it was a lot of coffees and lunches and happy hours and the occasional golf and going to meet people at their office and tour their facilities, and sitting down across the table to really understand their plan, their objectives, and how we can prepare solutions and help them achieve those. And when you go into a virtual environment, a lot of that gets removed. And so we’ve had to adapt and sort of refine our practices to interact with our clients in some really unusual circumstances and some challenging times, and also develop new business relationships and try to meet our goals in terms of growth in the region.

Az Business: What are some of the ways that you were able to keep cultivating those relationships in a virtual environment?

Brian Crisp: One of our differentiators in terms of cultivating and retaining those relationships is access to decision makers. And we’re a bank that kind of prides itself on giving local authority to our various markets. So we really tried to engage senior leadership with our clients and our prospects. So whether it’s our Market President Jeff Friesen, and our Market Chairman Jack Barry, all the way on up to our CEO Jim Lally, our president, our chief credit officer, it really was an all hands on deck effort to make sure that we were engaged with our clients and our prospects, and we’re listening to their needs and their concerns, and being able to address those. So I’d say that’s the biggest way we shifted our approach in that virtual environment was really trying to connect our clients with the people that are the decision makers in our organization.

Az Business: Can you talk a little bit about how Enterprise handled the Paycheck Protection Program loans and the process?

Brian Crisp: The PPP process was kind of a whirlwind. If you think back, we all went home in the middle of March and just a handful of weeks later, we were in the midst of the PPP process being deployed. And there really was a tsunami of demand that came with the start of that program. Our organization, in a matter of days, cobbled together our process to be able to process those applications, transmit them to the SBA and facilitate those PPP loans. And the volume really was incredible. I think the number of loans that we process through PPP equated to roughly four years of our average annual loan production in terms of the number of loans produced, and that had a great impact on the communities that we serve. A lot of that money went into the pockets of employees and it allowed them to stay with their employers. And it helped bridge those companies through this period of unprecedented uncertainty.

Az Business: What does it say about Enterprise as a bank that you were able to pivot that quickly and help all these businesses that needed your help at the time?

Brian Crisp: One of the things that I’ve observed in my almost 10 years at Enterprise Bank is the commitment to innovation. And we’ve made significant investments in our technology and our software platforms. And those investments allowed us to very quickly shift our business model when we went to a virtual environment. And I think because of that investment, it allowed us to move quickly in PPP in very unusual circumstances, and be able to build that out and deliver that to the markets that we serve.

Az Business: How were you able to keep your team motivated when everybody was in a virtual environment?

Brian Crisp: I think motivation engagement is different for everybody. I think everybody reacted a little bit differently to working from home. Some people thrived in it. Some people, I think, like more structure. So communication was key. We over-communicated, probably had meeting fatigue within our organization. But everybody was adapting to this new reality. And I think sharing best practices and talking to each other about how we can recreate the way we operate to serve our clients and our communities.

The focus was always on the health and well-being of our associates, and they’re dealing with unusual things at home, right? The kids are sent home from school. Your spouse may be working remotely with you. And so I think talking to our associates to make sure they’re aware of what resources are available to them. I think giving them the tools that they need to be successful in serving our clients during this period and giving them flexibility. There were unique demands on people’s time during quarantine and social distancing. And so, kids needed help with online school or your spouse may need assistance with something they’re trying to achieve during the day. So we’ve given them the flexibility to handle what they needed to with their family, but also get done what we need to do as an organization to continue to serve our clients.

Az Business: How would you describe your leadership style?

Brian Crisp: I guess I’d rephrase it a little bit. I think in leadership, if I am putting my team in a position to be successful and to achieve their long-term career objectives, I feel like I have succeeded as a leader. And I think going back to the prior topic, communication has been so paramount. And I think having empathy for the situation that our associates were in and our clients were in, and I think being able to adapt our processes and give them tools and resources to help meet some of the unique challenges that everybody’s faced during this pandemic.

Az Business: What are some of the trends or issues that we should be looking for in the banking industry in 2021 and beyond?

Brian Crisp: I think innovation is going to be a big one. I think one thing COVID did was shine a bright light on weaknesses of companies. It’s not just banking, it’s any business. And I think banks that did not invest in their IT infrastructure, their software systems, weren’t easily able to pivot, I think the way Enterprise Bank was. So I think that is something you will see banks make a big investment in. I think that’s one of the lessons learned from the pandemic.

Az Business: Are there other lessons that you learned from the pandemic that you think is going to make you a stronger leader moving forward?

Brian Crisp: This has been a learning experience for everybody, every business, every organization. So I think everybody’s going to try to take the lessons that they’ve learned. How were we efficient? How did we utilize space and how can we apply that to our business model going forward? I think those are things you will see Enterprise Bank look at and the industry look at as a whole.

Az Business: What’s your industry outlook for 2021?

Brian Crisp: My crystal ball is malfunctioning at the moment. I think there’s still so much uncertainty about 2021. I think there’s a lot of factors that can really impact what that year is going to look like. We need a healthcare solution. When will we have a vaccine? How effective will it be? How widely available will it be? I think there are some issues we’re wrestling with right now. There are certain segments of our economy that just are on the sideline. They’re precluded from participating, and can we get them some additional stimulus and some additional relief to bridge them until we have a healthcare solution.

And then I think the big one is real estate. I think companies are really rethinking their physical footprint, their space, how can they repurpose it? What is the need for that physical footprint in space? And it will be interesting to see what long-term trends come out of this. So I think those are the things that I will be looking for in 2021.