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Tired of their stodgy reputation, bankers are ready to loosen up.
It seems everyone has this perception of bankers as buttoned-up,
pinstriped, by-the-book people . . .
except, of course, bankers themselves. But according to a recent study, bankers seem to have finally taken a good, hard look in the mirror and pronounced themselves ready to change.
A Hay Group survey of representatives from major banking organizations nationwide found that bankers are seeking a virtual turnaround in priorities. The survey split current and desired priorities into a seven-tier scale. When asked what type of employee behavior they'd like to encourage, bankers ranked seven of the top 12 current priorities into the bottom half of the scale. Meanwhile, the kinds of priorities small-business owners have been praying for-such as "maximizing customer satisfaction" and "being flexible and adaptive in thinking and approach"-moved up from their current status of second and fifth levels, respectively, into the first and second levels of desired goals.
"It seems the characteristics bankers want to de-emphasize are, by and large, internally focused and bureaucratic in nature. And when they talk about what they want to evolve into, those are customer- and market-oriented factors," observes David B. Bundren, associate director for corporate and small-business banking with the American Bankers Association. "What we're seeing is a fundamental shift, a continuing evolution of banking into a much more sales- and marketing-oriented industry."
What's sweetening the traditionally sour relationship between banks and small-business owners? "Right now the banking industry is in tremendous good health financially, earning record levels of profitability over the past couple of years," says Bundren. "Now banks are asset-hungry. They have a lot of liquidity and want to use their profits efficiently by making loans."
Competition from insurance companies, investment banks and credit unions also plays a part. "Bankers realize they can't just be fat and happy anymore," says Bundren.
Yet whether this change of heart results in a change of action will come down to the individuals running the banks. "It depends on the senior managers and the officers making decisions at each institution," Bundren says. "To the extent that these parties are innovative and forward-thinking, you can get quick changes. To the extent that they are stuck in the 15-year-old mold of being conservative and bureaucratic, it's a bit more problematic."
All things considered, could your banker be your new best friend? "Banks are trying to emphasize small-business lending, and small businesses are generally doing well," says Bundren. "The tension has been eased." -Janean Chun
Who's On First
And you thought it was just America's pastime.
You've heard the one about baseball being just a game, right? Don't believe it. In . . . It's Where You Played the Game: How Youth Baseball Determines the Personality of the American Male (Henry Holt & Co., $20 cloth), avowed baseball fanatics Mike and Luke Ryan reveal that the national pastime is not so much a sport as it is a Rorschach test for the spiked-shoe set. And the position you played on the diamond as a kid, according to this father-and-son team, foreshadows the hits and errors you make in adulthood.
OK, it's only a theory. But if the Ryans are even close to the strike zone, we predict a mass exodus from Little League ballparks everywhere. Who, after all, wants to go from playing first base to being a superachiever doomed to feeling second best? And who wants to fess up to having been the pitcher-the highly sought-after position that consistently breeds prima donnas who make up for in charm what they lack in character?
Geez . . . it only gets worse from there. Catchers are the scorekeepers who never forget-or forgive-a grudge, centerfielders are the loners who keep their distance, shortstops are the wild and crazy bunch, and third basemen are-well, there's no polite way to put this-pretty damn dumb. ("The test for a third baseman," says Mike Ryan, "is to ask him to spell 'ox' and give him the first two letters.") Ouch!
The only group that really turns out well are the Sir Lancelots of the field-the second basemen. This might not be a completely unbiased assessment, however: "Luke and I were both second basemen," concedes Mike. "To be honest, we did find there are some foibles and faults in second basemen-but we didn't reveal them. We've put that research in an envelope that can only be opened 20 years after the last one dies."
We'll be waiting. -Debra Phillips
One For The Books
Independent bookstores fight for their fair share.
As if they didn't have enough to worry about with the Barnes & Nobles, Borders and Waldenbooks of the world breathing down their necks, now small bookstores are being forced to fight publishers for a fair shake.
The industry watchdog, the American Booksellers Association (ABA), contends some book publishers are giving preferential treatment to large bookstore chains by offering more price deals and display allowances (where publishers pay bookstores to showcase their books). To drive home its point, the ABA filed a lawsuit against six publishing houses for violation of antitrust law. Penguin USA, Houghton Mifflin and Hugh Lauter Levin recently settled with the ABA, but at press time, the other three publishers-St. Martens Press, Rutledge Hill Press and Random House-were still fighting.
Independent bookstore owners are hopeful the lawsuits will help instigate change. "We want to bring the publishers to the table and discuss the rules of the game and agree on a set of rules we're all going to be bound by," says Avin Mark Domnitz, ABA president and co-owner of six Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in the Milwaukee area. Accomplishing that, says Domnitz, would give independents the chance they need to not only survive but thrive in an industry dominated by the big boys. -Lynn Beresford
American Bankers Association, 1120 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Washington, Dc 20036, (202) 663-5107;
American Booksellers Association, 828 S. Broadway, Tarrytown, Ny 10591, (800) 637-0037, Ext. 219;
Brea Redevelopment Agency, 1 Civic Center Cir., Brea, Ca 92621, (714) 671-4421;
Brundige Glass Inc., P.O. Box 9415, Brea, Ca 92622, (800) 544-5277, (714) 529-2141;
California Democratic Leadership Council, 830 Orange Ave., Ste. C, Coronado, Ca 92118, (619) 522-0195;
Electronic Design & Manufacturing, 31 Millrace Dr., Lynchburg, Va 24502, (804) 385-0046;
Greener Pastures Institute, (800) 688-6352, http://www.Mythbreakers/Gpi;
Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, 409 E. Silver Spring Dr., Whitefish Bay, Wi 53217, (414) 963-3100;
Steel Supply Inc., 10600 Telephone Rd., Houston, Tx 77075, (713) 991-7600;
U.S. Department Of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 1301 New York Ave. N.W., #340, Washington, Dc 20005, (202) 219-0482;
Virginia's Region 2000, (800) 628-3413, http://www.Region2000.Org.