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Leader Spotlight: All Eyes on Joe Kiser

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Our region’s future is bright thanks to the strong leaders who are navigating change and cultivating successful teams today. These leaders are not only a catalyst for the change that is happening right now, but they are molding and shaping the leaders of future generations. The region’s stars in the 2020 class of Leadership Kalamazoo are in the FIRST & 42 spotlight. Dive in to learn about these leaders’ “firsts” in life as well as their answers to a few deeper questions about their leadership and vision for our community. Today we have the privilege of learning more about Joe Kiser, community outreach and financial empowerment officer at Old National Bank.

Joe recently transitioned into his current position in which he helps Old National Bank adhere to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and all Fair Lending Laws. “It’s a great role for me because I get to maintain the relationships I’ve built in the community over the years while striving for more equitable and inclusive treatment of those who have traditionally been oppressed and excluded from the financial services industry,” said Joe about his job. When asked about his leadership style, Joe says he strives to be an authentic leader, building honest relationships with his team and everyone he encounters. On this, he said “I want to make people feel happy when I’m around. I value honesty and fairness above all else and do my best to live these values in everything I do.” Joe’s work experience began at the Meijer on Gull Road, where he had his first job pushing carts and bagging groceries. Another first in life we learned about Joe is that his first car was a Chevy Cavalier. Continue on and learn more about Joe Kiser.

First Things First

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?

My first car was a Chevy Cavalier. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore! I actually went on to own three more Cavaliers after that one, and they all kept on motoring for over 250,000 miles. I can’t wait to buy one with historical plates one day.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

My first job was pushing carts and bagging groceries at Meijer on Gull Road. It was an incredible experience, and I still have many lifelong friends from that job. I also still never squish my bread or break my eggs!

WHO IS THE FIRST PERSON YOU GO TO WITH GOOD NEWS?

My partner Nina is always the first person I go to with good news. She is quick to celebrate with me, and just as quick to…let’s say “keep me humble.”

The Deep Dive

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR CURRENT POSITION? WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES?

I’ve been in my current role since March. It lined up very nicely with COVID-19, so I’ve primarily been soaking in knowledge via six to seven Zoom meetings per day. My job is to ensure the bank I work for is adhering to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and all Fair Lending laws in the markets I cover which are the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Northern Indiana (South Bend and Fort Wayne). It’s a great role for me because I get to maintain the relationships I’ve built in the community over the years while striving for more equitable and inclusive treatment of those who have traditionally been oppressed and excluded from the financial services industry. I regularly teach financial literacy and speak to both internal and external stakeholders about their rights and responsibilities regarding lending and homeownership.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?

I strive to be an authentic leader. It’s incredibly important to me to build honest relationships with my team (and everyone I encounter). I try to be positive and upbeat at all times. I’ve always liked the phrase, “People will not remember what you said but will always remember how you made them feel.” I want to make people feel happy when I’m around. I value honesty and fairness above all else and do my best to live these values in everything I do.

HOW HAS YOUR LEADERSHIP GROWN THE MOST IN THE PAST YEAR?

“Nothing about us, without us” is perhaps the most important idiom I’ve learned in the past year, and it has paved the way to growth for me as a leader. This means that all the grandiose planning of events, workshops, programs, and services designed to help people will be meaningless and hollow without working side by side with the very people being helped or served. This has caused me to pause and seek input and partnership before making decisions. I’ve learned that to be a strong leader, you need to be an exceptional listener.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE HISTORICAL LEADER? WHY?

My favorite historical leader is Jane Addams. She was an extremely important leader in the Progressive Era, striving for greater equality between the rich and poor and was instrumental in the fight for women’s right to vote. She may be best remembered for founding “Hull House” in Chicago which was a “settlement house.” She is my favorite historical leader because her goal was to bring the rich and the poor of society together, both physically and socially. I share this goal. Jane Addams was also a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization I admire greatly.

WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR OUR COMMUNITY IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

I adore Kalamazoo. There’s no other place in the world I’d rather live and raise my family. That said, we are a small city with big city problems. This makes Kalamazoo the perfect place for the type of progressive societal experimentation Jane Addams pioneered in Chicago over a century ago. We are also extremely lucky to have one of the most philanthropic communities in the entire nation. Combine that capacity with the like-minded, highly energized community leaders here, and we’ve got a recipe for positive social change. The work we do here could be replicated for millions across the country. The Kalamazoo Promise is a phenomenal example of this and is the first thing I talk about when meeting someone from out of town. In five years, I hope to see the wealth gap and racial segregation in our community decrease dramatically. I’d love to finally see an end to intergenerational poverty in Kalamazoo, making this a great place to live for all of us.

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