Spotlight on Commercial Banker Donna Gandre
An Ace on the Court and on the Job
Republic Bank of Arizona has a knack for attracting experienced commercial bankers who love what they do and are dedicated to supporting the local small business community. Commercial Banker Donna Gandre is no exception. Like several other RBAZ bankers, Donna got her feet wet working at larger national banks, but eventually found the community banking environment more rewarding.
“I really enjoy working with smaller to mid-sized businesses where you can get to know them better, learn more about their business and offer higher levels of service,” says Donna.
But that doesn’t mean the big banks didn’t value her. For most of her professional life, Donna has made career moves to enhance her professional development and expand her knowledge and expertise, only to be enticed to come back to the bank she left. A great complement to any professional.
After graduating with a degree in Finance from Arizona State University, Donna was hired as an assistant controller at a small company. But after a year, she decided it was time to move on and landed a job as a credit analyst at what was then First National Bank of Arizona.
It was here her job become a career. Diving into the credit side of banking she received formal credit training and later worked as a credit analyst. Donna later received her master’s degree from the Pacific Coast Banking School.
“I really enjoy learning about the different businesses I work with at RBAZ and working with a team of professionals that really care about helping small and medium-sized businesses,” says Donna.
Bringing SBA Experience to RBAZ
Donna gained additional SBA experience while working at a previous bank and brings that valuable knowledge and expertise to RBAZ.
“Donna has been a great addition to our commercial lending team,” says RBAZ Chief Credit Officer Amy Lou Blunt. “Our paths first crossed at First National Bank of Arizona. Her overall lending expertise and valuable SBA lending experience really round out our lending team. Our clients have really responded to her quiet confidence and dedication to their needs.”
A Love for Tennis
Donna’s petite stature is known to pack a lot of power on the tennis court. Playing on the team in high school, Donna still plays today whenever possible. She’s attended three Grand Slam tournaments and hopes to have the opportunity to go again someday. When she’s not working or playing tennis, Donna enjoys spending time with family and friends. “I am fortunate to have great people in my life,” she says.
Spotlight on Vice President of Operations Frank Smith
Frank Smith Stats
Year’s in Banking: 17
First Job: Fast food server
Hobbies: Mountain biking and fishing
Family: Married with two sons, one daughter and one grandson
Fun Fact: Enjoys reading English literature
Making All the Right (Career) Moves
Frank Smith is a great example of how an entry level summer job can lead to an unexpected outcome – a career in banking with some unusual twists and turns. Having just graduated high school, Frank worked as a check sorter at a Regional Bank in Indiana. Today, Frank is one of a handful of experts in a very profitable, but unique area of banking.
Frank joined Republic Bank of Arizona in January 2020 as vice president of operations. His depth of knowledge and experience in the operations, compliance and risk management side of banking are valuable assets to the bank. Having worked for a number of regional and community banks in the Valley, his range of experience includes IT, fraud prevention, risk management, Bank Secrecy Act activities, and other general operations responsibilities.
“With Frank’s extensive experience, we’ve been able to enhance and focus on the operations and compliance side of our organization,” said CEO Brian Ruisinger. “It’s so valuable to have folks on your team with such a wide breadth of expertise. Not only that, he’s very familiar with community banking and the importance of connecting with your community. We feel we can tap into his knowledge in so many ways to benefit the bank and our customers.”
Paving the Way for New Opportunities in Banking
One of the more fascinating and unusual aspects of banking that Frank has developed a keen specialty in is marijuana-related business (MRB) banking. Prior to joining RBAZ, Frank developed the MRB banking program for another local community bank. After four plus years running the program there, he’s become one of a select few experts in the industry. In addition to his responsibilities in operations, Frank is also building an MRB banking program for RBAZ.
The opportunity to work with the banks’ forward-thinking executive management team was a compelling factor in his decision to move to RBAZ. “The prospect of moving from a dictatorship environment to a more collaborative mentality was really important to me,” says Frank. “There’s a much greater opportunity for an open dialogue here at Republic Bank of Arizona.
“I’ve been given the opportunity to incorporate my vision into building this program for the RBAZ, which is destined to bring in substantial deposits and fee income for us. I’m very excited for this opportunity.”
From English Lit to Accounting
A romantic at heart, Frank graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in English Literature. He later received his Masters of Accounting from University of Phoenix.
Spotlight on Compliance Officer Angela Whitney
Angela Whitney Stats
Years at RBAZ: 7
First Job: Typing car titles at car dealers
Community: Various community outreach programs
Personal: Married with 3 children and 9 grandchildren
Seamstress, Grandma & Compliance Officer – She Does It All “Seam-lessly”
It’s her job to make sure the bank follows the rules. And by rules we mean regulations and laws issued by federal, state and local governments who don’t mess around when you break those rules.
It’s a daunting task, but one that Republic Bank of Arizona Compliance Officer Angela Whitney has the knowledge, experience and expertise to handle with ease.
While her education is in project management, she’s worked in the financial industry nearly her entire career, but never on the front lines, always in the back shop. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it is boring, blasé job. When you work for the FDIC and Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) closing savings and loans … it can be pretty interesting stuff.
Homeland Security and US Marshalls
“My first job with the RTC was to fire the entire staff at an RV resort that was stealing money from the vending machines,” says Angela. “Here I am, a 30-something woman who never managed people in my life, going in and firing all these employees. That was interesting.”
As a bank security officer, she’s worked with Homeland Security and the US Marshalls Office regarding suspicious activity; she’s answered subpoenas and placed garnishments and levies. She’s even confronted the owners of a “connected” bank years ago.
While working with the RTC, Angela was part of a project team that closed nearly every savings and loan in the state. Following the RTC position, Angela acquired more banking experience working at other community banks before joining Republic Bank of Arizona as the Compliance officer in 2013.
No “Zipper Days” at RBAZ
Her job is varied and diverse at RBAZ, which is what she enjoys most. “It’s never zipper day here,” she says, explaining it’s what her aunt would say about her daily activities working at a sewing company. “She would work on specific areas of a garment, like sewing zippers all day, but she never got to work on the full gown. Here, I get to work on the full gown doing a variety of things.”
Those “things” include monitoring and reporting suspicious activity, reviewing all marketing and communications to ensure it adheres to compliance regulations, maintaining the bank’s policies and procedures, preparing materials for board of directors meetings, conducting and monitoring all compliance training for the staff, and more. She is also required to do ongoing education to maintain her BSA and compliance officer certifications.
“It’s been a good career,” says Angela. “I’ve worked my way up from closing banks to opening banks.”
“Angela is our compass, ensuring we stay on track from a regulatory perspective,” says CEO Brian Ruisinger. “But she does so much more than that, taking on anything we toss her way. She’s a real asset to our bank and can tackle just about anything. We’re so lucky to benefit from her experience, knowledge and dedication.”
Best. Grandma. Ever.
A very proud grandma, Angela is very dedicated to her nine grandchildren and spends as much time as possible with them. An excellent seamstress, she’s sewn countless Halloween costumes for her children and grandchildren. “I’ve sewn everything from pot holders to wedding gowns, but costumes for the grandkids is what I enjoy sewing the most now.” she says.
Sewing has been a passion and source of joy for her since her great aunt taught her to sew years ago. In fact, one of her first-ever jobs was selling sewing machines. “I was a terrible salesperson,” she says. Thank goodness that didn’t deter her from her love of sewing. Angela also enjoys traveling and cooking, having once owned a pizza restaurant in Phoenix.
She is indeed, a woman of many talents!
Spotlight on Controller Christine Worth
Christine Worth Stats
Years at RBAZ: 1
Pets: 3, 1 Pomeranian, 1 Chihuahua and 1 Cat
Free Time: Learning country two step and country swing, and spending weekends in Prescott
First Job: Gymnastics and cheer coach
Fun Fact: Christine is engaged with a spring wedding planned in May!
Finding Balance at RBAZ
She’s a numbers-crunching ninja who found the work-life balance she was seeking at Republic Bank of Arizona. Before joining RBAZ in 2019, Controller Christine Worth was clocking some 60-plus hours a week at her previous accounting position, and it was taking its toll.
Now, she feels like she has a life again. “I can actually go to the gym after work, and get home at a decent hour,” says Christine. But that’s not all she finds appealing at RBAZ. “Honestly, I enjoy everything about it,” says Christine. “I enjoy the actual work I’m doing and getting to oversee the entire accounting function.
“I love being part of a smaller institution where I can see that my contribution actually matters, and I am involved in discussions about the strategic plans for the Bank. I enjoy the people I get to work with every day and am excited to be part of the Culture Club that helps plan social and volunteer events for everyone to participate in.”
Accounting Proved to be a Perfect Match
Accounting was not Christine’s first choice, in fact, it was her fourth major. She started college as an elementary education major, but quickly changed to business, where she dabbled in marketing and finance, and eventually landed on accounting. “When I was a finance major, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated,” admits Christine.
“I was required to take an accounting course as part of my business general education and realized that accounting made complete sense to me, and I actually enjoyed it. We had a guest from one of the big four accounting firms in my class one day talking about public accounting and that’s when I realized I wanted to start my career in public accounting.”
Christine is no novice to the community banking world having specialized in the financial services sector in her previous public accounting positions. “The opportunity to see things on this side of the table was appealing,” says Christine about her move to RBAZ. “Now I can see the whole picture.”
And she came highly recommended having previously worked with RBAZ’s CEO Brian Ruisinger. “I’ve known Christine for several years, and I know she’s a hard-working, incredibly talented and smart individual with a great demeanor,” says Brian. “She’s easy to get along with, works well under stress, and enjoys being an active participant in our banking community.”
Dad Sets a Great Example
Christine’s parents, and particularly her father influenced the strong work ethic she employs today. “Growing up, I always admired my dad and wanted to be like him,” she says. “He worked to support our family, but he was always home for dinner and attending as many of my extracurricular activities as he could, even when that meant that he would go into work on the weekends.
“Both of my parents taught us that hard work was the key to being successful and to give everything 100%.”
Spotlight on Banker Jon Olson
Jon Olson Stats
Joined RBAZ: April 2019
Years in Banking: 30+
First Job: Working on the family farm, and then as a manager in a local hardware store
Iowa Farm Boy Remembers Appreciation for Local Bankers
Growing up on a family farm in Iowa, Banker Jon Olson knew he wanted to emulate the values portrayed by the town's local bankers when it was time for him "to get a real job." "Local farmers formed good relationships with the local bankers," explains Jon, SVP and Commercial Banker at RBAZ. "Our banker helped support our cattle business, always giving my family prudent advice. I knew I wanted to be that guy," says Jon.
With a 30+ banking career under his belt, he feels like he done a pretty good job so far. That is largely due to his focus on community banks, he says, insisting that when it comes to banking, smaller is better. "It's becoming more and more difficult for bankers at larger banks to take the role of a trusted advisor," Jon says.
"Jon is a veteran banker with a deep commitment to the community and a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in business banking," says Amy Lou Blunt, Republic Bank of Arizona chief credit officer. "He and I worked together earlier in our careers, and while experience continues to mold and broaden our perspective, some fundamentals remain unchanged. His clients trust him and know they can count on him to work in their best interest. We are very fortunate to have him on our team."
Learning a 2-Way Street
While Jon has spent his career helping local businesses succeed by working as their prudent financial advisor, he sees the process as a two-way street. "I really enjoy getting out and learning from my customers," he says. Every nugget of insight he learns from his customers can, in some way, help another customer down the road.
With business degree in hand, Jon answered an ad for a credit analyst with a local Iowa business bank. From there, opportunities in varying areas of banking and finance seemed to present themselves as he gained additional knowledge and experience. Earning his MBA was one of the most satisfying moments of his career.
He Puts Community in Business Banking
In Jon's view, being a true community banker means volunteering your time and talents to support your community outside the job. He's been an active member of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, East Valley Chamber of Commerce Alliance, Tempe Chamber, and the Diocese of Phoenix Financial Council.
Jon is married and has a daughter. He and his wife enjoy spending time with their numerous friends and traveling the state in their RV.
Spotlight on Banker Cathy Mireles
Cathy Mireles Stats
Years at RBAZ: 1
Years in Banking: 30+
First Job: Bookkeeper at a crop dusting company
Personal Note: Does weightlifting training
When it Comes to Serving Clients, She Totally Nails It!
She can swing a hammer like a pro, but her real passion is building client relationships rather than houses. Cathy Mireles, Republic Bank of Arizona’s Operations Manager, has built homes for Habitat for Humanity and recently helped remodel her family’s home, but her day job at RBAZ is her true calling, she says.
Cathy and RBAZ’s two Universal Tellers are a small but mighty team that represents “the face of the Bank.” With a banking career that spans 30-plus years, interacting with clients is what Cathy enjoys most about the job. The transition from working for larger banking institutions to smaller, community banks has been a positive one.
Learning the Nuts & Bolts of Banking
“While working for a larger bank seemed more mechanical, driven by sales and procedures, it was good training,” explains Cathy. “I learned a lot. But working for a smaller community bank allows the passion you have to assist customers to thrive. For me, it came to light that this is really what I want to do.”
Not everything can be found in a procedural manual, explains Cathy. Different situations require critical thinking, and that’s where Cathy’s previous experience and banking expertise comes into play at RBAZ, guiding the Universal Tellers to find solutions for their customers. “Having that previous experience and training at a larger bank gave me confidence that I can make the right decisions for my customers and the bank.”
She first became attracted to the world of banking in high school where her interest in banking came to light during career day. She later attended Teller School and was hired by a major bank in the Valley where she held several retail banking positions, there and at other community banks in the area.
With plans to take some much needed time off to care for her mom, Cathy was approached by RBAZ Chief Credit Officer Amy Lou Blunt, whom she had worked with previously. “I knew Cathy would be a great fit for Republic Bank of Arizona,” says Amy. “Her knowledge and experience on the operations side is a huge asset for us, but it’s more than that. She’s also very caring and compassionate, and brings a sense of warmth and calmness to the job. Our team and our clients really respond to that.”
Spreading Kindness in the Community
As a true advocate of the Bank’s Caring Culture, Cathy has a rich history of community involvement, building homes for Habitat for Humanity, fundraising for the Homeless Youth Connection to provide housing for at-risk youth, and serving on boards of Leadership West and the Glendale Rotary Club.
Cathy is married with two sons. She also cares for her mom and four dogs while finding time for crafting, working out at the gym, and renovating her home inside and out.
Spotlight on Banker Greg Barrett
Greg Barrett Stats
Years at RBAZ: 1
Years in Banking: 30+
First Job: Bus boy Miracle Mile Deli
Personal Note: Met his wife while working at Miracle Mile Deli. She would come in for lunch and he was smitten from the start.
Biking or Banking: Either Way, He’s a Champ
How does a two-time road cycling state champion channel that competitive drive to help others succeed?
For Republic Bank of Arizona Banker Greg Barrett, it comes in the way of solving issues, making meaningful connections, and being a trusted advisor to business customers seeking his financial expertise. And that expertise is deep and extensive.
After graduating from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in business management, Greg landed his first career job at Arizona’s largest locally owned bank, Valley National Bank. He was hooked … that mix of personal interactions, analytics, with a pinch of sales created a well-paved career path for Greg.
A Mutual Attraction
Having worked in both large, fortune 500 banks and smaller, locally-owned institutions, both on the retail and business side, Greg had the experience, background and reputation to land his ideal job … commercial banker at Republic Bank of Arizona.
“My attraction to Republic Bank of Arizona is its focus on providing high-touch lending and banking services to businesses and their owners,” said Greg. “RBAZ is really tied into the community. It’s like working for a private bank for businesses. We can take the time to really become a trusted advisor for our clients.”
“What I really enjoy is helping customers solve issues and making connections to help them succeed,” said Greg. “If I know a vendor that can help my customer solve a problem or help them in some way, I’ll happily make a referral that can ultimately benefit both businesses.”
He Makes it Sound Easy. But is it Really?
Greg’s experience has taught him that no matter how big or well known a company is, no matter how much marketing or advertising support you get, the real test is how you treat each individual customer. That’s what makes a difference.
Greg has found success in his career by building a strong network of clients and referral sources that trust him and know he will do right by them. He makes it sound like a no-brainer, but building that trust takes commitment and hard work. And that’s what makes Greg a great banker.
“I’ve known Greg for several years,” said Chief Credit Officer Amy Lou Blunt. “He’s connected to the community and is eager to help local businesses succeed. He’s passionate about providing first class, personal service to his clients, and we are very fortunate to have him as part of our team.”
Having spent most of his life here in the Phoenix area, Greg is almost a native. In addition to his Bachelor’s degree, Greg also has a Masters in banking from Pacific Coast Banking School in Seattle, WA.
When not working, you might find Greg hiking or biking with his wife Julie, or hanging out with family and friends. Greg and Julie have two sons and a granddaughter.
Spotlight on CFO Brian Ruisinger
Brian Ruisinger Stats
Joined RBAZ: June 2018
Education: Baccalaureate of Science in Accounting from University of Nebraska
First Job: Picking strawberries
Personal Note: Hails from Nebraska but grew up in the New England area
Rocking the Numbers
Numbers have always been a friend to Brian Ruisinger. A math whiz, the financial industry seemed a natural career path for Brian, Republic Bank of Arizona’s Chief Financial Officer. “The financial industry sort of found me,” said Brian. While taking a difficult accounting exam designed to cultivate the cream of the mathematical crop, Brian nearly aced it getting just one wrong answer. “I just thought, maybe this is what I’m supposed to do.”
His first “career job” was working for Peat Marwick, (now KPMG) one of the largest accounting firms in the country. His job … conducting community bank audits. The rest is history as they say. Brian joined RBAZ in 2018 as executive vice president and CFO, bringing a rich background in both the banking and accounting industries having held several positions in these areas throughout his career.
Anxious to Contribute
Having followed the Bank’s progress over the years, Brian pointed to a number of positives that solidified his decision to join Republic Bank of Arizona in 2018, including the Bank’s move to a state charter, its team of professional bankers, its financial health, committed Board and its move to a new, updated office location.
“I’m excited to be part of the growing team at Republic Bank of Arizona,” said Brian. “As an Arizona-based community business bank, we have a great opportunity to support the financial needs of local businesses. I look forward to doing my part to contribute to the continued success of the Bank and the customers we serve.”
Prior to joining the Bank, Brian was president and CEO of Grand Canyon Bank (proposed). He has held similar executive positions with community banks in Arizona, as well as positions as Chief Accounting Officer, COO, Controller and CFO at larger regional banks and other organizations throughout his extensive career.
“In addition to his leadership skills and accounting experience, Brian thoroughly understands the community banking climate and the importance of our local business market,” said CEO Ralph Tapscott.
His Top 3
Brian’s list of top three accomplishments is an interesting one:
- Passing the CPA exam while working at the same time.
- Passing that Accounting exam with just one wrong answer.
- Winning a free-throw shooting contest at the Elks Club … who knew?
Ruisinger previously served on the Board of the Arizona Bankers Association and maintains active support for the Arizona Humane Society and the University of Nebraska Foundation and Alumni Association. Brian and his wife Linda have two cats that get a lot of attention. When not working, Brian enjoys all things sports … playing and watching.
Spotlight on Banker Todd Grady
Todd Grady Stats
Years at RBAZ: 1.5
Years in Banking: 26
Education: Bachelor’s in Business Finance, University of Phoenix
First Career Job: 1992, Valley National Bank
Interests: Sports of all kinds, watching and doing what I can to remain active in sports
Personal Note: Met wife Tina while working at Compass Bank
Work is Never Done
The work is never done concept is something that Portfolio Manager Todd Grady understood early in life and he is just fine with that. Growing up in Phoenix, Todd woke up each morning to deliver more than 100 newspapers (rain or shine) for two years, starting at the age of 11. He understood that the early morning job he accepted at a young age would build a solid foundation for a strong worth ethic.
Fast forward to today; working at Republic Bank of Arizona (RBAZ), Todd brings a positive work attitude along with that strong work ethic to support his role as portfolio manager and underwriter for RBAZ.
Todd has advanced over the course of his 26-year banking career from his first assignment in banking in the retail branch banking system. A business major with emphasis in finance, Todd’s banking career has been wide and varied. “There isn’t much I haven’t done,” says Todd, and he is willing to share his experience and knowledge with anyone on his team that could use a hand at RBAZ.
The journey did not end in the retail banking sector. Todd later moved into commercial operations, which was just a start toward building a solid treasury management background along with gaining the building blocks and exposure to expand into the commercial and business banking lending. The road journeyed has been very fulfilling for Todd and has given him the skills needed to be a strong team player for RBAZ.
Today Todd continues to grow with RBAZ. The work in the area of portfolio management and underwriting allows him the opportunity to work very closely with all areas of the bank to understand the customer need and support the Bank as RBAZ continues to grow. “I enjoy the small business banking environment and assisting small to mid-sized businesses grow,” said Todd.
“Here at Republic Bank of Arizona, I’m entrenched in all aspects of a loan deal. It is great fun working with the other bankers, lending support staff and frontline staff that work very hard every day to make banking with RBAZ the best it can be.” With the support from senior management and the good people he works with, Todd continues to be inspired to pass along any assistance he can give to others.
“Todd is the quintessential team player,” said Amy Lou Blunt, RBAZ’s chief credit officer. “He has a long tenure in banking and brings a very diverse background in treasury management and credit. He also has a great sense of humor, which we very much value.”
Making an Impact
Todd has a long history of community involvement including roles of chair or co-chair for local non-profit agencies, supporting the local United Way in various ways, and donating personal time assist local non-profit agencies when extra hands are needed. His commitment to helping others in almost every aspect of his life makes him an ideal fit for Republic Bank of Arizona’s team of dedicated and community-minded bankers.