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Posted: June 19, 2013

Executive edge: John Ikard

FirstBank’s CEO braved the banking storm and now sees opportunity for growth

Lynn Bronikowski

Thirty-two years ago – fresh out of Colorado State University with a degree in psychology – John Ikard answered a newspaper ad for a job in banking.

“I thought I’d do it for a year or so,” said Ikard, who would never leave his first employer and in 1999 would be named president and CEO of Lakewood-based FirstBank Holding Co. “After awhile I decided I really liked banking – liked the math of it; liked dealing with customers, putting deals together and interacting with people.”

A native of Las Cruces, N.M., Ikard was one of six children. His father owned a furniture store and had part ownership in a bank.

“My parents were very big on all six of us going to college,” said Ikard, who earned an  MBA in business management from St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, and is a graduate of Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington. He went on to serve on the Federal Reserve Bank Board in Kansas City, and next year will become chairman of the American Bankers Association. 

“It’s always exciting to be voted in by your peers,” said Ikard, current vice chairman of the ABA. “I enjoy talking to people around the country about what’s going on. It’s amazing how candid bankers are about what they’re doing well and what’s not doing so well.”

Ikard said FirstBank weathered the 2008 financial meltdown well, is on track to open new locations in Phoenix and Denver, and has seen loan growth up 20 percent over the past three years.

“We stayed away from bad loans and subprime mortgages. A lot of banks went away from free checking but we decided to double down and stay with free checking,” said Ikard. “Those checking accounts are the gateway to the mortgage loan and the banking relationship, so we had great account growth over the last three or four years.”

Ikard said loan officers worked closely with customers who were struggling.

“Our loan officers went out and talked to our customers to see what was going on,” said Ikard. “We were very, very aggressive in working with our customers who may have lost their jobs and we structured their loans so we had very few foreclosures.”

FirstBank is known for its charitable giving that has totaled $42 million since 2000, making it the second most philanthropic company and most philanthropic bank in Colorado. FirstBank sponsors Colorado Gives Day, which raised a record $15 million in a single day for nonprofits across the state last year.

“It’s in our culture to give back,” said Ikard, who’s at the helm of 2,200 employees, including 320 officers. “We’re only as strong as our communities, so if we can provide what gives strength to the communities, it makes for a better long-term customer base.”

FirstBank is providing some of the financing for the redevelopment of Union Station in downtown Denver and signed a lease in an office tower going up at 16th  and Wynkoop streets. The bank biz is also constructing an eight-story bank building in Cherry Creek.

“I’m really bullish on core Denver, which has a life to it,” said Ikard. “We still see growth as the name of the game because we have to give our officers an opportunity for growth.”

FirstBank, which has more than $12 billion in assets and more than 115 locations in Colorado, Arizona and California, is Colorado’s second largest banking company behind Wells Fargo.  This year FirstBank marks its 50th anniversary. 

“We had a big celebration,” said Ikard, 56. “For a lot of us, this is the only job we’ve ever known.”

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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