CFO of the Year: Marquardt Embraces Change
Tim Marquardt is no stranger to change.
His 39-year career has kept him in a state of perpetual motion, taking him to five banks, two credit unions and addresses in eight different states. And from it all, the CFO of the Montgomery, Ala.-based MAX Credit Union said he's learned to stay in motion.
“I believe the CFO is in a perfect position to see the big picture for the organization, which requires continually ‘looking around,’” he said.
Now in his fourth year at MAX, Marquardt, who is the winner of CU Times’ 2016 Trailblazer Award for CFO of the Year, has helped the credit union grow to more than $1 billion in assets and expand to 15 branches. Under his watch, from 2012 to 2014 deposits grew by more than 11% to $924 million and net income jumped 48% to $10.7 million. Between 2013 and 2014, provisions for loan losses fell by 49%.
“I’ve learned the power of being able to ask the right questions. I know I don't have all the right answers, but if I can come up with good questions, it really helps!” he said.
As a child, Marquardt lived in Illinois but spent every summer with relatives on their farm in South Dakota. For a time, he thought he might follow in their footsteps.
“As I got older, I realized it's not so easy,” he explained. “You’re totally dependent on the rain and the sunshine hitting at the right times. It was a great way to learn how to be a hard worker because you’re just trying to make ends meet, day in and day out.”
His high school teachers noticed and encouraged his math talent, and Marquardt went on to graduate from Augustana College in Illinois in 1977. His first move out of college was to join Deloitte in Iowa, where he stayed until 1982.
That was when InterFirst Corp., a multibank holding company, came calling about an audit manager job in Austin, Texas.
“We just had this itching to try something new, and it was before kids and all that, and so a headhunter called me about this, and I thought, ‘Let's try Texas.’ It was kind of an adventure,” he said.
Real estate and oil were booming there. But a few years later, that all came tumbling down, he recalled.
With his eye on the future, Marquardt landed a new job as director of internal audit for United Bank of Arizona. He loaded up another moving truck and headed to Phoenix in 1985.
About three years later, in 1988, Citigroup bought United Bank and centralized the staff. Marquardt was laid off – the first real challenge of his career, he said.
But he quickly networked his way into another job as director of internal audit, this time at Sunwest Bank in Albuquerque, N.M., which meant another move. He went back to school, too, earning a master's degree from the University of New Mexico.
And then one day, the CFO of Sunwest retired. Marquardt was promoted to the position, serving under president/CEO Ike Kalangis, whom he still calls his mentor.
But a stagnating local real estate market and regulatory challenges made the bank a takeover target, and in 1992 Boatmen's Bancshares bought Sunwest. Then about four years later, NationsBank bought Boatmen's, which won Marquardt a job transfer to Atlanta.
The changes kept coming. Bank of America bought NationsBank in 1998, reorganized everything, and moved him to Charlotte, N.C. Then the Great Recession came.
“There were just massive layoffs at Bank of America,” he said, recalling 2007.
Marquardt was one of thousands of other Bank of America employees who got pink slips. It was time to move again.
Marquardt headed back to Phoenix, where he became the controller at Arizona State Credit Union in 2008. In 2012, a call from a headhunter and the desire to be a CFO again lured him away to MAX Credit Union.
“That was really my career goal,” he said.
By then, Marquardt had learned a lot – including what his limitations were. He knew how to work with a board of directors, for example. But to go back to the CFO role, he knew he had to beef up his investment and regulatory knowledge.
“There was just so much changing in the world of regulations, and credit union regulations I was not familiar with either, because I was with a big bank where things were very specialized,” he said. “I had to kind of dust off getting back into the details and really learning all those details again.”
Change can be hard enough when one person is involved, but changing an entire organization is something else completely, he noted. Marquardt knew he wanted to create a more forward-looking culture at MAX, and that meant dialing down the credit union's focus on performance versus the current year's budget. New initiatives that made financial sense often got sidelined simply because they weren't in the budget, he said.
It wasn't easy, which is why changing MAX's mindset has been one of his biggest accomplishments as a CFO, he said.
Today, MAX updates its rolling forecast quarterly and looks for major drivers going forward, he said. There are 33 metrics on Marquardt's dashboard, the most valuable of which are loan growth, revenue growth and survey scores from customers and employees. For better or worse, return on assets is also high on his list, he noted.
“I think if you only rely on single metrics, that's a mistake,” he said. “I know one metric that a lot of people like to look at is loan to share ratio. I don't see any value in that ratio myself, because there are so many things that can affect the numerator or the denominator … it's a mistake to focus on certain metrics just because it might be an easy one to calculate.”
One thing Marquardt said he won't do is hype his status as a Six Sigma Black Belt.
“I’ve really tried to downplay that in my new role, because I’ve found sometimes it turns off some people or they think that it's an approach designed for manufacturing but not practical for financial services,” he said. “So what's worked better is to use what I call the ‘peanut butter approach.’ When I have to give my dog medicine, it usually won't just eat a pill in its food or if I try to stuff it down his mouth, but if I put the pill in peanut butter, he loves it. Often to drive change, it's more effective if you can make it someone else's idea so that they adopt it without really realizing it.”
Marquardt said his next goal is to amp up the credit union's use of data and business intelligence to drive strategy.
“It's going to require some digging, and thinking about things differently,” he said. “That's what's top of mind with me on what to focus on for the future. It's a great opportunity for us.”
And opportunity is what Marquardt likes to follow. He may have had to unpack a lot of moving boxes over the course of his career because of the constant change, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
“I think the background of all these experiences I’ve had is one thing that gives me a little different lens … because I can see the whole business,” he explained. “In my past, I looked at it from an auditor standpoint, and a processor standpoint and a reporting standpoint. I think that's one thing I bring to it, is that wider view of the business.”
Of course, now that he's in Alabama, there is one thing doesn't change: Football. It's sacred there, which is why one of the first orders of business at MAX was deciding which team's colors would rule Marquardt's wardrobe.
“The first question they asked me in the interview was who did I pick: Auburn or ‘Bama. So I had to be careful answering that,” he chuckled.