John Guedry stared at the couple. He was just 24 years old, too young to have felt the heartache of losing a business or home. Yet he was about to take away the couple’s beloved farm in Stockton, Calif. The property had been in the family for three generations.
At the time, Guedry worked for a lending company. It was the 1980s, and the U.S. economy had plunged into a recession, which made foreclosing on farms a large part of Guedry’s job.
Guedry had known the couple for two years and had tried to help them keep their home. Finally, he spoke the words the couple did not want to hear. The wife cried. She yelled. She blamed her husband for the foreclosure. The husband, through tears, apologized.
It was the last time Guedry would close down a farm.
“I drove to a 7-Eleven and called my wife,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.’ ”
Guedry returned to Las Vegas, where he had attended Chaparral High School and UNLV. He got a job at Valley Bank and thrived. Although at times he has to break bad news to clients, Guedry said he enjoys fostering relationships with ambitious business owners, particularly those who have weathered economic downturns.
“I like learning from people who are risk takers,” Guedry said. “In every case, whether it’s a good decision or bad decision, you can learn something.”
Over the years, Guedry has developed a passion for education. In 2010, he ran against Dina Titus to represent Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, hoping to take a more active role in state issues. But after six weeks of collecting contributions, Guedry dropped out of the race. Republican Joe Heck won the seat.
These days, Guedry is fighting for improvements to the state’s education system on a different frontline. Now CEO of Bank of Nevada, he recently was appointed chairman of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber executive committee, where he has made helping the Clark County School District a priority.
In March, the business and education communities will come together for the Business + Education (BE) Engaged Conference, a brainchild of Guedry’s. Under the guidance of schools advocate Elaine Wynn, participants will be encouraged to get involved with an educational advocacy group of their choice.
“If we don’t have a strong education system, we won’t have a strong workforce,” Guedry said. “If there’s no correlation between us and the students who are graduating, then we have failed ourselves. We have failed to invest in the future of the business community in Southern Nevada.”
VEGAS INC spoke with Guedry about his career in the banking industry and his hopes for Nevada’s education system.
What do you find appealing about the banking industry?
The one part that’s never changed, at least for commercial banks like the ones I’ve worked in, is you get to work with entrepreneurial people who have started businesses, grown businesses, failed businesses, succeeded in businesses. I get to work in hundreds of different industries and see different best practices. It’s fascinating to me. I get to see the dynamics of what makes a successful business owner and work with that.
What advice do you give to clients?
As bankers, we’re financial advisers for our clients. Sometimes that means we tell them things they don’t want to hear. The best part of the job is when a client comes back and thanks me for advice they took that kept them from making a huge mistake.
For instance, at my last bank, a client had built a successful business in a particularly rich area. He decided he wanted to invest in a large real estate income property. He came to us to see if he could borrow money.
The property would have produced enough cash flow to service the loan, but it would have taken virtually every dollar he had to put in the equity necessary to get the loan. The property had some challenges. It had leases that were relatively short-term. It wasn’t in a premier location. Based on our experience, it was too risky of an investment for us from a lending standpoint. And if it’s too risky for us, it’s likely going to be risky for the borrower.
So we declined the loan. I met with him personally. He didn’t invest in the property. He banks with us now at Bank of Nevada. He’s doing quite well. He called me one night when I took the job here and said the reason he will always bank with me is because I didn’t do what I thought was going to be good for the bank, I did what I thought would be best for him.
What’s the riskiest thing a client of yours has done?
A pattern I see is entrepreneurs who are successful believe that their success will transfer to anything they do. That’s not always the case. Sometimes they are successful because they have a great skill set for a particular type of company or industry. But then they try something different, and it doesn’t go so well.
I’ve seen people who have spent their entire life building companies with a net worth that most people would envy, and they risk it all. Some have succeeded, but others have lost everything.
What are your goals as chairman of the chamber’s executive committee?
First and foremost, I want the chamber to continue to be relevant. I would like the chamber to expand its role in solving the issues that challenge us. I would like to make sure we are addressing the threats to our business community. Education is one that is a high priority. That is the single biggest hurdle to get companies here.
Tell us about the Business + Education (BE) Engaged Conference.
The mission of the conference is to get 1,000 business decision-makers and owners to participate and hear firsthand from education advocacy groups. The business leaders will hear what the challenges are in education, what some of the solutions are and specific examples of ways the business and philanthropic community can support programs. We’re going to have Elaine Wynn challenge them to be a part of the solution and not just sit on the sidelines.
We’ve identified approximately 50 advocacy groups that are working to support public education. The groups all will submit a one-page summary of their initiatives, and each group will be categorized by topics such as literacy or at-risk schools. The business decision-makers will have to find an organization and ask how they can help advance its programs. It may be through voluntary efforts, expertise they can bring or a financial contribution. They will have to be part of the solution. They can’t just complain about the education system.
As a member of the business community, I can tell you that I speak with a lot of business owners who would like to be part of the solution but don’t know how. We’re hoping to provide that road map.
Why did you decide to organize this conference now?
We just came out of the worst recession. I think we realize if we continue to rely on one industry, we’re going to continuing seeing these cycles. For the first time, I think we realize we’re not recession-proof. We’re going to get hit again if we don’t diversify the economy. You have to have a workforce that is prepared not only for today but for the future. We haven’t made that investment, and we’ve all seen firsthand what happens.
What do you think the biggest issue in education is?
Recruitment and retention of teachers. We have to have the ability to remove poor-performing teachers if they’re unable to raise the bar. I’m not talking about the teacher who is working really hard and may not be producing as much as she needs because of a lack of resources. Part of what creates low morale is when you treat everyone the same. If you can’t get rid of a bad performer, it’s like one bad apple affects the whole bushel. We need to make it less stringent to get rid of low performers. I think if we address that issue, recruitment and retention will improve.
There’s the funding formula, too. It has to be addressed. It doesn’t address a lot of changes in our population. We have to make sure we have appropriate levels of funding to fit different demographics.