If a company is “in the dark”, it is considered a good thing. Today, one of Emporia’s oldest companies is pinning its future on a man named Black.
Michael Black became president and CEO of ESB Financial on Wednesday. At least, that’s how he understands it.
“It was official, the last board meeting,” Black said Friday. It was Wednesday, January 26, but he considers the official start date to be the day his predecessor ended that job.
Black replaced Jim Wayman, who spent nearly 45 years at ESB. Wayman remains chairman of the board, with sister Karen Sommers also serving on the board. She retired from her duties as a bank officer in October.
“We’ve been working on this leadership transition for five years, to make it as smooth as possible,” Wayman said in a video posted by ESB on Wednesday.
Black confirmed this timeline. But Black admitted he doesn’t aspire to the “president” nameplate.
“When they asked me to come here, they were working on succession planning,” Black said. “They had middle roles to senior positions, and that’s what I came here as senior vice president.”
Black joined ESB in 2011, after 14 years at rival CoreFirst Bank and Trust. CoreFirst opened an Emporia site when Black graduated from Emporia State University. He grabbed the first opportunity that came along, but then the recruiting started.
“ESB had always called me,” Black said. “There weren’t a lot of advantages for CoreFirst at Emporia. And finally, I knew they wanted to be in bigger markets.
CoreFirst left Emporia two years after Black left CoreFirst for ESB. Its closest location is now in Topeka.
“Our competition is no longer always the bank around the corner. It’s the Internet. It’s all kinds of things,” Black said.
But at this point, it’s not sure if the renewed interest in cryptocurrency is a contender.
“Let’s see how it develops,” Black said. “Crypto is going to be interesting – we all have to watch. I think there will be some evolution there.
Black became executive vice president and chief loan officer of ESB in December 2016. He was added to the board two months ago. At 54, Wayman describes Black as part of a group of young leaders at ESB.
“I started here at 44, and the average officer was 60 or older,” Black said.
Black’s biggest lesson from Wayman wasn’t about dollars and cents. It is a question of culture.
“We hire people based on their culture and then train them on what we need them to do here,” Black explained. “If you hire to maintain an organizational culture, I think you win all the time.”
Black’s preparation for the move from executive vice president to president also included a shift in personal mindset.
“A few years ago it was very obvious to me that I needed to stop focusing on my career and focus on the people I was trying to develop,” Black explained. “You realize that making all these other people successful makes you successful.”
The Wayman family has been an integral part of ESB Financial for four generations, since its founding as Emporia State Bank in 1901. He says the bank “will remain family owned”.
Black is not the first ESB president to come from outside the Wayman family. He noted that Howard Gunkel had that title, as well as chairman of the board, before Jim Wayman.
Black was born in Fredonia and attended Flint Hills Technical College in the mid-1980s. He earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from ESU in 1997, but didn’t enroll there until he was 25. .
“I was at the credit bureau,” Black said of the intervening years. “I did credit reports for all the banks. So I knew all the banks in town.
Black graduated from the University of Colorado Graduate School of Banking in 2016.
Black married nurse practitioner Tammy Pattison-Black in 1989. He calls her the reason he moved to Lyon County, currently living between Emporia and Americus. Their two adult sons live in Kansas City and Denver.
Black also calls his wife his “adventure partner”, taking trips through the Flint Hills for fun. They hunt and fish together. And a recent side-by-side ATV trip took them to Teter Rock in Greenwood County.
“It was about 107 miles round trip,” he recalls.
As Wayman retires, Black realizes that his own retirement is not far off. He wants his legacy to be simple – to be told by an examiner that he runs a good bank.
“We have always been a very nice, clean and very well run bank.” says Black. “They’ve always been Emporia’s big bank.”
And it seems unlikely that the sense of community will change with the transition to a new president.
“If you invest in your community, it’s a commitment to your customer.” Black said in a social media video promoting small businesses on Saturday last November. “If your customer wins, your community wins.”