Ginger Martin Encourages Others to Climb Higher at Lifework Leadership

 Ginger Martin, chief executive officer of American National Bank, has a smile that can warm a room, and the energy to climb mountains. In fact, she has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, completed climbs in the Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountain National Park, summited seven peaks higher than 14,000 feet in Colorado and hiked the Salcantee Trail to Matchu Picchu with Freedom Challenge, an organization that combats human trafficking worldwide.

“Climb higher! That’s my motto. I want to climb higher and I want to take other people with me. That’s why I am involved in Lifework Leadership as an alum, as a coach and as a sponsor because I think Lifework is doing that,” explained Martin. She shared more about her passion for community banking, giving back and Lifework Leadership during a recent interview at the bank in Fort Lauderdale.


Shelly Pond (SP) – You’ve been involved in Lifework for quite a while. When did you first get involved?

Ginger Margin (GM) – I was in the 2009-2010 Lifework Class. I think I might have been class four because I think last year was our 10th anniversary. And here’s the thing, I’ve been a coach now for seven years.

So here’s my story. I became CEO of American National Bank in 2008. Of course, little did I know there was a recession looming out there, but we found that out soon. I had been approached about doing Lifework, and here’s one of the reasons: they really wanted to get more women involved. Now we’re about 50/50. At the beginning there were a lot of men and fewer women, so just being that I had become CEO of the bank, and I was like, “I’m too busy. I’m a new CEO and we’ve got a lot going on.” I think it’s interesting how God does things. He keeps putting people in your path, and it’s like, “Oh Ginger, you ought to do Lifework” and “Oh, Ginger, you ought to do Lifework.” So I joke now that I went from being too busy to now they can’t get rid of me.

I really do just love Lifework. I’m really so passionate about it. When I went through the class, here’s my experience is that the speakers I heard, the books I read – I would have probably never read those books if they hadn’t been on the reading list. And the relationships I encountered, it was just this amazing experience. And when I look back on it, here’s the interesting thing being involved as much as I have. We just have so many people involved at different places in their walk in Lifework. So my walk was solid and consistent, but Lifework challenged me to – I can remember this so clearly – to really get more consistent and disciplined in the time that I spent with the Lord as far as my reading and devotions. That was my most significant thing that happened by going through Lifework, was saying, you know what – every day, so I really appreciate that about the experience.

Time is a precious resource, so one of the things as I’ve gotten older and probably wiser, I’ve become more selective of how I spend my time. But the thing about Lifework, when I think about my faith, when I think about being a business person, when I think about what it did for me and what I really want to encourage other people to experience, there’s an alignment for me being involved with Lifework. So it’s been an easy decision to stay involved…

I’m reading a book right now that’s a brand new book on the list and I’m loving it: It’s My Pleasure, by the VP of Chick Fil-A, Dee Ann Turner. This book is making me think about the bank. So there is a practical take away, a practical application. When I look and hear – whether it’s the case study, the key notes, the books – they help me be a better business person. And, of course, one of our values here at the bank is lifelong learning, so Lifework fits with that, continuing to develop and grow and learn and evolve and adapt as the world changes.


SP – Tell me a little bit about what you do at the bank, and I know your bank is a little different from others.

GM – I love this bank. It’s been the best job I’ve ever had in my life. I’m in my 21st year here at the bank. So I came as the CFO. I’m a CPA by background. That’s always kind of been my expertise. Never had any plan to become CEO, so I think that was a whole God thing, and I’m just very thankful and give him that credit for giving me that platform in the business world. But we’re family-owned by somebody who has been here in the community for over 70 years. His name is Richard Ingham. He owns 90 percent of the bank, and he comes in and sees me almost every day. I’m part of his routine. He has six kids and he and his wife were married 60 years when she passed. So six kids, three boys, three girls. The three boys sit on our board, so they are really a very unique close family. So that makes us different to start with because we don’t have shareholders that are looking for a certain return or looking to get to a certain size and sell the bank. Our strategy and our come from place is totally different. Don’t get me wrong. He is a business person and he wants us to have good performance, but he also just approaches it from a different standpoint. So they’ve been a wonderful board to work for. The bank’s been around since 1985, so we are the oldest Broward-based bank. We are one of the few remaining community banks, independently owned, because the banking industry has had a lot of consolidation. Yet I will tell you there are people in businesses that do want what a community bank delivers and that is truthfully relationships. We joke that we’re like Cheers; we’re the bank where everybody knows your name. So, if I could figure out how to put that into a marketing pitch.

And here’s the thing too. We’re very intentional about our culture… So for instance, our vision is every bank employee says each one is the banks most important customer… It’s one of those things like just treating people with dignity and respect regardless of if you’ve got $200 in the bank or $2 million. And we have nine values, and here’s what I can tell you: Every employee in this bank can quote those values because part of the thing is we don’t want it to be just words. We want it to be how we show up in the world.


SP – So what are those values?

GM – Always do the right thing no matter what. Be passionate about work. Coach. Be coachable. Celebrate successes. Have a sense of urgency. Live the vision. Lifelong learning, and no excuses.

So here’s what we’ve been doing since August of 2008. We have a bank-wide huddle every single morning. We meet here in the back. We stand up. We take turns leading the huddle. We start out with upbeat music and then the huddle can be a video, a story. It can be something you’ve read in a book. It just needs to be positive and uplifting. Here’s the philosophy. You relate back to sports, right? So you know team. Here we are. We’re getting ready to go out and play this game. Hoorah, let’s go get it. So, just to try and set the stage. So we have done that every day.

This is why I’m loving this book, It’s My Pleasure, because some of the stuff they’re talking about that Chick Fil-A has done – and gosh I admire Chick Fil-A – we’re doing some of this, and of course, we could do more of this. We truly care about our customers and their success, and that’s not lip service. So the philosophy is how can we make banking easier? How can we help you? How can we partner with you? How can we advise you? Instead of just that whole transaction. We’ve got customers who have literally been with us since the get-go. So we really have developed a loyal customer base because of the way that we treat our customers.

Our focus is business, so we are what they would call a commercial bank even though we have individuals as customers – that small business, professional, from the lending focus commercial real estate. So we’re occupied investment type products. I say this about us. We are vanilla. It’s basic banking services, yet we’ve got all the technology and we’ve kept up with that. So we’ve tried to definitely be current from that standpoint but not lose the people – the relationship part. And here’s the thing too. We are approximately a $300 million bank. So banks – You kind of judge bank size by their assets.


SP – Can you give me some perspective for comparison?

GM – Let’s just say Stonegate, who was just sold, they were a $3 billion bank, so there’s a big difference. But here’s what I figured out. We can do some things that big banks can’t do just because they’re so big. We can be a little bit more nimble. So I use the example all the time: we’re like the speed boat compared to the battle ship. So for a [large bank] to sometimes make decisions and do things, it can be a lot more cumbersome and time consuming than us. The thing about us is all the decisions are made right here. It’s not Charlotte. It’s not Birmingham. It’s not Arkansas. South Florida – that is our world.

But wait. Here’s one of the things we have done that I love. We have quite a few churches and nonprofits, both faith-based and secular. So the thing I find really rewarding is to partner with – especially – I get to be a partner in Kingdom business because those organizations, they need banks, and so I get to use what my talents and giftings to further Kingdom business. And the truth of the matter is some banks don’t really want to bank churches and nonprofits because they’re considered high risk. So that’s been really rewarding for me to be involved in the faith-based community.


SP – Are there any charities you support as a company?

GM – Yes we have. So, whether it’s Sheridan House or 4KIDS, they’re going to have golf tournaments. They’re going to have galas, so yes, we’re going to support, sponsor. I’m on the board of Taylor’s Closet. I’m a former board member of 4KIDS, and I’m a former foster parent and adoptive parent, so that’s a group that’s very near and dear to my heart.

I’ll tell you what we did. Instead of giving our customers the traditional gift basket for being a customer at Christmas, what we decided to do is take that money and we made a contribution to Hope South Florida. So, we’ve done that in the past. We did a couple of years of giving gift baskets and popcorn, but because of the hurricane and some of the things that happened in 2017 we said, hey, let’s go ahead and what we do is send out a card to our customers saying here’s why you didn’t get a basket from us.


SP – Did you get any response?

GM – Yes, most people look at that from a positive standpoint because I think they get that’s probably a better use of resources. Of course, one of my personal passions is fighting human trafficking. In October I completed my fifth hike with Freedom Challenge, and of course, my hardest was 2015 when I climbed Kilimanjaro with 20 other people. That effort raised $800,000, which was amazing as a team of 20. So I personally raised $63,000 and that really came from my bank owner, my directors, my employees, customers and the community at large. Because it was a minimum $50,000 raise and that scared me as much as the 19,340 foot mountain we were going to climb. It was amazing how God just showed up. So that was definitely memorable. So, I’m going to continue to do that.

Over the last couple of years I’ve actually led a team, so I really like that aspect because I love the outdoors and I love that a lot of these women who go on these hikes are not experienced. They are doing something that’s totally out of their comfort zone, and it’s just this huge – great for the cause but its great for the individual. And so to be part of that whether its from the training and the equipment and whether it’s the hike and saying ok we can do this and then the satisfaction after they complete it.  It’s really life changing for a lot of these women, so Freedom Challenge has asked me to be part of their national leadership team. Here’s what I’m getting ready to do. I’m going to Africa at the end of the month to visit six of the projects at Zambia that these funds support.

So let me tell you something about my bank. My bank my owner has been so supportive of me both financially and to let me have this time off. When I’m doing these trips, I’m not taking vacation. He is giving that time to me as part of a community involvement because as a community bank, and you can say this about American National Bank, we want to give back to the community. That is part of our DNA is being engaged.

In fact, we’re getting ready to participate in this reading program where United Way is doing this. We’re going to volunteer to read to kids in the classroom. Over the years we’ve done different things. Whether it’s American Cancer Society Relay for Life… We went through a period of time where we would send two people once a month to LifeNet for Families and feed the homeless. And, of course, what we do, that’s paid time, so I really encourage people if they care about something, the bank wants to support them from a time off standpoint. We don’t have the huge budgets, but what we do have we use to hopefully make the community a better place…

And if we can go back to Lifework. I have seen over the years that the section about generosity. When we do the whole $25 Publix gift card or even when we did the whole Rebuilding Together. It changes people’s perspective just encouraging or even talking about that.


SP – Was Freedom Challenge a Lifework Link?

GM – Yes, the Deglers – Lori was in Lifework. Lori invited me to a luncheon in February 2013 because she was involved with Operation Mobilization and she had done Kilimanjaro in 2012. So they were having this luncheon and honestly, I knew nothing about human trafficking. They had a local survivor that spoke who was unbelievable, her story, and then they had a lady from India that spoke about one of the projects. And what they were doing was raising funds to buy sewing machines so these people in India could learn how to sew to make a living. So I made a donation, and the time there was a group that was training to go to Mount Everest to base camp. These are some Florida gals and I was like, wow, that’s really cool, and I was just kind of thinking I like the hiking. And then 2014 rolls around and Tina Yeager at that time was the executive director, and she knew that I like Colorado to hike and she said, Hey, we’re doing this climb. And I’d never done a 14er and I kind of was like, Ok, I like the challenge. And this was a whole God thing too. So I signed up to do that because of the hike not necessarily because of the cause. So here we are in Breckenridge, Colorado, and this was going to be four days of hiking. But they had people from all over the world. They had people from South Africa, Moldova, India that were running projects and then the first night they showed a video and it had pictures of past climbs like Kilimanjaro and Everest, and it had pictures of the victims in some of the projects, but it was put together to this song. And I listen to Christian radio but for whatever reason I didn’t know this song: Matthew West, “Do Something.” And so here’s what happens. They are showing this and at one point they put the lyrics on the screen and it said, “I woke up this morning, wondered how the world got so far down. People living in poverty, children sold into slavery, and I shook my first toward heaven and I said, “God why don’t you do something?” And of course the response is, “I did. I created you.” And I’m going to tell you because its so clear, so relevant to me. God broke my heart at that point and it went from the hiking to the cause.

So I went ahead and I completed that climb… So then they’re getting ready to do Kilimanjaro, and I said, Tina, look, I’ll write a check. I’ll write a significant check because now I’m into the cause, but the $50,000 scared me, so I kept saying, no, and God just wouldn’t give me peace. And so at the end of November of 2014, now this climb is in February of 2015, and so I said, yes. And I had a short moment of feeling relief and then the fear set in. I started training. And that was just life changing and God, you know, you do the mountain and all you are thinking about is surviving. So it was really the reflection afterwards. Like, wow, there were some deep lessons here ,and again, I give God all the credit for this. I get back and FAU was looking for somebody to be their speaker at their leadership graduation and someone told them, “Ginger climbed Kilimanjaro; why don’t you ask her?” And that kind of was the opening for me to speak.

And I met Lori at Lifework. So that goes back to you never know who you are going to meet and where it’s going to lead so far as Lifework Class.


SP – You are a Lifework Sponsor. You are fully invested. Why?

GM – Because it was such a meaningful experience for me, I want to pay that forward. And being a sponsor is one of the ways to do it because even at over $3000 for the tuition, we know that does not cover the cost of the program. I just see the fruit that comes out of Lifework and I want to be a part of that.


SP – Who should participate in Lifework and what would you say to someone who is considering it. You said you were fence sitting. You were too busy.

GM – I think that the model has evolved because when it first started off they were looking for business owners and C-level people. I think the revelation is saying it’s more about influence. I’m a huge John Maxwell fan and John Maxwell’s saying is “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” So I think we started seeing that people at different places in their career really do have the power to influence. You don’t have to own the business. You don’t have to be a C-suite person in the business to have influence within your business and within the community. So I think that anyone that has that interest in growing, expanding their horizons is a candidate regardless of what they do in the company or what their level is…

And that whole thing of being too busy, I just think the rewards, the opportunity outweigh that. Sometimes taking that time aside for yourself, what you gain in that half a day can actually take you farther faster than if you hadn’t been there. It goes back to getting new ideas, getting new information, gives you a creativity, you can almost have that renewal or recharging. It refocuses you on what the priorities are so you can use the time better…

When I look at the caliber of speakers that we’ve had. These are world class business people and leaders and to have them come and share time with a group of 50 people, you figure that’s more of an intimate environment. I invest a lot of time and energy in leadership training and development both personally and for the bank, so I’ve been to a lot of things. And I just think the quality of Lifework, it is top shelf. It is excellent.


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