The Primitive Podcast: William Ware

Posted by The Prim Pack | May 1, 2020

The Primitive Podcast: William Ware

What does a sense of community have anything to do with success? As the President of family-owned Amarillo National Bank, William Ware, knows first-hand that when you’re the “owner’s kid” community is earned, not given. Through his experiences stemming from the bottom of the banking totem pole, all the way to the top, he developed a sense of leadership principles that values ethics, history, and a great deal of respect for everyone around him.


Kade Wilcox: Hey guys, I'm Kade, your host of The Primitive Podcast. On today's episode we had William Ware, the president of Amarillo National Bank. Amarillo National Bank has been around for a really long time and here locally made a big splash recently in the acquisition of Lubbock National Bank. So we sat down with William in his office in Amarillo and got to know him a little bit and talked a lot about leadership and what it's like being a part of a bank that's family owned. It was really fascinating and I hope you enjoy this episode.

Kade Wilcox: William Ware, you're the President of Amarillo National Bank. Been around for just a few years I think. So for those who maybe don't know you very well, why don't you walk through your background, tell us a little bit about you and talk a little bit about your journey to President of Amarillo National Bank.

William Ware: Well, thank you Kade. It's an honor to be here and I'm very lucky to be in my position. I really wake up everyday thinking, wow, is this real? And I'm honored to be in a family business. Honored to be in Texas, where the economy's great and the people are even better. I never really saw myself as a bank president, but boy, I thought it'd be cool to at least get a job in the family business and it's been such a wonderful journey. All I knew was banking growing up. All we talked about was the bank. Every family dinner, every family lunch, every trip was all about the bank. I really didn't understand what a bank did. I just knew dad wore a suit and went to the bank every day.

William Ware: And our family's fifth generation Texan. And we've owned the bank for five generations as well. And so that's probably been the neatest part of my upbringing was the roots, the traditions, the values, the history. Everything was kind of ingrained to us at an early age. Of course in high school I went to high school in Amarillo. Big fan of the Tascosa Rebels. And we played Lubbock and they beat us every year, any team from Lubbock always got us. But really loved growing up here because you had to be a little tougher. You had to get along with each other. We call it the circle the wagons mentality where we work together. We got to live outside and learned how to shoot a gun and sleep on the ground and weather the cold and work with others.

William Ware: And I think those are values that they don't really have in the larger cities. You don't hear kids bragging about sleeping on the ground or bleeding or breaking bones as much as you probably used to. So honored to grow up here and we had a lot of community focus growing up. We went to everything as a kid and that's all I knew. And when I went to school in Dallas, love to see the big city, loved to learn about what went on in the rest of the world. But I didn't get a sense of community. I didn't get the sense of pride that we have here. I worked at Frost Bank right out of college. Thank God they hired me. It was a nail biter of an interview. My brother and I worked together there and luckily we got hired on in their credit analyst department and really loved working for another bank to see what went on.

William Ware: But it wasn't a family owned bank and they were publicly traded. So I learned a lot about maybe the other side of banking and some ways that I don't want to run a bank. So I never thought I'd be using those principles today. Got to ANB because I was ready to come home. I'd lived in the big city, tired of the traffic, tired of the cost of living. I could see my office building from my apartment and it took me 45 minutes to drive there. So you just get a little worn out of the big city and I have nothing against them. We can all learn from them. We all need to realize that that's the future of a lot of these towns. They're all growing. We want them to grow. But it was neat to come back home.

William Ware: I had to apply. My dad made sure we applied here. He made sure I worked here every summer. We had to earn our spot. And his first quote was, we're not entitled to anything. You work here. You've got to earn it. You've got to earn respect of your peers and you've got to do every job in the bank. So thank goodness for great leadership there. And I really enjoyed the ride of striping parking lots at age 15, cleaning windows at age 16, a commercial teller at age 17. And I got to work every summer until after college and then worked in almost every department since then. And now, lucky enough, I don't think anyone else wanted to be president, so maybe that's how I got it.

Kade Wilcox: Well, that was my next question. How did that process work? At what point did you become president and what did that journey look like? I did not realize you had pretty much worked in every department in the bank, which is pretty fascinating. So what did the journey for you to being the president look like?

William Ware: Well, first and foremost, no one likes the owner's kid. I learned that real quick coming up through the ranks. You have a lot of animosity. There was also a little bit of placation and a little bit of condescending behavior because, don't tell him what to do because he's the owner's kid or don't discipline him cause he's the owner's kid. I didn't want that. I wanted to be respected and earn the spot just like anyone else should have. You cannot lead if you don't have the respect of your team and if you haven't done the job. So I had wonderful mentors that would pull me aside and say, okay William, I had a boss that said, no one likes you, morale is low when you're around and you've got a big ego and you got to knock that down.

William Ware: And I'm so grateful for those coworkers that did that. Now they're my dear friends and they're my mentors to this day. If I had not had someone clip my wings and say, William, just cause you might be an owner or you're the owner's kid, it doesn't mean it's handed to you. That's the secret to being a good leader and to being in a family business. The toughest part was knowing you have to earn it, knowing that everyone's going to be watching you. There's a magnifying glass everywhere you go. The spotlight's always on you. I can't mess up. I've got to know what I'm talking about. I've got to be better. That was really hard cause I never felt like I was good enough.

Kade Wilcox: How'd you learn how to manage that expectation? Knowing your sense of desire for achievement and accomplishment, how did you learn over time to handle that pressure, handle that kind of reality?

William Ware: It took a lot of checking in with others because I'd never really felt like I deserved this spot. Yeah, there's a little bit of a fast track in a family business because they want to keep those values going in the leadership roles. So I made sure to check in with my peers, Hey, how am I doing? What can I do? What does the team think about me? And I would get wonderful feedback. You got to go back to school, William, you got to come in earlier, you've got to leave later. There's a process you don't know, you've got to go learn it or there is a job you got to do because they want that respect. So it was the checking in the making sure, Hey team, am I on the right track? Cause if I'm doing it wrong then I don't need to be here.

William Ware: Just because you own a business doesn't mean you need to be in the leadership role. And so I made a really good point to surround myself with people that were smarter than me, knew more about the business than I did, had been here longer and said, all right, hit me with all you got. That was probably the most beneficial part of my growth in the company. Had I not had that, I probably would have been a little lost. Had too big of an ego also would have probably been lying to myself about my ability to lead.

Kade Wilcox: That's good. That's really good. How would you view your role as a leader at Amarillo National Bank? When you think of your role, when you think of yourself as a leader, what kinds of things come to mind as it relates to the impact and the influence that you feel like you need to make in your organization specifically?

William Ware: First and foremost is be a motivator. I think that's my number one rule here and that's the number one role of most leaders. Your number one task is to motivate. And I think enthusiasm, positive energy, and some knowledge all comes with that. My job here is to set the tone. I'd sure like to make sure we're all working together, moving in the same direction, but to do that you've got to be a motivator. How would I want to see my business is exactly how I need to act. I do believe your leaders set the direction. And so motivation is my biggest thing. I run around giving high fives and fist bumps. I think that that's my biggest role here.

Kade Wilcox: You have over 800 employees, is that right?

William Ware: Yeah, we're lucky enough to have an incredible team of bankers throughout West Texas and really try to always lead by example. We want department heads, managers, everyone moving in the same direction. And that starts with the top. If our executive team isn't doing the same things that maybe their managers are doing, then we've got a misalignment.

Kade Wilcox: What does that look like practically for your leadership in the organization? You have 800 plus employees. What does it look like for you to be able to keep people on the same page and then move them forward? What does your communication look like? How often are you meeting? For your organization, what does it look like to stay on the same page, to have a shared vision and be moving in the same direction?

William Ware: I think if we can share each other's roles and if we're present, that's very important. Communication is key. I believe in face to face communication. I believe in meetings, but quick meetings. We don't have a very big bureaucracy around.

Kade Wilcox: That's got to make you very popular.

William Ware: Absolutely short meetings, short memos, and in and out. But the idea of everybody moving in the same direction. We like to make sure that we see what's going on in our markets, in our branches, in our customer's office. My dad had the best quote ever. He says a desk is a horrible place from which to view the world. He obviously brought that quote from someone really smart. So our goal is to get out, see the customer, see the branches, see the departments, and we encourage everybody to get out.

William Ware: The other thing that works around here is everybody can do everyone else's job. And the teamwork aspect, it's not, Hey, that's my job or that's someone else's. It's I can do your job if you need it. Or what can I do for you to make your life better? So that that's how we showcase our leadership. By being present, being involved. We never delegate and leave. If we delegate, we're going to be right there with them. And that's one of my big leadership tenants is leading by example. If I'm going to ask you to do something, I better sure be able to do it myself.

Kade Wilcox: That's really good. When you think of your past leadership roles and you think of all the experience over the last 10, 15, 20 years of growing up in the organization, what's been your approach to failure? I mean, everyone has a certain way that try to learn from failure and they approach a failure. So for William Ware what does it look like when you've experienced failure or loss or whatever? How do you approach it?

William Ware: Well, you've got to take note of all your failures. It's miserable. You feel awful. It's something that needs to happen. If you're not failing a lot, you're doing something wrong. So you should fail frequently. But I take notes of every single failure I've ever had and I don't use it as a drag. I don't use it as a poor me or to bring me down. I use it as fuel to get better. Looking back, I realized I did a lot of stupid things. I had a big ego. I might've called a shot where maybe I didn't know enough about the decision to do it. But because I have failed, I feel like I am a better leader and I will tell you, I have had way more failures than successes and it can really eat at you. You can feel pretty low if you let the failures win. But I will tell you, if you're not failing, you're not getting any better. And don't internalize the negative of the failure. Please use it as fuel for your next success. It's just a log that you're throwing back into the fire.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's really good. When I think about you having 800 something employees, and you're moving into this role as president. It's a family owned company, so you have the interactions with your family. You have a lot of things pulling at you. You have different employee needs. The organization has needs, the family, which is the board, has needs and there are different things pulling at your attention. How do you help William grow? How do you grow as a leader? How do you stay inspired? How do you empower your leadership? How do you approach that?

William Ware: Well, I like to look at other leaders for direction and I like to make sure that our team is supporting each other and I can check in with them. I've got an amazing group of executive leaders that I check in with every day, making sure are we doing things right. Then I look outward, I look to other leaders for advice, for ideas. With modern technology, you can follow anybody and maybe take some tidbits from them. There's wonderful books that I've read, wonderful podcasts I've listened to. And so that kind of keeps me aligned and I'm constantly evolving this process. I've got a list of things that I've tried to do for the bank and for me personally and always updating that. But I feel like it's all got to move in the same direction. So if I'm doing something for me that's got to translate to the bank, it's got to translate to my community.

William Ware: It's got to all fit in my wheelhouse. So first and foremost, knowing who I am, and that's been an exploratory process the last few years, who am I as a leader? Who am I as a person, as a banker, as a community leader? I want to talk the talk, walk the walk. I worked with a coach out of Cookeville, Tennessee recently. He's a mind coach. He's at CrossFit Mayhem, he works with athletes, he works with CEOs, he works with business people. Anyone you can think of that wants to either better themselves or have a better way to make decisions. And his number one goal was figure out who you are. And so that's what I did. I worked on this mindset program with him and it was a wonderful exercise cause I got to look inward, got to dive deep.

William Ware: We're really good at looking outward and looking at tomorrow. We never check in. And I dug in deep on what are my values, how did I become this person, who am I as a leader? And now I have a code built on that and I can use that code to help me make these decisions the basis of my actions and so because I know who I am, it allows me to be a better leader. So I'm very grateful for Jim Hensel at CrossFit Mayhem and Mayhem Mindset for helping me learn who I am and give me a foundation for better decisions.

Kade Wilcox: That's really cool. What are some other go to resources for you, whether they're books or authors or podcasters or speakers? What are a few other resources that you really like to kind of lean into for your own growth?

William Ware: I'm a huge fan of following people I think I can learn from. I use Instagram, I don't use a lot of Facebook or Twitter, but I believe in social media can be a wonderful tool if you use it correctly. It can also be a total time sink and a waste of time. So follow the people that would make your life better. I follow Laird Hamilton, Jocko, David Goggins, rich Froning, Ben Greenfield, Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, Joe de Sena, Aubrey Marcus. And I even follow some friends that work for big companies like Amazon and JP Morgan Chase. Some of these larger banks. I want to see how professionals in my role, who are they following, what are they doing? It's wonderful to see other people's ideas on leadership, failure, and of course a better way to live your life. And so I'm a huge fan of wellness, a huge fan of philanthropy, a huge fan of leading by example. And a lot of the people I follow, whether it be book or podcast, all have that same mentality.

Kade Wilcox: That's really good. Some really great resources you listed there. How do you balance all this? You're high energy, you're a high achiever, you've got branches and employees and you're highly involved in the community. So two questions really. One is, how do you balance all of it? And when you find yourself out of balance, how do you try to get yourself back in the middle?

William Ware: Both really good questions. I'm not really good at the balance thing because I don't have a family just yet. I put my career first. I do want to have a family. I'd like to start one. I was a workaholic. All I did was care about the bank and the job. And some people do it backwards. They start a family first. So I'm no expert in balance, but the idea is, first and foremost, and this is going to sound selfish, but take care of yourself. Our industry is notorious for bad food, bad habits, late hours, lots of travel. I've seen it destroy people's health, and I want to make sure that I'm taking care of myself if I'm going to be a successful banker, successful leader, successful family man. Sleep, food, wellness, meditation, all of the things that I believe make us better people.

William Ware: That comes first. And then the next are all the other things like family, work, faith, the other things on my plate. So if I get out of balance what I like to do is hit the brakes, get really selfish and say no a lot. Remember if it's not benefiting your family, your business, or yourself, you can say no and hit the brakes. I know we all have huge hearts and want to serve others, but sometimes you got to say no. Take personal time. A lot of Fridays or Saturdays I'll take for me, take a nap, ground, go do a really nice workout, cook real food. Breathe, meditate, get a massage or get outside. We're so bad at sitting inside and being comfortable all day long. We've got to get outside and get in the sun. I'll go do a mountain bike. I'm a huge mountain biker. I'll go do a trail run, like you. So that's how I reset. I connect with nature, myself, my faith, I go to church. Something to get my mind away from the hustle and bustle cause the world will win if you let it. You've got to be selfish.

Kade Wilcox: What are those triggers for you? Is it when you stop feeling energetic, is it getting sick or feeling tired? What are those kind of triggers for you that make you realize, okay, I'm a little out of balance here.

William Ware: Well one thing I learned from Jim Hensel, at Mayhem Mindset, was how to set the tone for the room and his wonderful piece of advice is leaders need to be the thermostat, not the thermometer. You need to set the temperature of the room. When I realize I'm walking into a room and I'm angry, I'm loud, I'm short. I can't be that motivator that I told you is the most important part of my job. I can't set the tone that day as a calm collected leader or I snap at somebody. That's when I know I need to go. I need to walk away and check out. And so when I am falling off of my duty of a leader and I'm not being a good person, I've got to walk away and take personal time.

Kade Wilcox: That's really good. What are the biggest personal influences in your leadership journey? Whether it's an individual or a group of individuals? What comes to mind when you think of the most influential people on your leadership journey and who William Ware is as a leader today?

William Ware: Wow. I think first and foremost, growing up in a family business, my dad has been wonderful. And my grandfather, they really set the tone for your base, your values, morals, traditions, and good wise ideas on how to be a good person and how to run a business. So you take those as your foundation. And I've been really lucky. And then our executive team here at ANB have been my mentors for years. We have a rule, surround yourself with smarter people. And they've been wonderful. Because you need honest people in your life. And these people around here have been truly great. I've also looked to local business leaders. I sit down with them and take notes when they talk. And anytime I run into a successful person, whether they be a CEO or an athlete, take a few notes, jot it down on your phone.

William Ware: Keep that in mind. And more recently I've been been listening to some tough love motivators like Jocko and David Goggins.

Kade Wilcox: He's not afraid of getting in your face is he?

William Ware: Whenever I've had a bad day or feeling low or feeling like I can't do anything. Just watch an Instagram post from David Goggins and you'll be motivated. I like their style. Their message is we're getting soft, we're not taking care of ourselves and we're not using our minds how we should. And I believe you had a quote at your office. It said something along the lines of comfort kills. And I believe technology and our success as a country has made us all a little soft. We've gotten complacent. We're sitting too much, we're not moving enough. And I think we've gotten a little comfortable and maybe we need to learn how to fail.

William Ware: Maybe we need to learn how to get cold. Maybe we will learn to be uncomfortable. Leaders like Goggins and Jocko are really nice in your face ways to say, wake up, you're okay and you're tougher than you think you are. So I've had those. And then wellness influencers. Ben Greenfield's been wonderful, Laird Hamilton has been wonderful. I love their messages and I do think wellness needs to be on your plate. If you have some major tenants in your life, wellness covers a lot of it and that needs to be a priority. So I've used them for my leadership guides. So there's a quick list and I could go on.

Kade Wilcox: Oh, I know you could. So you talk about wellness. The obvious benefits of wellness are just your physical health, but maybe what are one or two things that you've learned in some of the endurance sports you've done? Or some of the things you've done from CrossFit or Tough Mudders or whatever, what are a few things you've learned getting into those that you feel like directly impact your leadership beyond just physical wellness and health? What are some of the things you can take away from some of those things that impact your health?

William Ware: First and foremost is having a really clear head. By taking care of yourself, your brain works phenomenally better than it would had you been eating processed food, sitting around, not sleeping good, drinking too much alcohol. Having a sharp mind and an incredibly responsive brain has been probably the greatest benefit of all of my wellness journey. On top of that, my capabilities, I can really move better. I feel like I have quicker reflexes. I also feel if I'm going to lead by example, I want to be able to carry things, and run a race at the drop of a hat. Do something, go on a hike, do something that you know I might not have been able to do five or ten years ago had I not focused on my wellness. So capabilities is another thing.

William Ware: And then of course I talk about leading by example. If I'm going to ask 800 people to do a certain job, well I would also hope they're taking good care of themselves. Because if you're healthier, you're happier. Our biggest success in our business is taking care of the customer. How do you take care of the customer? You're cool, you have a great attitude. If you are healthy, you have a good attitude. So general happiness helps you do your job better. And I think you get that from wellness. You get that from taking care of yourself. So those would probably be the biggest things about why I'm a wellness geek and I sure hope that translates into our employees taking better care of themselves. Because if the boss is healthy, you might consider being healthy. I'd want to work for someone that takes care of themselves, right?

Kade Wilcox: I think you're certainly making that impact. We showed up a little bit early prior to this podcast and just a couple of people we talked to, every single one of them on their own accord mentioned your wellness facility and the benefits of it. So it seems like you've had a huge impact in that way and that's a really positive thing. So my last question for you is always my favorite one. And that is what would a William Ware tell himself if you could go back fifteen, twenty years ago and talk to the twenty-something year old William Ware what would you tell him?

William Ware: All right. The first and biggest one I would say is stop drinking. I think we all drink a little too much.

Kade Wilcox: That's got to be the most practical piece of advice we've heard.

William Ware: Coming from the guy that built a bar. I wish I would've at least slowed it down. I probably would've said sleep more. You know how when you're young, 60 hour work weeks are really cool. I would say whatever it takes to sleep more. I would also say relax more. You know the world is not as chaotic as you think. And I think stress is a very silent killer and you've gotta be really careful. So maybe relax more. Be a little more confident. Young people don't have a lot of confidence in their abilities and I feel like they need to realize that, Hey, you have so much potential and everything you want to do, you can accomplish. So, you know, be a little more confident. Also I wished I would've gotten to maybe lifting a little earlier. Not like power lifting weights every day, just lift a little more weight. So those are the things I would have said. Maybe work smarter, not harder. We're really good at the grind, we're not good at doing smart things. So man, don't you wish you could go back twenty years?

Kade Wilcox: I don't know if I wish I could go back, but I'm certainly grateful for the last fifteen years and what I've learned through failure and some wins and a lot of losses. And certainly one of my favorite things to do is to think about those things and talk to my seven year old son about it, a lot of what you're saying here, the importance of sleep, the importance of intentional functional fitness and the discipline that it nurtures. I certainly wish I could have slapped my twenty year old self a couple of times, but I'm really pleased at where we're at now and I wouldn't go back for anything, but all really good insight. Well you've been gracious in giving us your time.

Kade Wilcox: Thank you for all your great insight. I think our audience is going to really enjoy some of the feedback you've shared and best of luck to you and Amarillo National Bank as you continue to build on the legacy and even add a little bit of your own signature to it. So we're proud of you and really thankful for all the time you've given us.

William Ware: Thank you. It's been an honor. This has been fun and I love living here. I hope we're here another a hundred years and I hope all this advice is good advice to the listener. Thanks for your time.

Kade Wilcox: Absolutely. Thanks William.


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