Cultural Lessons from a Banker

September 17, 2008

The recent financial crisis has sharpened the focus on banking institutions that have not collapsed. The dire and painful lessons learned by Fannie Mae and Lehman Brothers is causing savvy minds to find out what the other side is doing right.

The latest post on the Mavericks At Work blog features a few of the people behind these wise corporations, and offers some insights into their stability and success through tough times. Hudson City Bancorp and ING Direct are the prime examples, and ING Direct’s famously intrepid CEO and visionary, Arkadi Kuhlmann, speaks in curiously artistic terms about his approach to banking and mortgage lending.

So, what can an artist learn from a banker?:

“We as individual leaders operate inside a cultural context. The question is, Do you want to try to influence the culture that you’re in, or do you want the culture that you’re in to overwhelm you?” – Arkadi Kuhlmann, ING Direct’s founder and CEO

Another excerpt from the Mavericks post: “Every person who tries to do real innovation is going to be tempted by money, greed, acceptance, being in the middle of the action,” Kuhlmann says. “But at the core there is one fundamental difference: I know why I’m here. I want to make a difference. If I was into this just for making money, being a big accepted banker, I would have been tempted. But that’s not why I’m here. I am trying to build something that changes the business, that allows me to stay on the right side of the discussion.”

He’s speaking of business principles, but I hear it as a mantra for artistic freedom. That these words came from a banker during a period of intense financial meltdown should not faze you: the connections between the arts and the business world are more plentiful than you may think. In the same way mathematicians instinctively judge an equation’s validity by its aesthetic beauty, the great minds of business make decisions based on larger cultural principles.

As proven by ING, viewing your endeavor as a work of art may be the surest path to success.

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