By: Ira Robbins

President & CEO 

As I look back at 2018, I learned that what makes a great organization is an environment where people are engaged, ideas are shared, and there’s a strong commitment toward a common goal—to empower customers and invigorate communities.

What I loved most about this year was getting to know so many people around our company. Understanding what their passions are, how they’re involved in their communities, and what drives them in their careers. When I sat down to write this article, I thought about giving a summation of my vision for 2019. But instead, what I really want to do is tell you about what inspired me in 2018. And how these inspirations are what will drive our way forward in 2019 and beyond.

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Working together to build stronger communities

In June, I met Lourdes, a single mother and home health aide who wanted to provide her son and daughter a home they could be proud of. We met just before the start of Morris Habitat for Humanity’s 10-Day Blitz Build in Mine Hill, NJ; where Valley was the main sponsor of one of three homes. That home we were sponsoring was for Lourdes. More than 140 Valley employees volunteered during the Blitz Build to do things like hang drywall, lay flooring, put in siding. They did this to help Lourdes achieve that dream so many of us have—owning a home she could raise her family in.

The Blitz Build was just one of many inspiring moments in a year where we showed our commitment to the success of our communities. We built a number of incredible community partnerships. One of those being with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, where we’re sponsoring a culinary workforce development program that gives low-income, unemployed and under-employed individuals the opportunity to pursue a culinary career.  We also partnered with Big Brother Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties, NJ, to launch the Bigs in Blue Club, a program that matches children ages 6 to 19 with volunteer mentors who work in law enforcement. From our Pop-up Moments, to Valley for Vets, to a record number of volunteer hours, there was nothing more inspiring than seeing our employees give back in a big way to the communities we serve.

Creating thriving communities through small business growth

I spent a lot of time this year at our offices in Tampa, Florida, getting to know everyone who joined our organization as the result of our acquisition of USAmeriBank. What I noticed early on from the people in our Tampa offices and branches is how proud they are of the bank’s role in local business growth.

During one of my visits, I stopped into a coffee shop called the Blind Tiger in the Ybor City neighborhood. The business is a Valley customer, and one of its co-owners, Roberto Torres, is a local entrepreneur committed to revitalizing the historic neighborhood. Roberto not only owns the Blind Tiger, but he also owns a local retail company, and he created a place called CoWork Ybor, a co-working space that gives local creative professionals a cost-effective space to work. Roberto has been able to do this with the help of our Small Business Administration (SBA) loan team, who’ve taken the time to understand his vision and give him the resources he needs to be successful.

Helping businessowners grow their businesses is a key part of who we are. And while we continue to serve larger business customers, we must remain committed to serving the key drivers of community growth—small businesses. Seeing the impact that small business growth has to the community, and even to the employees at the bank, helped convince me that we need to expand our SBA program. And that’s what we’re doing right now in New York and New Jersey as we head into 2019.

Leaders in Action

A couple of weeks ago, I, along with members of our Leadership Team, served as “Sharks” in an exercise for our Leaders in Action program. Leaders in Action brings individuals from across the organization together to collaborate, share ideas and pursue projects that are above and beyond their daily responsibilities.

For months, these individuals have been working in teams on creating solutions for new business opportunities. So, when the day came for them to make their pitches, every single one blew me away. To see how our employees turned ideas into tangible solutions proved to me that tapping into our talent can lead to tremendous results. Empowering people to work together in an agile, design-thinking environment aligns with one of our key principles—Inspiring Teamwork. As this program continues to grow and move forward in 2019, I’m incredibly optimistic about what will come next.

Regaining that child-like wonder

When I took my oldest son to Times Square for the first time, his mouth dropped open in awe. The lights, signs, colors, buildings, noise, people—everything amazed him. One of the joys of being a parent is seeing that wonder in your child’s eye.

We took a major risk in 2018 when we decided to refresh our brand. Changing the Bank’s identity from one that defined us for decades to our local communities, terrified me. Not many CEOs will admit that. But we didn’t do it just to do it. We did it to re-center the culture of our organization and refocus our messaging to our customers.

Our marketing team worked nonstop to define who we are in a way that could be communicated to our employees, customers and communities. Their commitment to preserving the history and ethics of Valley National Bank while transforming us into Valley surpassed my expectations. And when I finally saw it all come together in October. Standing on 43rd and 7th, in the heart of Manhattan. I felt that same feeling of wonder and optimism that my son did the first time he stood in that very same spot. By seeing our new logo, colors, and messaging exploding from the bright billboards of Times Square, I knew we were headed in a new direction.

Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Our legacy set the foundation for who we are. But it’s the people and ideas of today that will drive us into tomorrow. Seeing what we as an organization accomplished in 2018 shows me that the future we’re creating together is going to be incredible.