Tag Archives: First National Bank

Community First

September 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

First National Bank is known for “putting customers first.” Part and parcel of that commitment is reinvesting in the communities their customers call home.  

“Our success as a company is dependent upon the success of the communities that we operate in…so the purpose of our community work is to contribute to the success of the communities in which we operate in and serve,” says Alec Gorynski, vice president of Community Development and Corporate Philanthropy at First National Bank.

First National partners with nonprofit organizations across its seven-state footprint—Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas—to support local communities with reinvestments that channel through nonprofit partners. The bank reinvests by direct philanthropy, impact investment, and volunteerism, and chooses its nonprofit partners based on their alignment with First National initiatives, history and track record of success, and potential for impact. 

While philanthropy and community development are not new concepts at First National, Gorynski says that in 2016 the bank specifically committed to reinvesting $85 million and 100,000 volunteer hours back into its communities by 2020. According to First National’s 2017 Impact Report, their two-year totals at the close of 2017 were at $56 million and 76,000 volunteer hours.

While Gorynski acknowledges there is lots of need and many excellent potential partner organizations, First National strategically aligns its community investments with organizations that are working to foster success in eight specific areas: strong local economies, stable housing, vibrant neighborhoods, an educated workforce, good health, community cohesion, access to culture, and sustained environment. Of those eight areas, First National focuses the majority of its efforts on an educated workforce, a strong local economy, and stable housing, each of which can act as essential building blocks to foster success in the other five areas.    

“Success is a wide net when we think about helping our communities succeed, so we think about success from the economic standpoint,” says Gorynski. “We want to help our communities, and the individuals in our communities, move above a certain economic threshold. Certainly it’s a spectrum, but there’s an economic line at which people are more likely to be more active in the economy and more independently prosperous. What we’re really focused on is helping move people above that economic line.”

In service of that goal, Gorynski elaborates, an educated workforce is fostered by education and
job training that helps individuals attain the skills and tools necessary to achieve economic success, often through avenues like youth and adult education, or vocational training. Similarly, their strong economy initiative is buoyed by investments in nonprofits that support small business development, and stable housing is achieved by investments in organizations that work to provide quality, affordable housing opportunities. 

“We believe that home ownership is a means to gain wealth and a pathway to economic stability and prosperity, so we want to invest in programs that help people own a home as a means to building wealth,” says Gorynski. “At the same time, we want to invest in programs that help low-income individuals get quality affordable housing, even if it is rental housing, because we know that housing should never take up more than 30 percent of your income and we want to ensure that people can get housing that’s affordable, but also quality.”

Amanda Brewer, CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, a prominent community partner of the bank, says the bank provides crucial support to her organization.  

“First National Bank is an incredible partner of Habitat for Humanity. In addition to sponsoring a house and having hundreds of team members volunteer each year, First National has helped by investing in our loan pool, servicing Habitat loans, leading budgeting workshops for our homeowners, and providing countless hours of technical expertise,” says Brewer. “They’ve helped more families realize the dream of homeownership through Habitat and helped us transform neighborhoods.”  

Not only does First National encourage employees to volunteer, they have a time-off policy that allows each employee eight hours paid time off annually to use for volunteering in their community. Gorynski says it all goes back to one of the bank’s guiding mantras: “When our communities are successful, we are successful.” 

For Gorynski, it is a privilege to help set the strategy and tone for First National Bank’s community development and corporate philanthropy efforts, while also leading the team that “puts our financial and human capital to work in alignment with that strategy.” He is quick to praise his team and the Lauritzen family’s ownership and leadership as drivers in making these efforts successful. 

“It’s truly an honor and a privilege to do this work for a company that has a 160-year history of being so committed to Omaha and to all of the communities in which it operates and serves,” says Gorynski. “The team does meaningful work developing really genuine, meaningful partnerships with nonprofit organizations. We have boots on the ground in Omaha and in every community in which we operate who are out there getting to know the communities we serve, getting to know the organizations that are addressing the needs in our communities, and finding meaningful ways for us to support the work of those organizations. It’s because of [the team] that we’re able to get to know the right nonprofit organizations, make meaningful investments in those organizations, and ultimately, realize our goal of successful communities.”


Visit firstnational.com/community to learn more about First National Bank’s community development and philanthropy efforts.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

New Management for the New Millennium

June 7, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kids today…they’re entitled, disrespectful brats who can’t write a complete sentence and are always playing with their phones.

Harumph.

You know, those so-called Millennials born between 1980 and 2000 with the silver spoons in their mouths. The ones who lost, but still got a trophy. The ones doing all the Snapchatting, Tweeting, and Tinder-swiping.

They roll in late, take long lunches, and then leave early. Then they whine for a pat on the back.

Funny thing is, none of that is really true. It’s just a variation on what every older generation likes to say about “kids these days.”

We are surrounded by Millennials—about 55.9 million of them are in the workforce today, the largest of any cohort. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers number about 49 million in each group, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Millennial1WebEvery year it grows increasingly more probable that a millennial is signing paychecks. They’re making important decisions at businesses everywhere. BVH Architects, for example, is announcing a restructuring of their organization this month. This includes putting into key positions people such as 35-year-old Mark Bacon, their new creative director.

To understand the influences a Millennial might have as a manager in the workplace is to understand that Millennials are just a product of their parents and the times—times that have seen remarkable technological advances in the last 30 years, taking us from rotary phones and fax machines to the wonders of Google and the full breadth of human knowledge readily accessible from even the cheapest smartphone.

Alec Levenson, a Yale-educated economics professor at the University of Southern California, has studied generational differences for most of his career. His book, What Millennials Want from Work, carries one inescapable theme: “Millennials want what older generations have always wanted—an interesting job that pays well, where they work with people they like and trust, have access to development and the opportunity to advance, are shown appreciation on a regular basis, and don’t have to leave.”

While they may not be all that different from those who came before them, they are a complex mix of privilege and disadvantage. They came of age as the smartest and most educated—but also the most indebted—generation ever, during one of the worst U.S. economic periods since the Depression.

It’s a tough world out there for Millennials, made tougher by skeptical older generations who are unwilling to step back.

Kristin Streff Barnett, 33, is the director of Employment Services at First National Bank. She manages a couple of millennials, but most of her staff consists of people in the Gen X or Baby Boomer classifications.  As a manager, she invokes a laid back style and tries to be as flexible as possible.

“I am more relaxed than my team desires at times,” she says. “The bank is not the most important thing in your life.”

Nonetheless, she understands that as a younger manager, she needs to built trust and credibility with any team she manages.

“There’s a certain amount of proving yourself I have to do,” Barnett says. “I don’t see that as part of my age. I’ve had seven years of management experience, and I think it’s gotten easier with time.”

Although Barnett works at a bank, the dress codes and flexibility of the company have become more relaxed as the company evolves. She has been known to wear a suit, but she won’t be seen in flip flops at the office. And she knows how to answer an office telephone and leave voice mail.

Bacon is transitioning from a non-management position to managing a team of 52, but he doesn’t see himself barking orders at minions. “It’s not hierarchical, it’s much more about collaboration and integration with project teams.”

Moving millennials into management is often more important than bosses realize. Brandi Goldapp, the 45-year-old owner of  Omaha event planning firm, A View Premier Event Venues, needed help connecting with a younger generation. After decades of success in the industry, something changed.

“Our product didn’t change,” she said. “But there was a disconnect.”

She realized something. Her clients were millennials, who nationally account for roughly 81 million people—many of whom are now entering the life stages of marriage and building families.

So she put a few Millennials in charge.

Her business has now expanded to two additional locations, including the construction of an entirely new building. Most of their venues are booked solid several months in advance, and most of that traces back to the tireless energy of her management team—a pair of dynamo Millennials.

“I believe my business is as successful as it is because of them,” Goldapp said.

Staying ahead of the curve usually involves keeping a close eye on a smartphone, which can be aggravating for the older set. But those phones are for more than Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. The gadgets allow them to be constantly “on the clock,” accessing email, contacts, documents, and calendars. Anywhere, anytime.

The tradeoff? Just as they don’t mind working from home, they expect the boss to accept some of their personal life bleeding into work.

“I think it’s important to remember how important all aspects of their lives are to them,” Barnett says.

Nonetheless, they want to work. Another key piece to understanding Millennials is their need for a sense of ownership, or making a contribution to the larger whole, in a real, tangible way.

“That people are forgetting the fact that there’s still integrity at work,” says Rachel Tew, the 28-year-old tattooed marketing specialist at Mid-America Center. “My work stays at work, but my mind is always looking at opportunities. An older generation believed in work…If I have a deadline, I never miss a deadline.”

Another key piece to understanding Millennials is their need for a sense of ownership, or making a contribution to the larger whole, in a real, tangible way.

Goldapp promoted Millennials in her event planning business as she started developing plans for a new building to accommodate the company’s growth. She brought in her young protégées for input. Together they sketched plans on napkins and visited the construction site.

Goldapp described the process from her small 12-feet x 12-feet office in the new building. She shares the space with her two managers. It’s crammed with two desks and a small fridge. One wall is painted bright orange, another is painted gold, and she loves every bit of it.

“I’ve never had an office,” Goldapp said with a wide grin. It never even occurred to her to include it in the plans, but it did to her 24-year-old sales manager, Britney McRoberts, who had to make a workspace wherever she could.

McRoberts laughed as she recalled the conversation with Goldapp: “If you want us to work smarter and not harder,” McRoberts said, “then we need a desk and a place where we can shut a door. And then you need to paint the walls gold.”

McRoberts also helped rebrand the business, which continued to grow. That meant there was going to be more work for everyone, but not enough to justify hiring more help. Goldapp said they didn’t complain, or ask for raises. They saw the bigger picture.

The bigger issue for Levenson is that problems with management in the workplace are systemic.

“One of the biggest problems we have in organizations,” he said, “is that people get put into frontline management roles without any evidence that they can actually work as managers.”

Corporate policies for hiring, training, and retaining talented leaders leave a lot to be desired across the board, not just Millennials. Changing policies and practices that benefit Millennials would benefit all, he said.

Goldapp laughs at the idea of generalizing the Millennial generation in anything less than flattering terms.

“If you want your business to survive, you better make some changes,” she said.

Goldapp put down a few swaths of gold paint, had a few conversations, outlined expectations, and let the kids take care of the rest.

Making the Old New Again

November 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sherri and John Obermiller decided their new downtown condo reminded them too much of the suburbs.

They should know. The couple moved in 2011 from their five-bedroom, five-bathroom home in the white-picket-fence-lined neighborhoods off 180th St. and West Center Road to the eclectic, artsy downtown for a reason, and it wasn’t perfection and modernity.

Obermiller2“It was time to downsize and just get rid of stuff,” Sherri says. “Plus, this gave me an excuse not to do yard work anymore.”

The pair looked at five or six buildings before deciding the 902 Dodge Street condos were a natural fit for them. The building is located close enough to walk to yoga classes or sushi restaurants, but far enough from the bustle of the Old Market. “We don’t always like to be in the crowd, but we like to be near it,” Sherri says. “We enjoy being anonymous in a sea of people.”

An available condo on the fifth floor was too small and in need of a facelift, but the Obermillers saw its potential. Their first act as new owners? Asking their neighbor what amount of money it would take for him to move. Their new home instantly doubled in size.

To further construct their vision for the space, they enlisted the help of Stephanie Basham, principal designer and owner of Group One Interiors, and Don Stormberg, owner of Stormberg Construction. The couple rented and lived in a unit on the second floor of the building as Basham and Stormberg’s teams worked to renovate the condo to the Obermillers’ standards.

Obermiller3“It’s always challenging to work in a space that people are inhabiting during construction,” Basham says. “The Obermillers have a finely tuned sense of contemporary style and an appreciation for urban modernism. And to top that, John and Sherri value attention to detail, which is a dream for a designer.”

From using lime green as an accent color to matching the gray of the exposed concrete ceiling to the condo’s columns, the detailed design was inspired from the Obermillers’ travels to metropolises like New York City.

Obermiller4

To make the home feel larger, Basham took advantage of the high ceilings and crafted a floating translucent cloud above the kitchen island. The focal point of the home, the cloud creates a sense of separation between the kitchen and adjacent rooms without impeding the view. Local fabricators and installers used frosted acrylic to have the effect of tinted glass without the weight. This fixture is a personal favorite of the Obermillers.

“The cloud above and countertop below have the same steel lines, so they mirror one another,” Sherri says. “We strived for symmetry throughout our home.”

Following nearly a year of renovations, only the cherrywood cabinets in the kitchen remain in the now-2,400-square-foot condo.  An entire patio was removed; new floors and appliances were installed; iron-welded, artisan-crafted barn doors were mounted; and rooms were ornamented in furniture from as far away as Sweden. The result is a simple, contemporary design that’s entirely unique to the Obermillers.

Obermiller5

The Obermillers saw not only the potential of their condo but the value of the downtown area as well. While the CenturyLink Center was the major draw north of Dodge Street when the Obermillers first moved downtown, the area will soon be home to HDR’s high-rise headquarters and a collection of newly developed apartments, offices, and entertainment space.

“We are incredibly excited about this development and what’s next,” John says.

Obermiller6Embracing an urban lifestyle is a hot trend, yet the Obermillers aren’t concerned with following or setting trends. Instead, their new home serves as a space for them to reinvigorate their story together.

“We can walk to the trails by the pedestrian bridge or quickly go to the restaurants in the Old Market. It’s fun and incredible,” Sherri says. “It feels like we live in a much bigger city than what Omaha really is.”

When the Obermillers aren’t watching Nebraska sunsets melt behind the Woodman and First National from their building’s rooftop terrace, they enjoy a different view from their living room window. They look down onto the interstates weaving under and over themselves, roads looping and stretching in different directions. An image the Obermillers agree is beautiful. Just below the roads and between the urban sprawl of Omaha and Council Bluffs lies the river.

“We always thought at this point in our life we’d have a condo overlooking Lake Michigan,” John says. “Living happily next to the Missouri River in downtown Omaha? Well, that’s just the next
best thing.”

Obermiller1

Public Art Primer

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Chris Wolfgang

One thing never in short supply in this city of ours is public art. Downtown Omaha in particular has a vast collection of pieces—some you’ve surely seen and some that are tucked away. Keep your eyes open this summer for these few pieces in particular and impress your friends with how much you know about public art downtown.

Pioneer Courage Park and Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park
14th & Capitol and all four corners of the 16th & Dodge intersection

IMG_7861_Web

Both owned by First National Bank, these installations span the width of several blocks. Follow Blair Buswell’s and Edward Fraughton’s pioneers, covered wagons, oxen, horses, and mules through Pioneer Courage Park, watch as they scare off bison who run along 14th all the way to Kent Ullberg’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness at 16th where Canada geese (each weighing approximately 200 pounds) seem to fly around the intersection, through walls, buildings, even traffic light poles.

The Garden of the Zodiac
Old Market Passageway, 10th & Howard

On the second floor of the Old Market Passageway (itself a unique artistic and architectural element of Downtown Omaha) are several bronze heads mounted on stone bases. This Garden of the Zodiac was sculpted by Evas Aeppli and represents the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Aeppli also created the Fountain of Erinnyesdiac in the lower level of the Passageway across from the V. Mertz restaurant. These three abstract metal heads, which each spew water, represent the Furies: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone, all vengeful demi-goddesses of Greek mythology.

Nebraska Centennial Glass Mosaic
The outside of the Woodman building, 18th & Douglas

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Tom Bartek completed this work in 1967. The mosaic scenes depict Native Americans, pioneers, and Omaha being settled. In 2012, at the age of 80, Bartek released Retrospective, a collection of his works, in three galleries. You can learn more about the mural’s creation at omahamuralproject.org.

Fertile Ground
Eastern wall of the Energy Systems, Inc. building, 13th & Webster

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If you’ve been in the North Downtown area since 2009, you’ve seen Fertile Ground. This 70-foot-tall mural spans 328 feet wide—the length of a city block. It is the largest piece of public art ever installed in Omaha. It’s also the largest mural in the nation to have a single financial backer, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, which funded the piece as a gift to the people of Nebraska and the city of Omaha.

The Omaha Mural Project: Fertile Ground was coordinated by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which selected Meg Saligman as the artist. Saligman compiled Omaha’s story—past, present, future—in a unique back-to-front approach. Instead of a typical left-to-right treatment, the chronology pushes past events to the background and brings more recent events into the foreground. The painting took a year to complete—June 2008 to June 2009.

The Road to Omaha
TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, 1200 Mike Fahey St.

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You may have seen this piece recently, either in person or on television. This bronze sculpture by artist John Lajba is often a focal point during the NCAA Men’s College World Series every June. The sculpture of baseball players was given to the city by local organizing committee College World Series of Omaha, Inc. The Road to Omaha was completed in 1999 and made the move from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in 2011.

For more information about public art in Omaha, visit publicartomaha.org.

The DoubleTree Building

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Blueprints were in the planning stage in the mid-1960s when Hilton Hotel developers told city leaders they wanted to build a new hotel in Downtown Omaha. Their target site was between 15th and 17th streets near the Omaha Civic Auditorium.

They needed two blocks of downtown land owned by First National Bank to build what would be Nebraska’s largest hotel, Hilton developers said. What’s more, they wanted to build smack in the middle of 16th Street. This brought gasps of dismay.

“At the time, 16th Street was the main conduit to North Omaha,” says Mike Kosalka, director of operations for the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel that now occupies the space. “Many people were upset the street was closed and said that this would cut North Omaha off from the downtown area.”

In 1968, when workers showed up to begin work on the new Hilton Hotel, the downtown area had lost a number of its old buildings as city leaders prepared for urban development. The Omaha Auditorium, where 19th-century actress Sarah Bernhardt performed and Caruso sang, was torn down in 1963. The older auditorium had been replaced in 1954 by the Omaha Civic Auditorium, which now, itself, faces closing.

“We reintroduced the grande dame to the city. Every room, every public space was modernized.” – Stephan Meier, general manager

The Fontenelle Hotel, a social center for Omaha when built in 1914, was razed in 1983. It had closed in 1971. The elegant old Omaha post office at 16th and Dodge streets was razed in 1966. Preservationists protested but couldn’t rescue the red sandstone post office.

“The western half of the hotel development was built on the site of that old post office,” says Bill Gonzalez, photo archivist associate at The Durham Museum.

The 414-room Hilton Hotel opened in 1970. It became the Red Lion in 1980. Today, the hotel is the DoubleTree by Hilton.

The hotel’s exterior looks as it did the day of the 1970 ribbon-cutting. But an all-new hotel is inside thanks to a $20 million renovation, said General Manager Stephan Meier. In October, the renovated DoubleTree held a gala event with Omaha mayor, Jim Suttle, and other dignitaries on hand for a ribbon-cutting. “We reintroduced the grande dame to the city,” says Meier. “Every room, every public space was modernized.”

Stephan Meier

Stephan Meier

Then and Now Since 1970

Over the years, considerable changes have taken place inside what is now Nebraska’s second-largest hotel. In 1970, doors were opened with a key. A card with a magnetic stripe was introduced in 1980. An RFID, a scanner code, became the way to open doors in 2012. “We’re the first in Omaha to have this new technology,” says Meier.

Then there was hardwiring. “Hardwire is now less safe. Wireless is the way to go,” Meier says. “Guests have laptops, iPhones, iPads, and other electronic gear. We tripled outlets.” Previously, rooms had clunky televisions with few channels. Now, they have flat-screen TVs with 150 channels.

Then, there was a rooftop restaurant with a revolving barroom floor—the Beef Baron in the 1970s, replaced by Maxine’s in the 1980s. Today, the 19th floor is an executive meeting center.

“There’s more need now for company meetings,” says Meier. Dining is now on the first floor. “Once brunch was ‘owned’ by the hotels. Now, every little café has a brunch.”

Gluten-free? Low fat? Chefs in the 1970s rarely prepared special foods. Now, guests demand them. “People then didn’t worry about cholesterol,” says Meier. “Today, my son worries about his cholesterol. And he’s 7 years old.” The new emphasis on health is also served by the hotel’s high-tech fitness center and swimming pool.

Then, people didn’t know what “carbon footprint” meant. Today, going green is part of the hotel’s business plan. What happens to the shampoo and soap that are half-used when guests leave?

“We work with an organization called ‘Clean the World’ that collects all our discarded soap bars and shampoo bottles for a fee. They are recycled to create hygiene kits that are provided to third-world countries and organizations helping underprivileged children,” says Meier.

“Our green-team committee looks for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. We recycle all trash. We bought 100 percent-recyclable cups. And we just banned Styrofoam, which sits in the landfills for hundreds of years.”