This article originally published in Summer 2015 edition of B2B.
The awards and accolades keep coming Deryl Hamann’s way, but the 82-year-old Omaha attorney has a decisively modest take. “You stay around long enough and they have to recognize you.”
The latest honor was the 2014 Douglas E. Parrott Faith in Action Award from Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska. Hamann is grateful and humbled by the recognition, but, he feels he isn’t doing anything extra. In fact, he’s enjoying the slower pace these days.
“I come to the office every day, but I don’t work very hard,” Hamann says from his office high up in the Woodmen of the World building. “Mostly I just ferry my wife around.”
Hamann still has some long-time clients he tends to. And he is always there to offer up advice as needed to the younger attorneys at Baird Holm, the firm he’s been with since 1959.
Yes, the praise is nice and all, but that’s not what drives Hamann. He’s still the Iowa farm boy who worked his way through law school and went on to become one of the state’s most respected experts on banking and corporate law, not to mention the CEO of a large banking organization. Hamann says he is driven by the satisfaction that comes from showing up to work each day and serving his clients.
It’s a work ethic learned on the dusty farmlands of his north-central Iowa youth.
Hamann learned early on that there is no substitute for hard work. If asked about the accolades, you’ll get some pleasant comments. But talk to him about those early years managing the local drive-in north of Fort Dodge, Iowa, or clerking for U.S. District Judge Robert Van Pelt, and you’ll get a sense of what drove Hamann to success.
The combination of work ethic and intelligence led Hamann into the banking business in 1971 with the purchase of a small bank in southern Iowa. That led to him becoming the chairman and chief executive officer of Great Western Bank, which grew to over 100 locations in six states before selling in 2008.
Hamann is also a trustee and past president of the Nebraska State Bar Association; former chairman of the board of trustees at Bellevue University; a director of the University of Nebraska Foundation and chairman of its Investment Committee; and, also, former chairman of the Bethphage Foundation. In 2011, he was designated Corporate Lawyer of the Year in Omaha by Best Lawyers in America.
“Those were pretty busy years,” he says of balancing his career and raising four children, and later, three stepchildren.
Hamann graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1956 as an undergraduate. He received his law degree in 1958, the same year he clerked for Judge Van Pelt, a man who he says had a big impact on him and his career path. “The phrase ‘a gentleman and a scholar’ could have been invented just for him,” Hamann says.
Hamann recalls his first job, cutting cockleburs with a corn knife and helping with the chores around the little farm “a quarter mile down a mud lane just off a gravel road.”
Growing up during the Great Depression taught Hamann the value in helping others. And in treating other people right. “There is great satisfaction in being able to help someone in need, especially when you grow up without much,” he says. “Back then, things were not that lush.”
Times have changed, no doubt. But for Hamann, some things are constant, like the value of lessons one learns early on and, hopefully, never loses sight of.