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20 Questions - Posted August 26, 2016 10:21 a.m.
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photo by Shannon Richardson

20 Questions with… Smith Ellis, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and President, FirstBank Southwest


What is the best advice you received when you were beginning your career? Show up early, do more than is expected, and be the last one to leave. I was told that if you did these things and remained loyal to your employer, everything would take care of itself. In my career I have never asked for a raise or promotion. I guess they were right.

How do you use social media to grow your network? I am primarily on LinkedIn. In this busy world where it seems everything and everyone is in motion, it keeps me up to date on changes in my business and maintains my network of peers.

How do you maintain balance? I cook. I know that sounds a little funny. The type of cooking I enjoy generally takes 4 to 5 hours to complete. The logistics of cooking a good meal and the creativity involved take my mind off my worries. I also love to play golf, but I assure you I am a much better cook than a golfer.

What has been your wisest investment? My employees. I can’t give you an ROI on this particular investment, but the benefits I have seen are enormous. I really like working with people that are bound and determined to make their family’s life better. It is an inspiration to me.

How has your past work experience shaped you into a leader? I think, like most people, that experience builds character and confidence. It takes time to develop, but provides a lifetime of rewards. It has taught me to treat others with respect and compassion, and to enjoy the competitiveness of being in business.

What is the best part about your job? Helping people achieve their dreams. My son and I were talking one day and he said that he was frustrated because he did not know what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. I said, ‘This may surprise you but at 63 I am still working on that same problem.’ I told him that the same thing worried me when I was his age. I just decided as long as I was helping someone, things would turn out right for me.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and private life? I have respect for anyone that will take the time to work with someone to help them grow. I have had a lot of mentors in my life. The list is long.

Which living person do you most admire and why? There are a lot of people in our community I could name, so coming up with just one is a difficult task. I am a huge fan of the CEO of Cal Farley’s, Dan Adams. His passion is kids, and not just any kids. His passion is for children that have been neglected, abused or have emotional problems. These are the kids that many in society would simply prefer to forget about. He meets this challenge head on. We have many examples of great people in our community that were once a part of Cal Farley’s. They have survived their ordeal and have become highly respected members of our community.

Which over-used word or phrase makes you cringe? “Political correctness” comes to mind. I am really not sure what it means anymore. At first, I thought it meant that we need to have decorum in the political process. As we are experiencing in our presidential election – from both sides – my understanding of the phrase is no longer valid. I now think it means that in our country you are free to voice an opinion as long as you don’t hurt someone’s feelings. Not only is that impossible, it is preposterous.

What is your business philosophy? In everything you do, be transparent, be ethical, and do it with integrity.

Which quality do you most value in an employee? Attitude. An employee can have the best resume you can imagine, but if the attitude is not right it just does not work. I learned a long time ago that I can fix a lot of things, but I cannot fix a bad attitude.

What personality trait has most helped you succeed? I try to stay calm in tough circumstances. Though, I do have my moments, I have to admit. Staying calm in times of stress has definitely helped in a number of situations.

Who is your favorite author? David McCullough. His works on Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman had a profound effect on me.

What did you learn from your best boss? He taught me to not be a micromanager, let people do their job, and supervise them. They may not approach the job the way you would do it; however, you might be surprised to find their approach is better than yours. Your worst? I was still young in my career. My worst boss asked me to do something I felt was unethical, and it was. It was a painful lesson. I learned to stand my ground on what I thought was right, regardless of the consequences.

How can Amarillo improve its business environment? You have to first invest in yourself to see the improvement. Every business person knows that to grow effectively you have to first invest in your own company to prepare yourself for future growth. We have to do the same thing as a community.

Most important tech tool: cell phone!

Best time management tool: cell phone!

I can’t live without my: take a guess.

My favorite thing about Amarillo is: Hands down it is the people. I have lived in a number of cities across Texas, and you can’t beat the people in Amarillo. They have a “we are going to stand up and take care of our own” attitude that speaks volumes. We are tough but compassionate, fair but very competitive, and friendly beyond words.

Most unusual job or task: I repaired and painted the top of grain elevators. It convinced me that I had to complete college.

-- the AM Team

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