Cort O’Haver earned an undergraduate degree in English from Sacramento State in 1986. Back in those days, he had few thoughts of banking and finance.
“I didn’t even know what a mortgage was,” said O’Haver, whose introduction to banking came via a chance meeting with a friend while helping with a fraternity alumni event.
From that humble beginning, O’Haver, now 54, will become the new president and CEO of Umpqua Holdings Corp. on Jan. 1, 2017. The Portland, Ore.-based parent of Umpqua Bank has more than 350 branches throughout the Western state, about 40 of those in the greater Sacramento region. He also will join the Umpqua board of directors next year.
The bank announced last month that O’Haver, currently president of Umpqua Bank, will take over the Umpqua Holdings posts currently held by 67-year-old Ray Davis, whose 20-year-plus tenure was highlighted by dramatic growth, not only in bank branches, but assets – currently more than $24 billion, compared with $150 million in 1994. Davis will move into a new role as executive chair of Umpqua’s board of directors next January.
His deep expertise in banking and passion for the company’s customer experience and culture are unmatched.
Peggy Fowler, chairwoman of the Umpqua Holdings board, on incoming president and CEO Cort O’Haver
O’Haver admits that his journey to take over one of the West’s major financial institutions has been a bit unusual, but Umpqua’s management is certain that he’s the right man to carry the bank forward.
“As we look to the future, the board’s focus has been to identify the right leader to build on the company’s strong foundation, and Cort is clearly that person. His deep expertise in banking and passion for the company’s customer experience and culture are unmatched, and the board has great confidence that he will lead Umpqua to continued success,” said Peggy Fowler, chairwoman of the Umpqua Holdings board.
Davis calls O’Haver “an outstanding leader” who “has demonstrated his ability to take Umpqua to the next level. … I’m confident the company will thrive under his leadership.”
While banking was not initially on O’Haver’s mind decades ago, he quickly immersed himself in the industry once it had his full attention.
That included enrolling in the Pacific Coast Banking School, and over the next 20 years, he held management positions in both the Sacramento and Bay Area markets. His background included stints with Mechanics Bank, Sanwa Bank and U.S. Bancorp. O’Haver never set foot in Portland, Ore., until 1999, but in 2010, Umpqua chose him to oversee its commercial banking operations. In that role, he ultimately helped expand Umpqua’s reach into new markets, including international banking.
During his time at Umpqua, O’Haver said, he became devoted to the bank’s commitment to “customer experience” and its entrepreneurial approach. Along that line, Umpqua banks are not called branches, they’re stores; bank employees are associates.
“These are among the things that make us unique, and that will never change,” O’Haver said. “We may tweak it and make it better. But that commitment to an exceptional banking experience will never go away.”
Umpqua Bank has branches in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Umpqua offices do things that are not necessarily common to other banking companies. Umpqua sites host meetings; and, O’Haver said, “We encourage people to use our store locations.”
Umpqua also encourages employees to offer feedback on bank involvement in their respective communities. Umpqua workers have been known to surprise beleaguered customers with gifts or offers of help. Banks regularly formulate startup plans for prospective entrepreneurs. Community initiatives include Umpqua’s “Connect Volunteer Network,” providing Umpqua associates up to 40 paid hours annually to volunteer with youth and community development organizations and schools.
O’Haver conceded that exceptionally low interest rates have impeded revenue growth. However, Umpqua’s first-quarter results, boosted by growth in loans and deposits, were slightly ahead of year-ago totals.
Umpqua Holdings reported net earnings available to common shareholders of $47.5 million, or 22 cents a share, for the first quarter this year, up from $47 million, or 21 cents a share, in the first quarter of 2015. For all of 2015, net earnings available to common shareholders totaled $222.7 million, or $1.01 per share, compared with $147.2 million, or 78 cents a share, in 2014.
This year, Umpqua moved to downsize amid changes in consumer behavior.
In March, Umpqua announced that it would consolidate 26 banks throughout the summer, with four branches closing in the greater Sacramento area and four more elsewhere in California. The local moves included the Lincoln Hills branch in Lincoln moving into Twelve Bridges branch in Lincoln; the Pollock Pines branch and the Placerville West branch moving into Placerville East in Placerville; and the Highland Crossing branch in Roseville moving into the Stanford Ranch branch in Rocklin.
At the time, Umpqua pointed to increasing consumer use of online banking and mobile devices, saying it wanted to have a more-balanced mix of digital options and brick-and-mortar branches.
While his professional future lies in Portland, Ore., O’Haver said he remains “a big supporter of CSUS.” He occasionally visits Sacramento as a guest speaker.
O’Haver believes his story offers a valuable lesson for young people: “It doesn’t matter where you go to school and what you major in, you can succeed in life.”