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CEO of the Year: Scott McComb Has Found His Own Path

Wednesday, December 5, 2018/Categories: Press Releases

Columbus CEO Magazine, December 3, 2018 -  Scott McComb is the winner of the large for-profit award.​ When he decided to join his father at Heartland Bank, Scott McComb knew he faced a challenge. His father, Tiney, was a central Ohio banking legend and the founder of the financial institution, whose small-business lending instincts helped launch the careers of restaurateur Cameron Mitchell and countless other entrepreneurs. Tiney started Heartland in 1988 with the purchase of little Croton Bank of Licking County and turned his new entity into one of the most admired community banks in Ohio. He cast a big shadow.

Tiney’s mother, Helena, gave Scott some advice when he started at Heartland in 1999. “Don’t try to be like your dad,” she told him. “Be yourself.” For the past two decades, that’s what McComb has done—and it’s proven a good strategy.

In 2008, McComb took over the leadership of the bank from his father. It couldn’t have come at a more difficult time, just as the fiscal crisis was wreaking havoc in the financial industry. Yet Heartland grew even during the Great Recession and has remained on an upward trajectory since then, culminating with a watershed year in 2018. In March, the bank opened its new 60,000-square-foot headquarters in Whitehall, creating a space for the company to grow. Then four months later, Heartland crossed the $1-billion-in-assets threshold. When McComb took over for his father, it had $530 million under management.

McComb, of course, has benefited from the foundation laid by his father. But the bank’s recent success—a compounded annual growth rate of 12.1 percent over the past five years—also is the result of McComb’s willingness to forge his own path. “Tiney was a great leader, but I think Scott is an even better leader than his father,” says Carrie Almendinger, Heartland’s chief financial officer, who worked with both father and son.

Bob Palmer, CEO of the Community Bankers Association of Ohio, says the younger McComb is a nontraditional community banker. “And that’s a good thing,” Palmer says. “He is very interested in creating opportunity for the bank, the employees of the bank and for his customers. He is a very high-level visionary.” Palmer praises McComb for his aggressive push toward online and mobile banking and payment systems and offering unusual services for a community bank, such as small-business consulting and financial planning. “I’ve never seen a guy more hungry for information,” Palmer says. “He seems to be a sponge most of the time, absorbing people’s ideas and hearing other opinions.”

That approach is different than his father’s. Tiney McComb was from the old school. He could be a micromanager and a harsh boss, occasionally dressing down staffers in front of employees. As a result, Scott says his father didn’t grow top-notch, high-performing teams. Scott is more supportive and collaborative. “What I’ve chosen to do is find quality people, pay them well and let them run,” McComb says. If the CEO makes every decision, “You’re going to be a small business forever,” McComb says.

And Heartland isn’t. Though it’s miniscule in comparison to trillion-dollar banking behemoths like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, Heartland is becoming a bigger player in central Ohio’s business world every day, financing a big portion of the $40 million Lincoln high-rise under construction in the Short North, for instance.

Yet McComb says he’s still proud to call himself a community banker, and he has no plans to give up his father’s foundational values—risk mitigation, accessibility to customers, community engagement—as Heartland grows. Or even the ubiquitous Heartland radio jingle—“where banking feels good”—that he and his father, who died in 2012, wrote together. “I even look like him,” McComb says with a laugh. “The older I get, the more I look like him.”