Long-serving CEO departs bank

Retiring SBS Bank chief executive Ross Smith in the Dunedin branch with Bronwyn Dobier (left) and Ella Willocks behind the counter. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Retiring SBS Bank chief executive Ross Smith in the Dunedin branch with Bronwyn Dobier (left) and Ella Willocks behind the counter. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Ross Smith imagined he would spend three or four years as chief executive of the then Southland Building Society.

However, on Thursday he will leave what is now the SBS Bank after 22 years in the top job, and he leaves with no regrets.

In a farewell interview with the Otago Daily Times, Mr Smith (64) struggled to single out one personal highlight among what were many career-defining moments.

But in the end, it came down to removing the barriers of formalities without losing the need for everyone in the financial institution to show respect to each other.

''I believe in respect, and that comes from my parents, respect and acknowledging other people for whatever they do.

''It used to be a manager was Mr This, or Mr That, and they were seen as next to God. That's rubbish. You are who you are as a person and appreciated for what value you add.''

Staff had trusted him and always felt free to knock on his door or phone with concerns, he said.

''I hope that is not lost.''

The annual meeting last week of SBS was the first time the fact he was retiring really came home, Mr Smith said.

As he stood up and gave his last speech as chief executive, thanking the people who had supported him through his 22 years at the top, it became a bit emotional.

''This has been a massive part of my life and I just realised it was about to end.''

He paid particular tribute to former SBS chairman Acton Smith who for 18 years had provided valuable mentoring for him and had become a ''wonderful friend''.

''It's sad to realise these things are finally ending but I am sure Acton will remain a great friend.''

Over the years, plenty of people had joked about Smith and Smith running the Invercargill-based bank, often asking what connection the two men had. Apart from the same last name and both being involved with SBS, there was none.

There was no doubt in his mind it was time to go, Mr Smith said. From a physical perspective, he realised it was time to take some time out and reassess what he wanted for the future.

He planned working two or three days a week as a professional director and being involved with his peers in business activities.

''I need to keep the brain ticking over.''

Mr Smith had two directorships and was hoping for some more. And he had hoped for three months of contemplation but had already received several phone calls about possible opportunities.

While not visiting all of the 17 branches before his retirement, Mr Smith had one last official function to attend - the corporate ball on Saturday night, where 387 people were expected.

He anticipated spending a lot of the night talking and saying farewell.

Mr Smith and his wife will move to Queenstown soon and the prospect of increased golf activity looms.

Mr Smith is replaced by Wayne Evans, who starts his new role on Friday.

-dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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