First Bank president shares tips for business success

Dennis Dysart

NEW MARKET – After 25 years with the company, First Bank’s President and COO Dennis Dysart shared the three fundamental lessons he’s learned over his career on Wednesday evening.

Dysart discussed what he’s learned at the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Networking event held at Miller Grille. These monthly events are more informal than other chamber gatherings, with alcohol available at each one and attendees restricted to under-40s.

Wes Conley, chamber board member and organizer of the Young Professionals Group, describes simply: “I don’t know, some people just loosen up more at these.”

Dysart, at 46, is technically prohibited from these events — but as guest speaker, a special exception was made for him.

“I certainly didn’t write a speech, because I don’t think anyone wants that,” Dysart joked at the beginning of the discussion. Instead, he offered some general career advice, and after “reflecting on the last 25 years, I kind of got it down to three thoughts to share with you guys.”

Dysart’s three tips: go above and beyond your job’s responsibilities; develop professional skills before a higher position opens up; and remember that the only constant in business is change.

To illustrate his first lesson, Dysart harkened back to 1993, when software still wasn’t integrated into the local banking industry.

At the time, First Bank had to prepare a spreadsheet, and the staff was stumped. No one knew how to make one — Dysart still remembers employees struggling to draw up what the report would look like. (This was in the days before Microsoft Excel.)

Leveraging his Bridgewater College education, Dysart banged together “the most simple spreadsheet” in Lotus 1-2-3 over the course of a few evenings at home, and showed the end product to his boss.

“Hey, is this what you’re looking for?” Dysart asked.

“Yes! That’s perfect!” Dysart remembered his boss saying.

At another point, Dysart stayed late to finish a budget another boss couldn’t finish one night. The point, Dysart said, was to not be afraid of “doing something extra that is not required of your position.”

His second piece of advice more explicitly addressed how to advance up a corporate ladder.

“Folks always want to be promoted, right? They always want the next opportunity,” Dysart said. “But what they’ll do is, they’ll wait until the opportunity becomes available — that it’s actually posted — to try to get ready for it. And at that point in time, it’s almost too late.”

If there are qualifications you’re lacking for the next stage of your career, Dysart said, knock those out as soon as you can. Get the education, the training, the experience you need so that when the opportunity does present itself, you’ll be ready.

Dysart’s third and final tip doesn’t concern an individual advancing within a corporation. Rather, it focuses on a corporation staying in business, and how the ability to react to change is essential.

He credited the short book “Who Moved My Cheese?” as an excellent illustration of this concept.

In the book, mice are trained in a laboratory setting to traverse a maze and grab the cheese at the end. After a few repetitions, the mice memorize the solution, and follow that path even after the cheese is placed in a new location.

“Well, when the cheese gets moved — the only constant is change, in your organization — you gotta do something different,” Dysart said. “I can’t tell you how many people in our organization fight it. Just fight it continuously, and it’s completely non-productive.”

Dysart wrapped up the presentation with a plug for the Shenandoah County Economic Development Council, of which he is a member, pressing the importance of economic development in the county.

“Folks that are talking to you, say, ‘Why do we need economic development? I just want the county to be the same,'” Dysart said. “Well, you need it because the schools need funding, and the parks need funding, we need funding for roads.

“We need it to create jobs for us, and for our families, and for our kids. We need it because we need to expand our tax base. Our tax base is all based on real estate, and real estate only … Just make sure they see the whole picture.”

The Young Professionals Group will next meet at the Woodstock Café from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Feb. 22.