This Commerce exec has made a career of turning challenges into opportunities
After spending any amount of time talking with Chris Holder, Commerce Bank’s Dallas market president, a few things become clear. First, he is a banker through and through, and a leader who combines a passion for the industry with the deep knowledge he’s acquired during his 34-year career.
Second, he’s a people person. He is warm and amiable, with just enough Texas in his voice to remind you that he’s spent much of his life in Dallas. Holder is straightforward in a very disarming way, leaving the distinct impression that what you see with him is what you get.
Third, it’s obvious that Holder doesn’t back down from a challenge.
The latest challenge in front of him is considerable: building a strong presence for Commerce Bank in a large, highly competitive market that includes more than 170 financial institutions. It may seem like a tall order, but Holder is undaunted. “We just have to start telling the Commerce story one meeting at a time,” he says. “Just one meeting at a time with the right people, and it’ll spread.”
For Holder, the quiet confidence has been well earned over the years and is rooted in his upbringing. When he was in high school in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Holder had an unsettled home life which included living in government subsidized housing with little supervision. On many occasions, Holder had to try to solve for things like lunch money and transportation to and from school for both himself and his younger brother.
Despite these challenges, Holder earned strong grades and moved on to attend Southern Methodist University, paying for his own education by working overnight shifts at a Kraft Foods production plant. “I did that for my entire college career,” Holder notes. “I worked in every department – caramels, marshmallow, margarine, you name it.”
It paid off in the long run. Not only did Holder become the first member of his family to graduate college, but he also did so without any student debt. Armed with a dual degree in finance and accounting, Holder began working at a bank in Dallas, and he knew he had found his calling.
“At first I thought banking was all about sitting behind a desk, analyzing financial statements and waiting for walk-in traffic at a branch,” he says. “Once I realized it’s really about relationships, calling on people and providing them with creative, thoughtful solutions, I knew I was in the right place. My path has been different than I expected, but it challenged me to expand my skill set in a way that’s been very professionally satisfying.”
It not only has it been a satisfying career for Holder, but it’s also been a successful one. After leading teams in the banking industry in Dallas as well as Tulsa, Commerce Bank hired him to lead its Dallas operations in 2018.
Growing the bank’s presence in a large, complex market is something Holder finds invigorating. “I’m motivated by the push to make Commerce Bank a well-known player among the most visible and highly respected companies and financial institutions in the market,” he says. “I know if we have the right team in place, with a disciplined approach, we’ll have success in DFW.” '
Holder’s people skills, fine-tuned over his long career, will be a big part of that approach. “It’s all about people first,” he says. “Our success will all come down to the great people on our team, and it’s a relationship business. When we have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with someone and explain what we can do, it’s easy to differentiate ourselves. We can help a lot of companies in Dallas succeed. We’re off to a great start.”
Holder’s innate curiosity also plays a role in his work; he believes there’s always something new to learn. “I’m constantly trying to dig a little deeper,” he says. “With people, I want to get to know them, see how they think, how they make decisions. If I’m on a call, I learn about the client’s business and dig deep to ask questions others might not. I try to get to the heart of their issues to see how I can help.”
As always, Holder remains confident about what’s to come, both for himself and for his Commerce team. “I’m committed to getting better every day, both professionally and personally,” he says. “That’s impossible, in my opinion, without discipline, a high energy level and a great attitude.”
Despite his disciplined approach, Holder also takes time to smell the roses along the way. “You have to have fun and enjoy the ride,” he says. “We’re a family at work. That means we rally in challenging times, and we celebrate our successes together.”