For this veteran working at Commerce is an opportunity to show appreciation
Upon meeting Michael Brown, a business system analyst at Commerce Bank, it isn’t immediately apparent that he’s a veteran. However, if he is asked to spell a word, his experience in the armed forces suddenly becomes very clear.
“Even after all this time, I still use the phonetic alphabet to spell,” he says — meaning that unlike most people, he would spell cat aloud as Charlie Alpha Tango. “Whenever I have to spell out my email address for someone, it sounds like I’m giving a mass casualty report.”
Brown acquired his lifelong fondness for the phonetic alphabet during his time in the Navy, where he spent his entire tour of duty aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz as a hospital corpsman. He enlisted straight out of high school and specialized in radiation health. His role on the Nimitz was to help ensure that the technicians working on the carrier’s nuclear reactor stayed safe at all times.
When Brown enlisted, he expected that he would have a long career in the Navy, but ultimately elected to find a different path after his initial four-year tour. He went to college and started working in title insurance, where he developed an affinity for data management. “Over the years, I slowly went from being a finance person to becoming a data person,” he explains. In 2014, his path led him to join Commerce Bank, where he is a system administrator for some of the bank’s internal reporting systems.
Though his military career is well in his past, Brown says much of what was instilled in him during those formative years is still very much present in his approach. “That experience impacts everything I do, including my day-to-day work,” he says. “There’s a rigor to it, a structure. It impacts the way I talk and the way I behave with people. It’s a bearing.”
Brown also notes that his military background still drives him to do any job to the best of his ability. “It gives me an appreciation for getting a job done,” he says. “I appreciate being part of a team that’s working toward a common goal. In the Navy, I was always part of a team; everything I did connected to a larger role. Nothing that I did was inconsequential.”
Jeremy Fleury, a business technical lead who is also Brown’s supervisor, says that he sees Brown’s military background in his work style. “He’s very step-by-step — completing each task in order to get to the next,” Fleury says. “There’s a discipline to it, and he’s often told me that this approach keeps him to strict guidelines. He’s very consistent across the board.”
Another way Brown has applied his team-oriented mindset at Commerce is by getting involved in the bank’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. It started four years ago, when he helped with the bank’s support of Kansas City PrideFest. Along the way, he also started getting involved in activities connected to the bank’s military veterans and joined Commerce’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council.
He’s currently focused on helping coordinate an annual event the bank hosts to celebrate Veterans Day. In recent years the event had been a breakfast; this year’s event was scheduled to be a luncheon before the COVID-19 pandemic required a change in plans. The event will still take place over lunch, but instead, will be held virtually.
All veteran team members in years past have been given a commemorative coin as a token of thanks from Commerce for each person’s military service. “Last year, we added a Department of Defense crest to the coin,” explains Brown. “We wanted to do something different this year, and we came up with a great idea. Starting this year and going forward, we’ll put the crest of a different branch of the military on the coins each year, going in the order the branches were created.” This year’s event will feature the Army crest, next year’s coin will feature the Navy, and so on. The idea, he notes, is that multi-year attendees can eventually collect a full set.
Initially, this event was held in Kansas City, and in time a similar one was established in St. Louis. Last year, Brown worked to connect the two events, so both groups could share a single experience. The veterans in St. Louis had the opportunity to gather and watch the program taking place in Kansas City via livestream.
“Michael is the one who really pushed to have the luncheon grow beyond Kansas City,” says Fleury. “He wanted to find a way to include veterans in other places. I was also impressed when I learned that he went out of his way to include veterans of foreign armed forces. For example, he made sure that a team member who was in the British Air Force was invited. I think that says a lot about Michael.”
As Brown himself adds, he wants as many people as possible to enjoy the same things that he likes about events like the Veterans Day luncheon. “It’s really about the camaraderie,” he says. “The luncheon is a great opportunity for the bank to appreciate its veterans, and for the people who served to be appreciated.”
Fleury says Brown’s commitment to supporting veterans at Commerce is consistent with everything he does in his work. “Michael really goes out of his way to help anybody who needs it,” he says. “He enjoys working with others, is a good problem-solver and is very outgoing when it comes to supporting people.”
For his part, Brown says that his work with veterans comes naturally, and it’s an extension of the bank’s overall support. “Commerce really creates a place where people who served in the military can feel welcome and appreciated for what they’ve done, and for what their experience brings to their work,” he says. “It’s a privilege to be a part of that.”