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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month reminds Niaz Khan of family

For this team member, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month reminds him of family.

It’s often said that people who truly love their jobs are lucky. If so, then Niaz Khan is one of the luckiest people one could ever meet. “I’ve always been in love with banking and its inner workings,” he says. Early in his career, when he was a teller at a small Midwestern bank, he enjoyed the conversations he had with customers. “I liked listening to what their needs were and recommending products and services that would meet those needs. I got to help people all day.”

These days, Khan combines his passions for banking and people with his love of technology in his role as a vice president overseeing the HR Technology Consultation and Development group at Commerce Bank. In this role, he and his team of six systems analysts manage all of the bank’s personnel data.

Khan views it as an ideal fit for him. “I’m able to support our team members with tools and resources they can use to develop themselves professionally,” he says. “It’s important to me to be able to help people in that way and contribute to the bank’s efforts to make working here a great experience.”

Being supportive is a key aspect of Khan’s personality and leadership style – and it’s something that he says comes from his family’s heritage.

“In our household and culture, my parents were focused on love and respect.”
“That was one of the greatest traits I got from them. I really bring those elements forward in my career today. I treat people with love, respect and support.”

Khan’s parents emigrated from Bangladesh to St. Louis in the 1970s. His father came first, and after he married Khan’s mother a short while later, she came as well. Khan’s father went to school and eventually worked in the hospitality industry for well-known properties in the St. Louis area like the Cheshire Inn. They also had a significant support system already in place, with many family members also settling in the St. Louis area.

Because Khan had so many cousins and uncles here — as he says, “The Khans pretty much took over St. Louis” — he has always felt fully steeped in the Bengali culture, even though he was born and raised in the United States. It helped that he and his family would spend every other summer in Bangladesh during his youth. “The culture always meant so much to me,” he says.

The Bengali culture is so important in Khan’s family that they’ve always been deeply involved in the Bangladesh Association of Greater St. Louis. “The original bylaws for the association were signed by the board in my parents’ backyard,” he says. “It was important that we were a part of that group when I was growing up.”

For these reasons and many others, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is important to Khan.

“It’s a time to step back and remember the culture that people from different parts of the world bring to the table.”
“Bengali culture, for many people, is a bit foreign. I’m proud of my culture and how I was raised. I like being true to myself as a Bengali and as an American. I enjoy bringing those two cultures together and sharing my experiences.”

Khan tries to be a student of culture as well as a teacher of it. He and his wife travel regularly — or did, before the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary hold on the Khans’ wanderlust. “I’ve always really enjoyed observing and learning from people in other cultures,” he says. “You don’t get to experience that every day.”

He believes these experiences have helped him become the leader he is today — although he is quick to share any credit he may receive. “I’m just the team leader,” he says. “The team members are the ones who truly work the magic behind the scenes. I have a team of six amazing people who are developing and maintaining all the HR tech that all Commerce team members use today.”

Cindy Quintana, the senior vice president and Talent Management Technology and Strategy manager at Commerce who hired Khan, says that his focus on teamwork is one of his greatest strengths. “Niaz’s style is to be 110 percent about the team,” she says. “He doesn’t focus on titles or the fact that he is the manager; to him, it’s all about the team and focusing on what needs to be done for everyone to pull together, support the organization and meet our customers’ needs.”

Quintana notes that Khan’s collaborative and supportive leadership style has been a tremendous asset during the COVID-19 pandemic. “He really had to support the team as we were trying to figure out how to be agile,” she says. “He stepped up to the challenge, and so did his group. It required a lot of innovative, creative thinking, but he sees every challenge as an opportunity that he’s excited to solve.

He has such energy, and others feed off it. That type of teamwork and camaraderie — and enthusiasm for what you do — is what comes from a great leader. There’s so much about him that’s special.”

In addition to the leadership Khan provides to his daily work, he has also been very involved in Commerce’s employee resource groups, or ERGs, since joining the bank in 2017. “When I was hired, I was very interested in joining a group for young professionals, and I was excited when I was told that one was in the works,” he says. “I raised my hand to help shape it.” When the ERG, eventually named EMERGE, was launched in 2017, Khan served as the St. Louis co-chair for two and a half years. He also helped launch EMERGE in Kansas City.

Khan’s involvement in Commerce’s ERGs doesn’t stop there. He is active in VIBE, the bank’s multicultural ERG, and PRIDE, its LGBTQ ERG. “I’m involved in PRIDE because I want to be more than just an ally,” he says. “I want to be the strongest ally I can be.” He also recently served as a panelist for “Commerce Courageous Conversations: Xenophobia and the Asian American Experience,” during which he and other team members shared their perspectives about issues of race that are impacting the Asian community in the U.S.

Overall, Khan describes his four years (and counting) at Commerce as a journey he has thoroughly enjoyed. “I’ve never experienced a culture like the one we have here,” he says. “It’s something the bank really focuses on — and that strong corporate culture can impact your professional career and your personal development. It’s just been awesome.”

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