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This veteran Commerce leader stays focused on the success of others

During his 44 years in the industry, Monte Cook, the president and CEO of Commerce Bank’s Kansas Region, has worked in or overseen almost every aspect of banking. “I feel like I’ve only ever worked at one bank, but the name on the door changed a few times due to acquisitions,” he says. “During each acquisition, I took on more responsibility. I worked in accounting and audit, ran the special asset division, and I was over IT… I suppose the only thing I haven’t done in banking is working for Commerce Trust Company, which is ironic, because I’m very trustworthy.”

Spend any amount of time with Cook and that wry sense of humor is one of the first things one notices about him. That, and his sense of humility. “In some ways, you could say I just landed here,” he says when asked to reflect on the success he’s had in his career. “It helped that I had a lot of good people around me, and a lot that I really admired. And the ones I admired weren’t always leaders in the organization. I’ve gotten to work with so many good people, and you can garner so much by paying attention. I was always part of a constellation.”

While Cook is humble about his accomplishments, those around him are more than willing to sing his praises. “People have a lot of confidence in him,” says Marilyn Pauly, a vice chairman at Commerce who has worked with Cook for more than 20 years. “He’s a very good listener, open to discussions, very collaborative, and has a good business sense. His working style puts people at ease, and as a result, he’s a great person to work for. He’s a great asset to the bank, and to the community.”

A lifelong resident of Wichita and graduate of Wichita State University, Cook has always believed in giving back and being involved in area nonprofits. He has served on the boards of the Wichita chapter of Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Rainbows United, a nonprofit that helps special needs children and their families, for nine years each. “I’ve long been interested in working with children with disabilities and kids who are less fortunate,” he says. “Sometimes these kids haven’t had good mentors or are from homes that haven’t been the best — things that are outside their control. I appreciate the opportunity to help where I can.”

Cook also serves on the board of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, where he serves on the finance committee. He believes being involved in this group is critical. “It’s the responsibility of all business leaders — or anyone who resides in Wichita and wants to see it thrive — to support the Chamber,” he says. “They’re trying to improve our living environment and attract new and young talent to grow the job force to make sure our city continues to grow and is a great place to raise a family.”

Cook is equally passionate about his team at Commerce as he is about his community work. “We’re very team-oriented here,” he says. “We have a very strong work ethic, and the team works hard, but they also enjoy each other’s company both on and off the job. It’s a very positive work environment that fosters the best in all of us, and I’m very proud of that.”

He believes Commerce’s team in Wichita does not have a single leader, but instead has many leaders. “So many people here have good self-awareness, which really is the foundation of leadership,” he says. “You have to know who you are and understand yourself to be a good leader. That helps us get the most out of our people — and it empowers them. At the end of the day, our people have as much empowerment as they want.”

Cook says Commerce’s strong culture has a key role to play in developing so many leaders and driving so much success. “We started in 1865 as a single bank, and now we serve customers in 11 states,” he notes. “It’s been a story of continual growth, and it’s been based on our culture and core values. It’s one of our differentiators. It runs in the bloodlines of every line of business at Commerce, and it’s the foundation of our integrity. Today it’s also driving us to be more innovative and curious, and that’s something I’m happy to see. It’s allowed us to play far out of our weight class across a number of different industries.”

While Cook is mindful of the long-term success of the bank, he consistently advises people who want to grow their careers to stay focused on what’s in front of them. “Be patient, be curious, work hard, and things will come to you,” he says. “Don’t worry about the score at the end of the day. Worry about all the things that happen during the day. Those are the things that help develop you. Be the best you can, take in as much as you can and the score will take care of itself.”