Helping people has been at the top of this Commerce leader’s to-do list for 30 years
Banking has always been in Doug Neff’s blood. His father was a community banker in the small town of Utica in western Kansas where he grew up, and he was exposed to the ins and outs of banking at an early age. “I was around it all the time as a kid,” Neff says.
Ironically, it wasn’t a career path Neff’s father initially wanted him to pursue. “My dad made me swear not to go into banking,” he says with a laugh, “and I agreed. I said that it wasn’t what I was going to do. But then I took some finance classes in college and found myself naturally gravitating back toward the industry. Helping people was, at my core, always what I wanted to do. Banking was a great avenue for that.”
Fortunately for Neff, his decision to get into banking has worked out well. Currently based in Springfield, Mo., he has spent the entirety of his 30-year career at Commerce Bank and today is the chairman and CEO of the bank’s Southwest Region. He recently was named Director of Community Markets and is responsible for the bank’s markets in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois outside of the Kansas City and St. Louis regions. In this role, he oversees those markets and collaborates with line of business leaders to deliver the best of the small with the best of the big banks, combining sophisticated solutions and advice with deep customer relationships, excellent customer service and bankers who are empowered to take care of their customers and communities.
“It’s all about leading by influence and getting people together as one region or market,” he says. “In the Community Markets, we call it ‘collaborative leadership.’”
Neff says his 30 years at Commerce may seem like a long time, but it hasn’t felt that long. “I’ve had an incredible opportunity to do lots of different things, from commercial banking in Kansas City, to working with the bank’s holding company, then working with our banks in community markets, and eventually to my role here,” he says. “It’s almost a little bit surreal. I’m from a town of 290 people, and I never thought I’d be doing something like this.”
Two things have kept Neff at Commerce for so long: the relationships he’s built with people and the wide variety of roles he’s held. “I’ve had multiple careers, all inside Commerce,” he says. “I would tell any employee that if you let your career grow here, you’ll get to do a lot of different things. I don’t think about it as a job I’ve had for 30 years; I think about the different opportunities I’ve had to learn new things.”
For Neff, the appeal of banking lies in the ability to help others achieve their goals. “People don’t necessarily think of banking as having a direct effect on people and communities, but it does,” he says. “I view it as a noble profession. We’re really helping people with what matters most. We can help them buy a house or a car, save for retirement, or make payroll. It’s about building relationships and being there for people and businesses when they need help.”
Neff believes helping people is the essence of his job — it’s also why he puts a big focus on giving back to the community. He has served as the chair of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and is a past president and current member of the board of Boys and Girls Clubs of Springfield. He also serves on the Foundation Board for Ozarks Technical Community College and is a past board member of the Springfield Business Development Corporation.
Monte Cook, the president and CEO of Commerce Bank’s Wichita market, has known Neff for many years, including a period when they worked together in Wichita. Cook says Neff’s track record of community involvement is a part of who he is. “He gets engaged in a way that sets him apart from a lot of leaders,” he adds. “When he was in Wichita, he was engaged with multiple boards within his first year here. He did the same after moving to Springfield. He makes inroads into a community and becomes a trusted resource. That’s just who he is.”
That sense of building community is also why he is the executive sponsor for VIBE, Commerce’s employee resource group (ERG) supporting people of color. “When we were first talking about creating VIBE, I was approached to be the sponsor, and I immediately said I would do it,” he says. “One of the coolest things about VIBE is the networking opportunities it creates for our team. I’ve met so many people from across markets and operating divisions within the bank — people I might otherwise not have met. Like all our ERGs, it creates a sense of belonging and helps make Commerce a place where people want to stay.”
When it comes to his leadership style, Neff says he focuses on making sure his people know he’s there to support them. “I may not have all the answers, but I want people to know that I’ll have their backs in difficult situations,” he says. “I try to make sure they know that I’m there for them.”
Cook says that Neff works hard to build an atmosphere of collaboration among his teams. “Doug always has a very positive disposition,” Cook says. “It’s obvious that he creates a really positive work environment with a very collaborative spirit. He’s open to other points of view and is a good coordinator of ideas. He has his own experiences to draw from, but he will also draw from the experiences of others, and he makes that a priority.”
Neff views his leadership role as an extension of his desire to help people. “I consider it an important part of my job to help young professionals grow into leaders so they can become the next generation of our company,” he says. “I do a lot of coaching. I’ll set up meetings to talk about careers with anyone who asks. I enjoy helping people think about their careers and their future. I think it’s great when I can pause for a moment and do that.”