Meet the person leading the growth of Commerce Bank's presence in Houston
When Sebastien Solar was hired as Commerce Bank’s Houston Market President in 2018, he was tasked with establishing a foothold for the bank, essentially from scratch. “We didn’t have an office, didn’t have a team, and our brand wasn’t yet known in the market,” he says. “We had to build out everything.”
Throughout the process, Solar kept a mantra in mind: “Never miss an opportunity to exceed expectations.” He used that philosophy to guide his decision-making and actions. “I continually asked myself how I can build a team that would surpass the expectations of our clients and team members.”
Five years later, Commerce’s presence in Houston looks remarkably different. “We have a 16-person team with leaders for all core business lines working out of a great office space,” says Solar. “We can offer a turn-key solution for any need that comes up for any business.”
Solar says having an uncompromising commitment to recruiting the top bankers in Houston has made all the difference. “Building momentum in a new market takes time,” he says. “You’ve got to start with great ingredients, and for us, that meant starting with great bankers. That was how we started building strong relationships, which leads to great clients, which then leads to valuable referrals.”
One of the first people Solar recruited — even before officially joining Commerce — was Bobby Morgan, who is now a Senior Vice President of Commercial Banking at the bank. The pair had worked together since 2005, and Morgan recalls his conversations about joining Commerce with fondness.
“Sebastien can see things in people that they don’t necessarily see in themselves,” he says. “That was part of the reason I chose to join him at Commerce and help him build out the Houston market. He felt our individual strengths complemented each other — and that was something I hadn’t recognized at the time, but he had. I’ve seen him do the same with other people — he helps them recognize and unlock strengths they might not have seen in themselves.”
As the number of people in the Houston office grew, Solar worked to ensure that its culture remained strong and positive. “We prefer to find people and clients that align with our values,” he says. “When you do that, things tend to naturally fall in place. We want to work with people who have a high intellect, a high level of positive energy and a low ego. The intellect allows a banker to add value as an advisor, the high energy helps our team members overcome adversity, and low ego ensures that we are never too seasoned to learn from others and raise the bar for ourselves.”
A younger version of Solar might have been surprised to see him leading the Commerce team in Houston today. “I originally wanted to go into international finance,” he says, noting that such a career would leverage his ability to speak French and Spanish. “I didn’t see myself having a long-term career in banking. My plan was to work in banking for five years, learn a lot, then launch my own business.”
After a few years, however, Solar realized banking was a good fit for him after all. “I wanted to help businesses grow, and working in commercial banking helped me do that,” he says. “I’ve been here ever since.” It was important for Solar to build something in Houston, as it’s his hometown and a clear source of pride for him. “I want to help our community realize its full potential,” he says.
“I believe that what we do for a living doesn’t define who we are. For me, that means getting involved in the community.”
Solar is involved with several community organizations, including the Children’s Museum of Houston and the Hermann Park Conservancy. His greatest focus today is on education reform and improving outcomes for Houston students through his service on the board of Good Reason Houston, which exists to make high-quality public education accessible to all Houston communities.
“I recognize the importance of a good education,” Solar says. “As the son of two first-generation college graduates and a father of three, I’m acutely aware of the impact a high-quality education had on my life, and the compounding effect it can have on future generations.”
Solar’s passion for creating a positive impact is also evident in his role at Commerce, where he views himself as a servant leader. “Our success relies on a motivated and engaged team, and I constantly ask myself how I can exceed the expectations of team members by creating a supportive work environment, fostering professional development and offering opportunities for growth,” he says. “When you’re invested in your team, every win is an opportunity for you to feel gratitude and excitement for your team members.”
One of the ways Solar serves his team is by being a source of positive energy. “I read a statistic years ago that said it takes eight actively engaged team members to offset the impact of one actively disengaged team member,” he notes. “We take great care here to recruit high-integrity team members, and on top of that, I stay engaged to inspire them and help them approach their work with positivity.”
Morgan appreciates Solar’s approach. “Sebastien is the kind of person who lifts everyone else up,” he says. “He has a good, positive mindset 100% of the time, and people just gravitate toward him. Sebastien is one of those people who can keep it going 24/7. I don’t know how he does it.”
As he looks to the future, Solar is excited about the possibilities. “Our local team has been intentional about setting ambitious goals for ourselves in Houston, and we’ve crafted a clear roadmap to achieve them,” he says. “That said, our north star and top priority will always be our culture; we want to maintain the incredible culture we have here. It’s one thing to have that with 16 people, and it will be quite another to have it with 30 or 40 people as we continue to grow. We’ll never lose sight of what excited us at the beginning, which was to build the best team in the city with the best culture in the city.”
Morgan believes that Solar is the right person to help Commerce grow its presence in Houston. “You’re not going to meet a nicer guy out there,” he says. “Sebastien makes all of us feel like rock stars every single day, and I think that’s a rare quality to have. He tries to see the good in everyone, and I think that’s why people love being around him. It makes him a great leader.”