From Big Company to Small Town, John Steinmetz’s Work Pays Off


John Steinmetz’s road to becoming one of the most successful bank executives in Texas took so many twists and turns that he almost lost count.

Today, Steinmetz is the CEO of Vista Bank, once a small agriculturally based bank, headquartered in the rural West Texas town of Rawls, Texas. In his 11 years at Vista Bank, Steinmetz has done what many in the banking industry would consider nothing short of miraculous; he helped turn a rural $58 million West Texas, row crop bank into an $800 million behemoth with a growing national profile, deep roots in both Dallas and Fort Worth, and now more than 10 locations spread throughout the state.

He’s also done something considerably more legacy-based; after seven years at Vista Bank, in 2014 he became the first CEO from outside the founding family in the bank’s 102-year history. And then he proceeded to guide it to more towering heights than it had ever been to before.

But the decision to join Vista Bank in the first place? That was Steinmetz’s true run-toward-the-roar moment.

“We didn’t know a whole lot about what we were doing,” Steinmetz recalls about his first days at Vista Bank. “We thought we knew everything there was to know. At 29, I realized really quick how much we didn’t know.”

Sometimes the safest place to be is the one that feels the scariest. Lions – with their intimidating teeth and deafening roars – are designed to provoke fear. But the real danger lies with the smaller, quieter lionesses. In the animal kingdom, the lion’s job is to roar and send prey scattering away from the startling noise – right into the path of the waiting lionesses, the true hunters. If gazelles knew to run toward the frightening sound, they would have a better chance of survival. The roar doesn’t represent the real danger.

Likewise, humans sometimes have an instinctive desire to shy away from pursuits that look and sound scary. But often, running toward those challenges and conflicts is the best (or only) way to grow and meet our goals. In business, those who run from the deafening noise never reach their full potential, while those who turn and face the fear thrive.

Steinmetz, who grew up in Fort Worth, had every opportunity to shy away from the roar. Out of college, he’d lined up a plum job in New York City with Bear Stearns, which at the time in the early 2000s was one of the 10 biggest investment banks in the world. Instead, Steinmetz opted to take an unpaid internship with the White House in Washington, D.C. Quickly thereafter, in 2002, the White House was locked down in a hiring freeze, meaning Steinmetz’s job opportunities in the White House dwindled to zero. “That takes me to where I am today,” Steinmetz says.

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