Chip Rossi draws strength from his New Castle roots and his parents’ influence
Bank of America Delaware Market President Chip Rossi describes himself as “the son of a bricklayer who really taught me about relationships,” a man who was a coach throughout Rossi’s youth, the two of them driving around Wilmington looking for teenagers who they thought should be playing football and getting involved with a team back in New Castle where they lived.
“We would pick them up and bring them down for practice at the old motor vehicle building that’s now the bus stop for the Colonial School District,” says Rossi. “One of the things I always heard is that, ‘Your dad is really, really good at his craft and he takes real pride in what he’s doing.’ I make that point because relationships and pride in what you’re doing is really important stuff.”
The lessons he learned from his father – and from his mother, who he says taught him to “be honest with people and realize that when you make mistakes, own up to them and learn from them and move forward” – are among the reasons that Chip Rossi will receive two high-profile awards this fall: the Delaware Citizen of the Year from the Boy Scouts of America Del-Mar-Va Council on Oct. 15 at the Chase Center and, with wife Tracy, The Grand Medal for Excellence in the Performing Arts at the Grand Gala in December.
“It’s a high honor for a humble man,” Delaware State University Provost Tony Allen posted on Facebook after the Boy Scouts honor was announced. Allen worked with Rossi at Bank of America for 13 years. “He is a man of great character and commitment, particularly with respect to things beyond his own self-interest. In fact, ‘service above self’ is the way he has lived his life.”
Rossi says he’s learned a lot from working with people from diverse backgrounds.
“What’s important and what I learned from not only growing up with my parents and in my early roles is the importance of understanding the person – who they are, what they want to accomplish, and how I can help them accomplish those things,” he says
Like all of Bank of America’s 90 market presidents, Rossi also has a corporate role for the Charlotte-based bank.
“I’m in a new corporate role that’s inspiring me,” he says of his job in compliance and operational risk. “I’ve got a team of close to 700 people – a group of investigators and various compliance programs for the company. I have an opportunity to learn. It’s something that I’ve never done before, which is great, but it’s also an opportunity for me to create an environment for people that is better than the environment that we’ve been operating in.”
And even as he looks ahead, Rossi also thinks about what helped him during his early years in the collection and credit environment.
“I can remember as a youth getting phone calls,” he says. “Remember, my dad was a bricklayer. It’s seasonal. I started to realize why people were calling. Then my first job at the company was talking to people who were having financial difficulty. How best to do it? What I realized is that you have to put yourself in those people’s shoes. How would you want to be treated? I think it’s helped me and it’s part of who I am today.”
Rossi sat down last week with DBT Editor Peter Osborne and talked about his career and what’s ahead.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did growing up in New Castle shape you? It was about grit, about getting up and competing with folks, going down to the basketball court or the baseball field or the football field, and playing with guys that are two, three years older than you. And just wanting to be as good or better than them, and just working at it. And you get hit, you get back up. But it’s also about good people who are trying to make a living and doing the best that they can. And that’s part of who I am. I want my parents to be proud of me. But I also want to do the best that I can in everything that I do. You’ve got to work hard, and you got to treat people as you would expect to be treated.
Tell me about your process for prioritizing those two roles along with your many community responsibilities. I think about what Lou Holtz said years ago. He said “win,” which meant asking yourself “What’s Important Now?” I know what I have planned for tomorrow, but has anything shifted that says that’s not as important? It’s taking the time to sit back and think about what you have planned and what needs to shift as a result of what is happening now?
When was the first point in your life when you felt like you could make a difference or influence other people? Seeing my dad, who would go to work in the summer in 90-degree heat. And then he comes home, quick bite to eat, and we’re out the door. Either he’s coaching me in baseball or he’s coaching me in football, and we’ve got a team of 20-plus other young people there. And just his time, and how he treated my peers. I realized that we all have a responsibility to do that.
That’s when I realized that you do what you can. I may not be able to do everything because I may not have all the answers, but I may know somebody that might be able to help. Let’s make the introduction. And that’s somewhat like what my father did. I mean, and I saw that. I see my dad going, “You know what? I’m going to go get some candy for these guys.” I’m thinking, can I get a candy bar? “No, no, no, no, this isn’t about you. This is about them.” What he did was he’d give the shirt off his back for others to present opportunities for them.
He never realized that, but those little things had a material impact on me as a youth. It’s really simple: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And caring has to be real. It’s got to be part of who you are. It’s got to be authentic.
Thirty years at the company this year. What’s your proudest accomplishment? I’m really, really proud that we still employ 6,000-plus people here in Delaware and are providing opportunities for them to support their families and accomplish the things that they want to accomplish. Just as important, I’m proud of the things that we’ve done as a company and our employees here in supporting the community.
What did you learn from your biggest failure? Get back up. The first thing you do is ask yourself, “What could I have done differently?” Don’t point the finger elsewhere. Don’t make excuses. That gets back to how I grew up, to my mom and my dad saying, “What can you control and what do you do differently to get there?”
To your question, I think about messaging. I’ve got a new team of people. Your passion and conviction will resonate with some and you’ve got to adjust with others. I think over time I’ve learned to do that, but even in this new role, I’ll say, let’s move, let’s move, let’s move. One of the things I learned going through the transition from a predecessor company to Bank of America was that I understand where we’re going. But I need to remember that it’s like the New York City Marathon. Some people are at the start line but there are others who are a mile back. Some people will already be running over the bridge and others are just getting to the start line.
How did the brand change here from the predecessor company, when that transition took place? Did it change? The evolution of our company changed when Brian Moynihan became CEO 10 years ago. What Brian recognized coming into his role was that we had been talking about wanting to be the most admired company in the world. That was all about us. He realized that without customers, and satisfied customers, there’s not an us. There’s not a Bank of America. But the paradigm shifted. Now, our purpose is how do we help make financial lives better through the power of every connection? That’s not about us. That’s about the client. That’s about the customer.
What skills do you bring to the table when you choose to serve on a board beyond the fact that you’re the market president for a huge bank in the state? Look, I’m not naive. I get that. But I hope that what people would say is that he cares about the community and is good at connecting people; making introductions to help get things done; asking what it is we’re trying to accomplish, and leveraging not only that skill set of curiosity, and asking questions about what we’re trying to accomplish. I think those are the things that I bring that add value.
Is there any particular initiative or nonprofit that gets you excited? One of the questions we’re asking now is, what would you like the power to do? And it leads to a deeper conversation (Rossi gets up and walks over to his desk and brings back a handwritten card). For me, it’s how do we close the opportunity divide that exists in our society today? And, from that perspective, that’s one of the things I’m very passionate about. And that touches many of the things that we do. What I think a lot about is how do we create a better tomorrow for those in our community?
What’s the biggest challenge facing Delaware businesses today? I think there are a couple of things. One is how do you make things easier for businesses to get started? It’s just the process of getting started and finding that location, and then getting permission to go ahead and go.
The other piece is about finding and developing talent. If we want to continue to expand, you’ve got to continue to have a workforce that supports those efforts. And we’re in good shape. You’ve got to ensure the fact that you’re working with others to help develop skill sets.
Not everybody is going to go on to college. So how do you get them career ready? Here’s what we ask: “Are you curious? Do you work hard? Do you treat people with respect? Do you make good decisions?” College can help develop some of those skills. But there’s also no substitute for real-life experiences. When I sit down and talk to people, yeah, you’re looking at the resume. But it really comes down to the fact of what have you done? How have you gone about it? And have you been able to make an impact, and a positive impact.
How has Delaware philanthropy and problem-solving/innovation changed over the past 30 years? What I have seen is connectivity, better collaboration across trying to tackle bigger issues in our society today. And that’s encouraging. Every board that I’ve been involved with, I have seen that connectivity happening, and collaboration occurring, trying to amplify the work that’s being done, and avoiding duplication of efforts. I am seeing that, in my role, not only serving on boards, but even when I see grants coming in. We see that time and time again, of the partnerships. That’s a real reflection of the leaders that we have in those nonprofits and how they’re thinking about things now, which is great.
What keeps you awake at night? It’s a couple of different things. Personally, it’s around, “Are we doing all the right things to help our daughters grow up to have a positive impact on whatever community they choose to live in?” Are we doing all the right things to set them up so they can take care of themselves? It’s one of the things as a parent you constantly think about.
Professionally, it’s asking “What is it that I don’t know that I should know?” I try to meet with people on a regular basis to talk to them about what’s on their minds or what they’re seeing.
Are there one or two metrics that you look at? For my compliance and operational risk role, I’m obviously paying attention to the workflow and whether we are following things correctly. But I also look at the environment that we’re creating. We have an annual employee satisfaction survey. I look at how they feel about the environment we’re creating and where we have opportunity to do some things differently. I get that information in our market and so I want to know how employees feel about Bank of America locally in our market.
In that case, I look at how many of our local employees locally are carrying our product and services today. We transitioned this legacy company into Bank of America. It wasn’t a bank, it was a credit card company. From that standpoint, we’ve been on a journey where more and more of our employees are actually banking with us today, which is terrific. I look at whether they have enough pride in our company that they’re carrying our products and services.