The 2017 Executive Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award: Roy M. Whitehead

Chairman and CEO, Washington Federal
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

By the time Roy Whitehead arrived at Washington Federal in the late 1990s as the prospective successor to the savings bank’s CEO, he knew a thing or two about steering a financial institution through tough times. He had begun his career during the recession of the mid-’70s and later experienced the severe Texas oil slump of the 1980s that drove nine of the 10 top banks in that state to failure. When Whitehead took the helm at Washington Federal in 2000, even the bursting of the tech bubble was “not a bump in the road for this company” by his reckoning. Far more impactful, he says, was the challenge of all-time-low interest rates that affected the bank’s balance sheet, as well as consolidation of the housing-finance industry. Reflecting on the institution’s traditional emphasis on residential housing, Whitehead says, “That strategy served us well for over 20 years, but it wasn’t the one going forward.” Whitehead and his team crafted a multiyear plan to diversify Washington Federal’s business model, shifting to more commercial and real estate investing. “We effectively converted from peacetime to wartime,” Whitehead says. Today, 70 percent of the bank’s loan originations are commercial. That foresight helped Washington Federal navigate the rough shoals of the 2008 financial crisis. The bank remained well capitalized, maintaining full employment as other financial institutions folded or merged. It also was better able to work with the troubled accounts it did hold, modifying loans to give about 3,000 families the breathing space they needed to stay in their homes. Whitehead attributes its ability to do so to being a portfolio lender, meaning the bank holds all the loans it makes, affording more flexibility. A year later, Whitehead stepped up acquisitions and Washington Federal became the first bank to launch an offensive round of raising capital during the recession. A secondary offering of equity brought $1.5 billion in commitments, driving six acquisitions in the past five years. In 2013, after operating for 96 years under charter as a federal thrift, Washington Federal converted to a bank. Whitehead serves as chairman of the Washington Bankers Association, committed to the single profession of his life. After Washington Federal’s nearly 100 years of helping local communities to thrive, he says, “We’re dug in, and investing for the long haul.”

Coffee with Guppy: Seeking Authenticity with Tom Kundig

Coffee with Guppy: Seeking Authenticity with Tom Kundig

A chat with the celebrated Seattle architect.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Tom Kundig is a principal and owner at Olson Kundig, the Seattle architecture firm and design practice founded on the idea that “buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture and people.”
 
Nancy: What does an architect do? 
Tom: An architect solves problems. We observe what’s going on culturally, both historically and currently, and try to make buildings that resolve a situation, whatever it might be. 
 
Did you always want to be an architect? 
Oh, no. My dad’s an architect, I grew up with architects around me and there was a certain culture about architecture that I didn’t particularly appreciate, but what I did appreciate were the artists in that environment. Eventually, against all sanity, I wound up in architecture and couldn’t be happier. 
 
How important is the budget when you take on a project? 
It’s critical because a budget gives context and, from my perspective, the tighter the budget (within reason), the better the building because it makes you edit. When the budget is loose, the building can become overindulged. 
 
Are you a different designer now than you were when you started out? 
Oh, yes. I understand a lot more about the human condition and I understand the technical drivers much more completely. Architecture is a profession of wisdom, and it’s rare when you see that wisdom in a young architect.
 
Do you have a favorite building in Seattle? 
It’s a toss-up between the Pike & Virginia Building, designed by Olson Walker in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and St. Ignatius Chapel on the Seattle University campus. 
 
Is there a building you wish you had designed? 
Nope. There are so many conspiring forces to make mediocre buildings that when a good building happens, no matter who did it, we should just stand back and applaud! 
 
 
Tom Kundig says his main driver is "to make as much as I can out of life."
 
Are there signature elements of a Tom Kundig design? 
My desire is for an authenticity, both in cultural function and in the way that the natural materials — whether brick, steel or wood — age and get better with time. 
 
In every project you’ve done, is there always at least one thing that you hate? 
Uh, yeah, on virtually every project, but I never admit it! (Laughs) 
 
What gets you excited about a project? 
A client who’s curious about the world because that person is going to engage and ask questions in a way that may take me out of the way I typically answer.
 
What has to be there in order for you to take on a client?  
Trust. If you hire me, then I’ve got to trust you as a client and you’ve got to trust me as your architect, that I’m going to be doing my best work working for you.
 
Have you ever had to walk away from a project? 
Yeah. It’s difficult but it’s not about me. It’s about the situation. I’m not the right architect for you, you’re not the right client for me and we are wasting our time.
 
When do you know if something you’ve made is good? 
When I’m drawing and things are happening and fitting together, it’s like listening to music inside my head. It flows.
 
Is there a Tom Kundig Life Statement? 
I put a quote in my first book: “Only common things happen when common sense prevails.” I don’t know who came up with it, but it always makes me smile and it’s kind of true. If you’re looking for adventure, or something new or something worth living for, you’re looking for the edge, whatever that might be. 
 
How do you balance your creative mind with your business mind? 
I think a creative mind is a business mind because business is creative. You’re dealing with a set of issues and you’re trying to find a pathway, trying to resolve the issues, into a success. 
 
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self, when you were just starting out?  
Be more secure about your abilities and less insecure about your existence so that you can do things with a well-placed confidence. 
 
What song would you like played at your funeral? 
(Laughs) I don’t know! I won’t be hearing it so I don’t really care. 
 
You’re stuck on a desert island and can have one book, one record, one food and one person
My wife, Jeannie. Beethoven’s Ninth. A hamburger. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
 
Who or what is your worst enemy? 
Noncritical thinking. People who don’t think about what they’re saying. 
 
Beatles or Rolling Stones?  
Beatles. I share a birthday with John Lennon and sympathy with his larger musical and political agendas.
 
What four guests would make for the perfect dinner party?
Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Feynman, Indira Gandhi, Muhammad Ali. 
 
Do you have a spiritual practice and if yes, how does that practice manifest? 
I was raised a Unitarian, so it is a very personal spiritual practice and certainly influenced by both Buddhist teachings and Jesuit friends. 
 
› For more on artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, tune in Art Aone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (seattlechannel.org/artzone).