Cover Story

Preparing the Leaders of the Future

by Kris Gilbertson

Adriana Johnson and Ezmaray Mohtasebzada with Burke & Herbert Bank CEO Hunt Burke
Ezmaray Mohtasebzada and Adriana Johnson with Burke & Herbert Bank CEO Hunt Burke (Tisara Photography)

Adriana Johnson and Ezmaray Mohtasebzada are two of ten Burke & Herbert Bank assistant branch managers selected to take part in the bank’s first Leadership Development Program, which began in May 2015.

The LDP consists of multiple modules with in-class training and individual assignments over a six-month period, in subjects such as operations, security, team leadership and coaching, and interacting with customers. It is designed to identify employees that exhibit natural leadership, to strengthen skills needed in their job, and to teach skills needed to lead in the bank.

Adriana Johnson

Born in Baltimore, Adriana Johnson was five years old when her father, a nephrology specialist, took the family back to his native Peru. “When I grew up, I wanted to spice up my life,” she says. “So many people were dying to go to the U.S. and I had everything on a plate. I came, and since then, no regrets.

Adriana started with Burke & Herbert Bank as a customer when she arrived in America in 2001. Her sister worked (and still works) for the bank, so Adriana applied and started with Burke & Herbert Bank in 2002. It was a departure from her journalism background.

She describes dealing with customers as a “life-changing experience. It shows you that the world doesn’t end with your story. You learn about yourself, about them, about everything really. For me, coming from letters and artistry to numbers was really quite shocking … I was only supposed to be here for a year, but things didn’t work out and I’m glad they didn’t. I’m here now. I’m a people person so I think that’s also what attracted me. I like to talk, I like to interact, I like cultures, and languages.

“[LDP] involves a lot of preparation, giving you the information, the skills, the ability, the opportunity to practice, and maybe make some corrections when going into leading your team – so we are the leaders within our position in the branches and hopefully we will recommend people who have the same attributes (for future LDP sessions).”

Ezmaray Mohtasebzada

Ezmaray came to the United States from Afghanistan in 2007 to study on a Fulbright Scholarship at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. He moved to Virginia in 2011 and two months later applied to Burke & Herbert Bank.

A friend told him community banks are focused on customer service. “Your hard work will be recognized and you can find a place there—you’re not going to be just an employee where nobody knows you. You’ll know all the members, and I have really experienced that,” he says.

“We have a very friendly relationship with upper management. Like today, the CEO of the bank, Mr. Burke, came and we were having fun and talking as if we’ve known each other for a long time. A lot of places, you might have been working there for 10 years but not know who your CEO is. It’s a huge difference.”

“In [LDP] we probably learn things that you would learn in a year in college classes. There are practices, checks and balances: We go to class today; right after class, we debrief our manager; after debriefing, we send an email explaining what we told our managers to our trainers; at the next training, we talk about this.

“So what we learn today, we will repeat four times— and the least talented person will remember what they have done if you repeat four times.”

Ezmaray has been with Burke & Herbert Bank for four years and does not plan to leave. “It’s important to feel comfortable in a bank. I feel that this bank counts on me, and looks on me as a member, as someone who has an important role in the bank.”

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