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The defense rests: A parting look at Ed Yingling

For 25 years Ed Yingling lived in an emergency room called Washington. Bankers and others speak of the retiring ABA chief’s skills, and Yingling looks back—and forward—at the fortunes of the industry.

 After 25 years in a job that’s like “working in an emergency room,” Ed Yingling looks forward to the relative calm of a Washington law firm. If that doesn’t work out, there’s always football

In the mid Sixties, St. Stephen’s School in suburban Washington, D.C., ranked in the area’s Top 10 in football and was known for its complicated defenses. A tall skinny guy with dark hair, who was a better basketball player than football player, had a knack for reading the other team’s offense. The coach made him defensive captain so he could call the plays.

The player was Edward L. Yingling and, thanks in part to a family pedigree heavy on lawyers and lobbyists, he did not pursue a career as a defensive coordinator, despite his obvious talents.

He may be available now.

After 25 years as chief lobbyist for ABA, the last five as president and CEO as well—Ed Yingling is retiring from the trade group. Interested football teams need to move quickly, however, as his intention is to return to work at a Washington law firm.

Yingling’s defensive acumen in football emerged during a discussion reflecting on his 25 years with the association. Asked at one point about his much-better-known abilities as a political strategist, he said strategy was something he had always been good at. He is able to see patterns—whether on the gridiron or dealing with the changeable offense of the U.S. Congress.

Being good at defense is a very useful trait for the head of the largest and strongest banking trade group. Though the ABA has won on offense several times—notably the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking Act of 1994 and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999—the fact is, in Yingling’s words, “a lot of what we do is defense, and there’s been a lot of defense to do in my career.”

Offense or defense, the complexity, scope, and range of issues ABA deals with is staggering—ranging from deposit insurance, to Basels I through III, to debit card interchange, to credit union common bonds…the list fills pages. And while Yingling relies on the association’s deep bench of staff experts, he is amazingly fluent in communicating key issues.

“He’s a linear thinker and communicator,” observes Richard Davis, CEO of U.S. Bank, and a former ABA board member. “I never heard anyone say, ‘Could you repeat that’,” after Yingling spoke,” says Davis. “He can synthesize the minutiae into what it is, what it means, and what to do about it. That’s a real talent.”

You want humor? Try golf
Ed Yingling has always been a pretty serious guy and a very hard worker, say those who have worked with him for many years. A smile is not usually his default expression, which initially causes some people to regard him as a bit aloof. Until they get to know him better.

Those who do will tell you that Yingling has a very good sense of humor, often self-deprecating. It’s just that, as one banker put it, you have to be patient to see it.

Until recently.

Since announcing his retirement in July, the normally reticent Yingling has become almost loquacious at times, and quite funny. His farewell speech at ABA’s Annual Convention in October is a perfect example [hear it at http://tinyurl.com/eyfarewell]. It offered a humorous look at events in his career. Well aware of his reputation as being something less than “warm and fuzzy,” Yingling poked fun at himself in the speech, saying that “our crack communications staff has worked tirelessly to give me a personality makeover. They have succeeded after many years in making me, as one media coach said, ‘almost human’.”

In truth, he really has been working on it, taking early cues from his predecessor, Don Ogilvie, who headed the association until 2005. One example was that Yingling made efforts to get out of Washington more often, especially to state bankers association conferences.

Another was golf. When he joined ABA, tennis was his game, but Floyd Stoner, executive vice-president, Congressional Relations and Public Policy, and Gary Fields,  senior vice-president, convinced him that if he wanted to become better known among the state association executives in particular, golf was the way to do it.

Yingling dutifully took their advice, taking a lot of ribbing in the process, as he was not exactly a natural. Stories abound among the state execs about Ed on the links.

One comes from Dave Bakerian, president of the Delaware Bankers Association, and a friend and frequent playing partner of Yingling’s.

He tells how the two of them developed their own longest-drive competition during tournaments—with the prize being $1. In one of these competitions, Bakerian teed off first and “shanked it” badly 25 yards into the woods, virtually handing victory to Yingling.

“After he stopped laughing,” recounts Bakerian, “Yingling smacked his ball into the woods where it hit a tree squarely and bounced backwards for negative yardage.” “This just kills me,” is all Yingling could mutter as he handed over the dollar, says Bakerian.

Even Bakerian says that Yingling’s game has since improved. He even went to golf school, which is typical Yingling. If he decides to do something, he wants to do it well.

Actions speak louder than words
Former ABA Chairman Aubrey Patterson, CEO of BancorpSouth, Tupelo, Miss., notes Yingling’s
“unflappable and analytical de-meanor.” But, says Patterson, “just when you thought he didn’t have emotion, he showed flashes that were always there, but contained.”

The emotion was sometimes anger, as when the President and the media were bashing banks during the financial crisis. Or when he was having problems with his computer, adds Diane Casey-Landry, ABA’s chief operating officer and senior executive vice-president.

One of the reasons why Yingling and Casey-Landry have worked well together is that their personalities are quite different. As she said in an earlier article, “We’re a good complement to each other. We joke about how he can get me to ‘tone it down,’ and how, on the other hand, he has recognized that emotion is not always a bad thing.”

In an interview for this article, Casey-Landry said that Yingling, “while not visibly emotive, cares about staff and treats them fairly.”

Former ABA employee, Kathleen Murphy, now president of the Maryland Bankers Association, backs that up.

“Every person I knew that worked with Ed said how fair he was,” says Murphy. “That didn’t mean there were no conflicts, but everyone felt that at the end of the day the decision was fair.” 

“Actions speak louder than words,” says Casey-Landry. “Ed has put his heart and soul into this organization.”

Yingling returns the compliment. Reflecting on the successful merger in late 2007 of ABA and America’s Community Bankers—where Casey-Landry was CEO—he says, “Diane did a terrific job of seeing what was right for the industry and working with our banker leaders and me putting the merger together. It was very valuable.”

Quite a legacy
Whatever opinions people may have of his emotions or his golf game, Yingling’s abilities as chief lobbyist win universal accolades.

“He has the best understanding of the legislative process of anybody I know,” says Jim Smith, CEO of Connecticut-based Webster Bank, about Yingling. “He always understood the lay of the land—when to push, when to oppose, when to compromise. He looks to the end game when we’re in the middle.”

Yingling’s strategic sense is something many point to. “He sees the big picture and refines it to that which is doable,” says Floyd Stoner.

The “doable” point is also noted by Rep. Barney Frank (D. Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who says that Yingling “understands how Congress works” and “accepts what can’t change.” Yingling testified before Frank’s committee during the debate over financial reform, and the chairman says he was a “thoughtful, honest, credible lobbyist for the industry. We had some disagreements,” says Frank, “but [Yingling’s testimony] was very useful.”

Don Ogilvie credits Yingling with pioneering professional lobbying—“using good arguments and good public policy views backed by data.” Aubrey Patterson points to Yingling’s understanding of “what was best for the financial system, the industry, and the consumer.”

“He understands what we do,” adds 2009 ABA Chairman Arthur Johnson, CEO of United Bank of Michigan, Grand Rapids. Not only does he say that banks are a force for good and economic growth, notes Johnson, “he believes it.”

The thing that stands out to Virginia Bankers Association President Bruce Whitehurst is Yingling’s ability to balance staff and banker input. Whitehurst says that bankers have told him, after attending their first ABA meeting, that they felt “bankers led the meeting with Ed and his staff playing an important supporting role.”

All this came into laser-like focus over the last three years as the industry faced its greatest challenge since the Great Depression. ABA Chairman Steve Wilson, CEO of LCNB National Bank, Lebanon, Ohio, sums it up this way:

“Just at the time when the industry needed somebody with these skills, we had Ed. He and his team had the right strengths for the right time. Clearly he was the best person we could possibly have had in the trenches of regulatory reform.”

The next act at ABA
With plaudits like that, bankers could be excused for thinking Yingling will be a tough act to follow. Two days before Thanksgiving, however, the industry learned that an ABA search committee, a group of ten bank leaders chaired by Art Johnson, had indeed found “the next act.” On Nov. 23, Steve Wilson announced that the committee’s unanimous choice was Frank Keating, a former two-term Oklahoma governor. For eight years, until this fall, Keating was CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers. The committee’s selection was approved by the ABA Board of Directors, and Keating will become ABA president and CEO effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Says Yingling about his successor, “I have known him for eight years. He is highly respected in Washington and has a broad background in financial issues, having held top posts in Treasury and HUD, plus running the ACLI.” [More about Keating in Bank Notes, page 13.]

What now?
Yingling, 61, isn’t retiring from working. He will be going back to a law firm. “People ask me where I’m going to work,” he says, “and I say there is only one place I’m any good, and that’s in Washington.” As this was written, he hadn’t announced which firm he will join, but the work will be related to banking and he’s looking forward to it.

“This job has been like working in an emergency room for 25 years,” says Yingling, “and I would hope I will be able to spend more time delving into individual issues and not having to move from issue to issue to issue. You wear a lot of hats in this job and I’ll be going back to the hat I’m most comfortable with, which is a law and policy hat.”

He’ll also have more time to enjoy his other hobby—skiing. And now he won’t have to wear a Blackberry while on the slopes—or at least he can turn it off more often. •
 
The electronic version of this article available at: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/sb/ababj1210/index.php?startid=38

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Bill Streeter

Bill Streeter has been a full-time business journalist for 40 years, 34 of them with ABA Banking Journal. During his time with the magazine, he rose from Assistant Managing Editor to Editor-in-Chief. He has guided the magazine’s editorial direction since 1985 and has been an observer of momentous changes in banking, from the introduction of ATMs to the 2008 financial crisis and passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. In 2012 Streeter became Editor & Publisher, responsible for the Banking Group overall including the magazine, ababj.com, and related e-newsletters.

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