Man on a Mission

Man on a Mission

 

It was a job interview unlike any other in Huntington’s history. Mike Fezzey wasn’t looking for a position. And at least initially, none of the bank executives in the room saw him as a candidate.

It was a job interview unlike any other in Huntington’s history. Mike Fezzey wasn’t looking for a position. And at least initially, none of the bank executives in the room saw him as a candidate.

In September 2010, Fezzey was president and general manager of Detroit radio station WJR-AM, where he had worked for 30 years. He was among a group of area business leaders joining Huntington Chairman and CEO Stephen Steinour and his board for dinner during a three-day retreat. Jim Dunlap, Huntington’s regional and commercial banking director, had persuaded Steinour to hold the retreat in Detroit. That way, Dunlap could make his case that despite the city’s economic implosion, led by the auto industry’s collapse, Michigan held great promise for Huntington and merited the board’s attention — and resources.

After dinner, each of the Detroiters took a few minutes to extol the area’s virtues; Fezzey spoke last. The passion he showed when describing his love for Southeast Michigan and his enthusiasm for its future captivated the room.

“Forks went down, knives went down. We were mesmerized from the moment he began,” Dunlap said. “Our board was moved. He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job that night. And I didn’t know it, either.”1

But on his trip home to Grand Rapids, Dunlap had a daring thought: Fezzey, who had never worked in banking, might be the man he had been looking for — an inspiring communicator who could lead Huntington’s Southeast Michigan team, give it a sense of purpose and mission, and help it become a significant player in the state’s future. In short, Fezzey was someone who could help Huntington lean into opportunities in Michigan even as other financial institutions fled.

Dunlap figured he could surround Fezzey with people who knew banking inside and out. But Fezzey’s emotional ties to the region, deep involvement in civic causes and rich relationships with so many of the area’s people, including local business owners, were a precious commodity.

Dunlap and Fezzey spent 90 days defining Fezzey’s position. After six months at Huntington, Fezzey said, “This is not a job for me. It’s a mission. It’s an opportunity to help this state, and I’m working with the smartest people I’ve ever been around.”2

By 2015, Huntington’s total investment in Michigan amounted to nearly $7 billion, including loan programs created with the governor’s office, community investments, housing commitments and microloans. And helped by Fezzey’s legendary contacts list, Huntington had built a small-business loan program seven times the size of its competitors.3

In March 2015, Fezzey died unexpectedly while traveling on business; he was 58. Two months earlier, he had been interviewed on WJR, where he had worked for three decades and first affected the lives of so many people in Southeast Michigan.

“We’ve been very blessed by the leadership of the bank, by the board, and their desire to recapitalize Michigan and to be foundationally important and a catalyst for others to see what we see, which is the great future of Michigan,” Fezzey said. “And it’s so wonderful to see it unfold.”4

Copy of Fezzey lemonade\

After six months at Huntington, Mike Fezzey said, “This is not a job for me. It’s a mission. It’s an opportunity to help this state, and I’m working with the smartest people I’ve ever been around.”