The Jack of All Trades

Since signing on as the general counsel for National Bank Holdings, Zsolt Besskó has taken on numerous roles and streamlined company operations, including overseeing the revamp of the legal department and the restructuring of HR

Former professional baseball player Sam Ewing once said, “Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” After just two years as general counsel for National Bank Holdings Corporation (NBH), there’s no denying where Zsolt Besskó falls. He is a man who rolls up his sleeves.

Founded in 2009, a year that saw the closing of 140 financial institutions, NBH focused its efforts on acquiring failing and distressed banks. After raising $1 billion in capital, the company finalized its first two acquisitions in 2010. The following year saw the addition of two more banks, with all four acquisitions occurring in just a twelve-month period. Rather than continue at this breakneck pace, management opted to slow down and focus on an internal integration, moving to a single platform, again within a twelve-month period. Then, NBH went public in 2012, trading on the New York Stock Exchange under NBHC.

Selected as a Colorado Super Lawyer in 2012 and 2013, Besskó joined NBH just when the bank hit its stride after four years of foundational development. Four acquisitions and 1,100 associates later, the company turned its sights to two goals: organic growth within its markets by targeting healthy banks and developing a solid culture with top-grade talent.

“I like the fact that I work with some really good people, some really smart people, and we’re in it together as a team,” Besskó says. “That to me is just as important as anything else—having a good team to work with and creating success together.” Because of his passion for working with high-caliber individuals and recognition of human resources as an integral component to a company’s success, Besskó wanted to get involved with the department.

He jumped in, though the ink on his contract was barely dry and such responsibilities extended beyond his job description. Working hand in hand with the human resources and marketing directors, he started from scratch, building a values-based culture around the company mantra “Where common sense lives.” This touchstone phrase champions simplicity and straight talk with regard to needs-based solutions for NBH’s clients. The company’s newly established core values—integrity, teamwork, citizenship, and meritocracy—rounded out the edges and set the markers for associates.

“We’re not your typical bank; we’re more entrepreneurial. We want people who have that drive, that spirit of wanting to build something and be successful,” Besskó says. “So it’s that well-rounded person who’s got the initiative and will and determination to be successful and be part of a winning team. When you pull that together with the culture we’re building, I think that’s a good recipe for success.”

Within six weeks of taking his position as general counsel, and while simultaneously revamping the legal department, Besskó took on the role of chief administrative officer when the chief human resources executive resigned, and then he streamlined that department. “I was very lucky that we already had some really good people in our HR department, and we were able to work well together and make some great strides in the HR area,” he says. Besskó helped on a number of initiatives, including the associate handbook, employee benefits, and executive compensation.

Then, in early 2014, when one of the founding executives responsible for the facilities department, among other areas, left the company, the CEO looked to Besskó. Months later, given his background in compliance and the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) at his previous company, Guaranty Bancorp, a reorganization left Besskó with the managerial responsibilities of the compliance and BSA departments.

As part of the executive management team, Besskó also helps to frame company policy. “I work very closely with our chief risk officer, making sure that from a risk-management perspective, we’re minding the store, so to say, and putting in the right policies and procedures and controls that help us operate prudently,” he says. Revising the code of ethics, redefining the insider trading policy, and managing governance policies, such as board committee charters, are just a few of the projects Besskó undertook in 2014.

In an effort to reduce cost and increase efficiency, Besskó and several other teammates have been reevaluating the company’s third-party partners, who piggybacked on the acquired banks. Already he and his team have saved more than 40 percent on the insurance renewal process, and have reinvigorated the relationships with insurers.

While some might find wearing so many hats distracting, if not debilitating, Besskó thrives. His multiple roles at NBH satisfy his need to be in an environment that challenges and inspires him every day with an ever-changing slate of projects and initiatives. Besskó also believes that his multiple roles have been a driving factor in his department’s collaboration. “I think it’s been very helpful for not just me but for the company to have those synergies and be able to connect those dots,” he says. “We can be more nimble. You’re not reliant on trying to pull that information from different sources.”

Besskó credits his team for his success and ability to manage the multitude of moving parts. “At the end of the day, it comes down to being able to have the right people,” he says. “If you can’t work across divisions, across departments, you’re not going to be successful. The same goes for intradepartmental. It’s critical that you have the right people that work for you. They’re going to make or break you.”

With this top of mind, Besskó’s priorities center on being in tune with his
associates and continuing to cultivate the NBH culture. “You have to bring value to what you’re doing, and that’s what I try to focus on,” he says.