Tom Naughton may be the last of his breed — a Colorado Springs banker who is a household name among business leaders.
From the 1950s through early 2000s, leaders of the city's biggest financial institutions were key players in nearly every phase of the community .
H. Chase Stone of First National Bank played a significant role in bringing many businesses to the Springs and helped to get the Holly Sugar Building (now called the FirstBank building) built and the Antlers hotel rebuilt after it was demolished. Jasper Ackerman of Exchange National Bank helped found the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo.
Naughton, 64, who retires Friday, has headed U.S. Bank's Colorado Springs operations as its regional president for more than 18 years and spent another eight years as a senior executive, becoming the area's most recognized banker. He has served on more than a dozen nonprofit boards, many as chairman or president, ranging from the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and the YMCA to Catholic Charities, Cheyenne Village and the United Way. He is perhaps best known for the bank's sponsorship of the Art on the Streets program of the Downtown Partnership.
Rob Alexander, CEO of Stockmens Bank in Colorado Springs, called Naughton a "survivor" after spending most of three decades at the same bank. "I don't know of anybody else that has survived at the same institution that long. That says something about him. His impact on banking has been significant and his impact on the community has been even more significant."
An Iowa native, Naughton started his banking career in Des Moines after graduating from University of Denver. But he and wife, Ann, decided to return to Colorado and he was hired by what was then Colorado National Bank-Exchange (the bank would later be acquired through a series of mergers by U.S. Bank, the nation's fifth-largest bank) as a commercial lender. The stories he heard about the city's banking legends made a big impression on Naughton.
"When I moved to Colorado Springs in 1984, I had interviews with all three of the big downtown banks. People in Colorado Springs hearken back to the days in the 1960s to the 1980s when the three big downtown banks were run by Chase Stone, Jasper Ackerman and John Armstrong Sr.," Naughton said. "I had heard stories about all three and how people had been impacted by those men.
"They were not only impactful for the institutions they led, but also the institutions in the community — nonprofit boards and community events. Those institutions knew they could count on those banks for support. Obviously, ownership of the banks has changed and there are now 37 banks serving Colorado Springs but community service is still important."
Naughton started volunteering with nonprofits early as a way to get a feel for the city where he and his family had moved and build a network of contacts that could later become customers. He learned the same lesson from his two biggest mentors — his father, John Naughton, a former Fuller Brush salesman who invented the dental chair and built a company around it, and father-in-law, Will Nicholson, a prominent Denver banker who also headed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Golf Association. While his father and Nicholson had opposite personalities, both believed in "giving back and paying it forward," Naughton said.
"I got into banking to get exposed to many different industries" in hopes of finding a career, Naughton said. But he stuck with it because he was drawn by a "willingness to serve others, become a trusted adviser and deal with one of the most important things in the lives of my customer — their financial well-being. It is something that has tied many people, including me, to this industry for many years."
Naughton had joined the Colorado Springs banking industry just before the industry began a series of massive changes. The local economy fell into a deep downturn during the late 1980s and early 1990s triggered by a glut of real estate that led to the failure of the city's three large savings and loan associations and a wave of loan foreclosures. In the 1990s, the biggest local banks were acquired by out-of-state banking industry giants that triggered a wave of consolidation and cost-cutting.
He left banking for two years in the late 1990s to work for a local business brokerage firm amid the consolidation and cost-cutting, believing banks had lost sight of their customers' needs. Naughton returned two years later to the downtown bank in 1999 because he "missed the relationship aspect of banking" and wanted a job that wasn't based entirely on sales commissions.
When he returned, Naughton headed commercial lending in both Colorado Springs and Pueblo and became president of the bank's operations in southern Colorado after U.S. Bank acquired the operations in a 2001 merger. He headed lending, consumer banking, trust and wealth management operations, though his responsibilities have changed over the years as some units have been split off.
One of his first moves after returning to the bank was to take the advice of two downtown business owners, Mary Jean Larson and Judy Noyes, to become an initial sponsor of the Art on the Streets program. During the last 21 years, U.S. Bank and other major sponsors have funded hundreds of pieces of art around the downtown area.
"We were obviously looking for ways we could give back to the community and these two women on our advisory committee thought it was a good thing to embrace," Naughton said. "It has been a labor of love for me. It is an exciting program. We get more accolades for that (Art on the Streets) than anything else we do."
Susan Edmondson, CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said Naughton has "been a continual, passionate advocate for Art on the Streets for all its 21 years, ensuring support from U.S. Bank locally and from the highest levels of the bank. He really is that ideal corporate citizen who understands the vital importance of businesses supporting the arts, the underserved, and the complexity of civic and nonprofit organizations that add to the richness of our community."
U.S. Bank has named Jim Harris, a banking industry veteran who has worked with Wells Fargo and Community Banks of Colorado, to succeed Naughton as president of its Colorado Springs operations.
"It will be impossible to replace Tom but that won't lessen our commitment to the community," Harris said.
Naughton plans to stay in Colorado Springs and remain involved in community activities.
Dirk Draper, CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamer & EDC, called Naughton the "dean of the local banking industry. He is an old-style community banker who knows everybody, knows all the deals and knows the facts behind the scenes. When people talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, he is the kind of guy they are talking about. He has contributed to so many initiatives and influenced so many people, he will be missed."