At FirstBank, building a long career in leadership can begin at an entry-level role — and the examples start with the executive team.
CIO Christian Winward first joined the company as a teller in 1991. But his story isn’t an outlier; IT Director Kathleen Greenburg, Senior Test Automation Developer José Ybarra and IT Manager David Petersen also started in entry-level roles with the company.
Throughout FirstBank’s teams, employees are empowered at every level to embrace opportunities, develop new skills and ultimately grow into leadership roles. Built In sat down with Greenburg, Ybarra and Peterson to learn more about their journeys.
In October 1997, Kathleen Greenburg took a job in FirstBank’s 24-hour call center while working toward her degree in occupational therapy, a role she said she initially saw as a stop along her career journey. But when Greenburg received her degree in occupational therapy, she decided to stay at FirstBank.
“I continued to find our space full of opportunities, and I loved the people here,” she said.
From the beginning, leaders and managers were present and ready to support Greenburg as she grew with the company — beginning with a leadership cassette tape.
“A senior leader gave me the tape because they saw something that I didn’t see in myself,” she said. “You can start in any role at FirstBank and aspire to be anything you can envision within the company. If you put in the hard work, people here will notice.”
“You can start in any role at FirstBank and aspire to be anything you can envision within the company.”
As Greenburg moved from her call center role to working as a supervisor, new opportunities in online banking piqued her interest and ultimately led her to her current position as an IT leader.
“I was one of our first internet banking customers,” she said. “My experience supporting internet banking drove my interest in technology and sparked my interest in branching out professionally.”
FirstBank’s leadership culture helped Greenburg reach her position today and is at the forefront of her work as she leads her team, through traditional training and formal mentorship programs as well as in the relationships built across the organization each day.
“All the leaders I have worked with share similar values — they respect you and want to see you grow. Mentorship is a central aspect of being a leader here,” she said.
What keeps her at FirstBank after 26 years?
“Everyone has a voice,” she explained. “There’s a sense of pride coming into work every day for an organization that we feel confident referring to our friends and family. The bank helps our communities, people and team be the best they can be.”
Like Greenburg, José Ybarra joined FirstBank’s call center in hopes of finding a role that would support him while working toward his degree. Ybarra quickly found FirstBank was more than a temporary stop on the career journey, and he continues to grow with the company a decade later.
“I was planning to seek my undergrad degree in civil engineering, but due to the opportunities offered here at FirstBank, I decided to switch my major to focus on software,” he told Built In.
The benefits of joining FirstBank were apparent to Ybarra from very early in his tenure.
“Starting in my first year with the company, I was eligible for our tuition reimbursement program, which supported me throughout college,” he said. “The program extends to employee dependents, which shows FirstBank’s commitment to learning and to our team.”
Beyond tuition reimbursement, Ybarra has also sought opportunities through FirstBank to attend conferences and trainings, take internal courses on topics like time management and leadership and learn from mentors, such as Greenburg.
“I take every opportunity that is available,” he said. “To me, knowledge is power.”
Along the way, FirstBank’s leaders and culture empowered Ybarra’s growth. From the beginning of his career in the call center, a strong relationship with his manager helped him connect with his interest in the organization’s technology team, and Greenburg was able to help him chart his path toward a tech role while still working toward completing his undergraduate degree.
“The strong connections on our team have helped me move into new roles and succeed,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people start in entry-level roles and climb their way up to succeed as leaders. There are countless stories that can be told about how FirstBank’s development efforts have transformed individual careers.”
“There are countless stories that can be told about how FirstBank’s development efforts have transformed individual careers.”
Why has Ybarra continued to build his career at FirstBank?
“Great management and a lot of encouragement,” he explained. “Management wants to make sure that you’re happy where you’re at, and if you’re not, they want to help you move into a role you’ll enjoy. Our leaders are willing to allow us to take risks and try new positions, which has given me the confidence and competence to be where I am today.”
David Petersen’s journey is another that began as a student seeking a role that would support him as he pursued his degree. In 2004, Petersen became a teller at a FirstBank branch in Denver and, like Ybarra and Greenburg, also later spent time working at the bank’s call center.
“As Kathleen and Jose both mentioned, our call center has amazing management that empowered all of us to grow,” he said.
For Petersen, the opportunity to be a manager within the call center allowed him to expand his technical expertise and also develop as a leader — through formal training and mentorship as well as close collaboration with his colleagues. Today, FirstBank’s Ascend training program is one key step that supports managers as they become leaders who, in turn, support the growth of their mentees at every level of the organization.
After three years and a few moves across the organization, Petersen found his home in technology management as he completed his undergraduate degree in business administration.
Over his time with FirstBank, Petersen has seen the “banking for good” ethos at work in the company’s internal culture in addition to its external community involvement and support.
“The ability to grow and learn from people up to the executive level gives a sense of value in terms of what you’re providing to the company as you go into work every day,” he said. “It’s not just sitting back and letting things happen — there are challenges and opportunities that keep you on your toes.”
The impact of FirstBank in Petersen’s life extends beyond the workplace as well — it’s also where he met his wife, another 20-year FirstBank employee.
Why has Petersen stayed for almost 20 years?
“Leadership has been the primary driver of keeping me with FirstBank. The culture provides phenomenal support, and FirstBank was the first place I could imagine myself building a career.”