Todd Rowley

Not From Central Casting

Todd Rowley’s father was a man of few words. The Rowley family lived in the small town of Addison, Michigan, comprised mainly of farmers and factory workers, and few residents had the opportunity or need for a college education. Due to the Great Depression, Todd’s father had to leave school in the tenth grade to help earn additional money for his mom and dad, and he never had the opportunity to go back to complete a degree.

Todd recalls that his father was a man who could add up long strings of six-digit numbers in his head. He was elected to the local school board, not because he was a politician, but because his neighbors trusted him and knew him to be a man of quiet intelligence, and they took it upon themselves to put him on the ballot. “He could’ve been a great accountant, he could’ve probably been a tremendous CEO if he’d had more opportunity,” reflects Todd. “If things had happened differently, if he had a different life. I think he realized that for my sister and me, the only way we were going to get past any of these obstacles was to get an education, and it had to go beyond high school.”

In fact, one of Todd’s earliest and most defining memories is an exchange he had with his soft-spoken father on just that topic. It was early on a Saturday morning, and Todd was watching cartoons. “He came in, stood there for a minute, looked at me, and just said, ‘You’re gonna go to college,’” recalls Todd. “I said, ‘Ok?’ and he just walked away. That was pretty much a long conversation for my dad! I was thinking to myself, ‘Right now? When am I leaving? Can I finish 3rd grade?’ But I know that was really important to him. He impressed upon me and my sister that going to school, getting an education, and learning something was important to giving you positive options in life.”

It’s a lesson Todd took to heart, finishing not only a college degree with two majors, but later going on to complete a Master’s degree and an MBA. But even after that, Todd never stopped learning, continuing to take classes to this day. In fact, he considers continual learning to be one of the guiding tenants of his adult life.

That philosophy has served him well; today, he’s an unambiguous success story, the factory worker’s son who made good in the Nation’s capital, the boy from a town with one stoplight who went on to become a banker in the C-Suite. Todd Rowley is the Market Executive for the Capital Region of Old Dominion National Bank, an expanding bank with branches in three cities and no signs of slowing down.

“I think he realized that for my sister and me, the only way we were going to get past any of these obstacles was to get an education, and it had to go beyond high school.”

Old Dominion National Bank got its start in 2008—not known as a banner year for banks—in Charlottesville, VA. “It kind of languished for a number of years,” notes Todd, “then around 2015, the Board reached out to the now-CEO, Mark Merrill, who had been an executive at two Washington, D.C based community banks. In June 2016, Mark was named President and CEO, and immediately kicked off a capital raise. They hoped to raise about $20 million but ended up raising $30 million. The bank grew considerably in the Greater Washington area, and a follow up offering of $30 million was upsized and closed on $38.7 million, totaling $68.7 million in new capital in two years. Now a well-capitalized and fast-growing community bank, we added a branch in State College, Pennsylvania after opening a branch in Tysons, and we are planning to expand into Arlington and the Herndon/Reston area.”

A year ago, the bank totaled about $150 million in assets; now the bank is about $325 million. By the end of next year, they are projected to pass the $400 million mark, and Todd is confident that their growth strategy is a winning one. “Our market isn’t really retail customers,” explains Todd. “And unlike a number of banks in the area, who really focus on investment real estate and commercial real estate as their growth mode, we’re doing it on the back of commercial and government contracting. So when we do real estate, it’s largely real estate where the owner has an investment interest in it, where we know it will be maintained. It may be an investor that buys a shopping center and flips it, but it won’t be a developer financing a speculative building, where there really isn’t any true ownership.”

“We’re going to be doing commercial and government contracting for lines of credit, term debt, and acquisitions, that’s really what we’re focusing on,” Todd goes on. “The market’s very receptive because there isn’t a bank that’s doing that. A lot of the large ones want relationships with companies north of $150-200 million in revenue. And the smaller banks—those that haven’t been bought out yet—try to grow by taking pieces of other banks’ real estate deals. That’s a strategy for growth, but when those deals sell or get refinanced, you’ve got this roller coaster of asset size. But if you focus on solid commercial and government contracting as your main clients, you are the primary banker in that relationship, you can maintain a steady growth because the relationship is between you and the customer, not some third party bank that doesn’t ever let you talk directly to their customer. We’ve had tremendous growth based on that strategy.”

Todd considers those direct and personal relationships to be key in the business world. He came to Old Dominion from Cardinal Bank, a community bank later acquired by United Bank. Cardinal wanted Todd to help them attract larger clients on the commercial and government contracting side, which he was successful at doing, but some of his previously “large bank” coworkers thought he was an odd fit for this new job. “I remember people saying, ‘You’re a big bank guy,’ because I had worked at big banks in the past,” smiles Todd. “I said, ‘Just because I worked at big banks, doesn’t mean I’m a “big bank” guy.’ I’ve taken care of fairly large companies, but not all of them started out that big. Some of them started out small, they were nine guys in a basement and now they’re 900. They were $3 million and now they’re $300 million. If you have the benefit of patience, and you work with them when they’re nine people, then they appreciate you and they’ll stay with you when they’re 900. I probably always have been a small community banker, I just worked at big banks.”

These lessons about patience and relationships didn’t come out of thin air; they’re the legacy of his maternal grandparents, who, with their example, gave him a better business education growing up than any business school could offer. “My grandparents ran a small, family-owned trucking company. My grandfather and uncles drove trucks, and my grandmother ran the “operations” of the company out of their farmhouse.  Grandma was also a continuous baker – making pies, cookies and cakes throughout the day,” Todd recounts. “She was the marketing department for the family business. Someone would come to their house needing fertilizer, and she’d say, ‘Ok, sit down and have some pie while I write up this order’. And while they ate the pie, she’d talk. ‘You’re getting fertilizer, did you need seed? What about your tractor? Any parts you need on that John Deere of yours?’ She’d know the tractor, because she really knew their customers. And they’d say, ‘Well, I could use a new carburetor.’ While this guy was waiting, eating his pie, she was cross-selling. And I learned from her the values of slowing people down and really taking the time to know a customer on a personal level. She sold them what they needed, it wasn’t like she pushed anything on them. But if you can slow people down, build that relationship, you’re going to find out what they need. You’re going to be able to be of more help to them.”

Todd’s grandfather was no less a proponent of patience. He was a truck driver and at one point, he was the oldest active truck driver in the United States. While the grandchildren were growing up, he’d often take someone along on a delivery and impart life lessons that stayed with them long after. “We’d be driving to Detroit, and he’d see a car speeding by like a rocket,” recollects Todd. “He’d tell me, ‘Watch that car. Remember that car.’ We’d get to Detroit a couple hours later and he’d point out that same car. It hadn’t gotten there any faster than us. With all the starts and stops, we had used half the gas the other vehicle had used. Grandpa would say, ‘Don’t run your life like that guy. Don’t run your life like you’ve gotta get there first, all you’re going to do is burn yourself out. Take time to look around, get to know people, let them get to know you.’ The people that have the hardest time in business are the people who try to get there faster, and nobody knows them, nobody trusts them. That’s no way to do business, whatever your business is.”

“Grandpa would say, ‘Don’t run your life like that guy. Don’t run your life like you’ve gotta get there first. All you’re going to do is burn yourself out. Take time to look around, get to know people, let them get to know you.’”

Todd considers himself lucky to have had so much family around him as he grew up in the small town of Addison. He spent time with aunts, uncles, and cousins, and remembers working on his grandparents’ farm baling hay from a young age. He succeeded academically, finishing school in the top 10% of his class — although, he notes laughingly, that’s not so hard to do in a graduating class of 107. Athletically, he also did well, taking on sports until he was staying after school year-round. He was a good wrestler, and Todd recalls with warmth that his father, who worked the early shift at a local factory, made it a point to always get home in time to attend Todd’s school events, never missing a single one of Todd’s matches.

Todd’s mother was the head cook at the local high school, and Todd saw her, not only every day of his high school career, but most days of his school career in general. The Addison school system was small, and the elementary, middle and high schools all neighbored each other. Todd could come to her with concerns anytime, but having her nearby also served to remind the Rowley kids of her tireless work ethic. When she wasn’t working at the school in the daytime, she took another job answering phone calls for a local law firm in the evenings, even having a second phone line installed in the house for just this purpose. In her free time, she crocheted, painstakingly producing large, intricately designed comforters that she gave as gifts to family and friends. In fact, today Todd considers his mother’s crocheted gifts to be among his most valued possessions, and something he would hope to save from harm, and a testament to his mother’s work ethic, patience, and love.

By the time he was in middle school, Todd wanted his own spending money, particularly because he had his eye on a 10-speed bike. With the family lawn mower, he went out and collected five or six neighbors to become regular clients of his mowing service, saving up enough for the bike in only half the summer. “But I didn’t stop working,” laughs Todd. “You can’t tell your customers, ‘I have my bike, now you can mow your own lawns!’”

By high school, however, Todd had moved on to construction work, a job that, while it paid better, involved a lot more risk. “You’re five or six floors up walking on the I-beam,” Todd shakes his head. “That’ll test your metal right there. I remember on my first day, I had my rivet gun in one hand, holding onto the I-beam with my other, and this big, burly guy named Junior looks at me and says, ‘Todd, if you’re gonna do any work around here, you’re gonna have to let go of something!’”

After high school, Todd was off to Adrian College in nearby Adrian, Michigan, a small school that had offered him both an academic scholarship and athletic scholarship for wrestling. Todd accepted the academic scholarship, a decision he was immediately glad of upon finding himself at odds with the school’s wrestling coach. “The guy who recruited me wasn’t the same guy coaching,” recalls Todd. “He was the same guy sitting in the chair, but he had a whole different personality showing through. I told him I was leaving the team and he told me I had no choice, that I was on an athletic scholarship. I said, ‘Actually I got two scholarships, and I took the academic one!’ I had looked at that choice and thought, which one of these will allow me to control my destiny?”

Todd focused on his studies, double majoring in Business Administration and Speech Communications, as well as his jobs, working at local radio stations. He used a pseudonym and DJ’d for both the local Top 40 and Country Western stations under different identities. “Any time it was time to study for finals, I’d say, ‘It’s album night here at the station,’” laughs Todd. “I’d play one side, turn it over and play the other side. It was a great job, and I didn’t even have to be six stories up in the air!”

In 1980, Todd graduated college to a dismal job market, and set his sights on Northern Virginia as something of a recession-proof area. He moved without a job, home, or connections, walked into First Virginia Bank in a suit and tie and asked for a job as a teller. The branch manager was impressed by his demeanor and resume, and asked whether he would be interested in the bank’s manager training program instead. “She called HR and told them, I’ve got a young man here, I’m sending him over,” Todd recalls gratefully. “Two days later, I’m a banker. And the good karma on that is, the first branch I got assigned to as a branch manager, was her branch when she retired two years later. Doesn’t get any better than that.”

Todd’s job at First Virginia Bank was the starting place of two important journeys: his career, and his marriage. At the bank, Todd met his future wife, a fellow management trainee.  “She’s smarter than I am! I just try not to drag her down,” insists Todd happily. “I’m extremely lucky. I’m more of a big-picture guy, but she’s detail-oriented, she helps me see the things I’d otherwise miss. She’s very practical, got her degree from UVA in Economics. When I have an idea, I look to her to validate the idea. And when she has an idea, it’s usually the right one!”

Incredibly, Todd still finds time to adhere to his father’s long-ago advice and continue his education. In May 2019, Todd earned an Associate of Science degree in Information Systems Technology.

After a few years at First Virginia Bank, Todd moved to Signet Bank, which paid for him to return to school for a graduate degree in Banking Finance at the University of Delaware, and later an MBA from Virginia Tech. Over time, Signet became First Union, and then Wachovia, which was later acquired by Wells Fargo. After rising through the ranks to become a Senior VP at Wells Fargo, Todd was offered a Senior VP position at Capital One Bank in 2010, and stayed there until leaving for Cardinal Bank and then Old Dominion. During these years, Susan and Todd had two sons, and Todd humbly followed in his father’s footsteps, never missing an important event or game while James and John were in school.

However, Todd’s work in banking is hardly the end all be all of his activities in the region. He has leadership roles on several important boards in Northern Virginia. Currently, he is Chairman of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, sits on the Board of Directors of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), a board he also recently chaired, and the board of LEAD Virginia. He’s the Chairman of the Northern Virginia Workforce Investment Board, an Advisory Board Member at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Partnership on Ending Homelessness, sits on the Northern Virginia Executive Committee of the Virginia Initiative for Growth and Development, and the advisory boards for Virginia Tech’s Pamplin School of Business and the university’s President’s Leadership Council, among others—too many even to list.

Incredibly, Todd still finds time to adhere to his father’s long-ago advice and continue his education. Since 2016, he’s been accumulating college credit in IT and cyber security from NOVA even as he sat on and Chaired their Board, ever eager to expand his knowledge base. In May 2019, Todd earned an Associate of Science degree in Information Systems Technology. I now have accountants and lawyers in the area who’ve taken coding classes because I’ve taken them. I got a 4.0, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from NOVA. It would have been embarrassing if the Chairman had gotten a B or a C!”  Next he intends to complete an Associate’s Degree in Cloud Computing. “My dad’s voice is always in my ear,” acknowledges Todd, “and I tell other people that learning should be a life-long event.

To young people embarking on their careers today, Todd offers some perspectives that he has observed from his time in the classroom—namely, put the cell phone down. “Have conversations with people,” encourages Todd. “Develop true relationships and get to know each other. Somebody who you friended on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn, that’s not a true relationship. Take the time, have the patience to get to know people really well, it’s something people don’t do anymore. They think, well I added you on LinkedIn, now I can ask for a favor. Develop those relationships, because it will be far more helpful in your career.”

Todd considers it a point of pride that he is himself with his peers and clients. “Susan one time said, ‘There’s isn’t a daytime Todd and a nighttime Todd,’” he smiles. “I’m not someone different on the weekends or away from work.” Todd says with humor that he recognizes that he is not from “central casting”. I look back at Chairmen that I admire and who have preceded me on boards, other business leaders in the region—most of them didn’t grow up in a small farming area in Michigan!”

It’s no surprise, then, that Todd describes his leadership style as above all “collegial.” It takes other people to get things done. “I don’t think anybody ever gets anything done by themselves,” affirms Todd. “If you don’t have a group of people working with you, wanting to work with you, nothing gets done. My number one thing is, I’m a learner. Number two, I’m a strategist. And three, I’m a collegial person. I think if you can manage the first two, and you keep collegial in your relationships, you can get tremendous things accomplished.”

Todd Rowley

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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