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Management Strategies

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John Itokazu of Zions Bancorporation: Putting the Team First

Zions Bancorporation EVP and CIO John Itokazu believes trust and collaboration among his technology team are keys to the company's success.

For John Itokazu, executive vice president and CIO of Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorporation ($51.6 billion in combined assets) and EVP of technology and operations for its subsidiary, Zions Management Services Co., providing support for six of the holding company's eight banks spread across 10 western and southwestern states is a challenge he's happy to face, thanks in part to the quality of the people with whom he's filled his organization. "It is an absolute delight," Itokazu says.

"It's extremely rewarding," he continues. "I love coming to work every day primarily because of the people we have in our organization. Our success is driven by the team we have on the ground."

Itokazu's IT organization, known within Zions Bancorporation as TOPS (originally an acronym for Technology Operations and Support), consists of 1,700 people working within nine divisions that span everything from customer service and security to bank card products and services to information systems and technology. Each bank within the Zions Bancorporation family has its own needs and unique challenges, Itokazu notes. And to be able to meet those needs, he says, his team strives to build trust among the business and provide the best in customer support.

"Trust is fundamental to a lot of what we do," Itokazu explains. "The bankers in the front office out there might not understand a lot of what goes into technology. But if you build that trust, they're going to listen to you. The folks in the field, we ask them to go out there and partner with [the bankers]."

With a team as large as his, Itokazu says, he sees one of his primary roles as a facilitator who is there to ensure the right pieces are in place in order to deliver on initiatives set by Zions or its individual banks. "I really do look at myself as being a support mechanism for them to be able to do that," he explains. "I believe that's my management style - really just helping them in a lot of ways. I think of the 1,700 employees in the organization as being my customers."

John Itokazu bio

And he values his team for what they bring to the table. "It would be difficult to think that one person could come up with all of the ideas to drive this organization," Itokazu comments. "I'm fortunate enough to have 1,700 bright people."

Simply, no accomplishment is possible without a collaborative effort between Zions Bancorporation's TOPS team and the bankers, executives and management that comprise the company's banks, Itokazu insists. And it's something he takes pride in being a part of. "I believe the best way to get things done is by partnering with our colleagues in ensuring they're successful," Itokazu says. "If they are successful, we are successful."

A Steady Path

Aside from 18 months in which he worked with an industrial loan start-up, Itokazu has been with Zions Bancorporation for more than 30 years. In that time he has seen the organization grow from a Salt Lake City-area regional bank and finance company to a corporation that's expanded extensively throughout the West and Southwest through organic growth and acquisition.

And as his career developed in those 30-plus years, so too has the company, Itokazu notes. "I started in the proof department back in '77, so my view of the world was pretty limited," he recalls, adding that, at the time, the company relied on just one small data center in West Valley City, Utah. Zions Bancorporation now has five or six buildings supporting its data in the Salt Lake City area alone, as well as facilities in Texas, Colorado and California.

But through the growth of Zions Bancorporation, and the countless new faces it employs, Itokazu still appreciates seeing others who have been with the company for as much time - or even longer - as he has. "You see people in this organization who stay here for so long because, at least for me, you feel like you can really make a difference," he relates. "The people whom you work with every day are great people."

That feeling of empowerment - along with the collaborative spirit - within the technology organization is important to Itokazu, whether it's his own state of mind or the outlook that he tries to instill within his team. The attitude enables the TOPS organization to work efficiently and effectively, something that was important during the economic downturn when Zions Bancorporation expanded through the acquisition of four failed banks within a 14-month span, according to Itokazu. "Those transactions happened very quickly, and it was really the partnership between our organization and those banks that allowed us to move very quickly and effectively and have minimal impact on the customer base," he asserts.

Itokazu adds that in his 30 years with Zions Bancorporation a significant part of the growth strategy has been through acquisitions. The integrations, however, have been made easier, he says, through his team's flexibility and efficiency, along with the support of the company's leadership.

Approaching the Future

While Zions is an award-winning treasury services provider, Itokazu sees room for improvement. In fact, he recently oversaw the rollout of a new treasury Internet banking platform. Other ongoing projects include the virtualization of storage as well as a new branch capture strategy executed in part with Zions Bancorporation affiliate NetDeposit. "I expect we'll be 100 percent on branch capture within 90 days," Itokazu reports, adding that the ability for individual branches to capture check images helps mitigate security concerns.

While mobile and Internet banking continue to grow, Itokazu adds, Zions Bancorporation's strategy is to provide the services but not necessarily rely on them as the future of banking. Mobile banking is yet to be fully defined, he contends. And even though Internet banking has matured, he still sees the branch as playing an important role for customers.

According to Itokazu, the new channels don't necessarily divert customers from the traditional channels; instead, they shift customer behavior. Similar to the way the ATM changed customer habits when it was introduced, he says, a key to understanding emerging technology is to adapt to today's customers' changing needs.

"We're seeing some of the same behavior with the Internet and mobile," Itokazu relates. "It doesn't mean they abandon one channel for another; they just use the different channels. When you think about it, the customers just want access anytime, anywhere, anyhow."

Itokazu says he is ready to meet the challenges ahead - largely because of his confidence in those around him. "There's nothing they can't accomplish," he boasts. "And they do that day in and day out."

George TumasBruce Livesay Anthony DiSantoJerry Hermes Colin EcclesJohn Itokazu Paul JohnsonJeff Dennes

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