Sean Kouplen — a banker, writer, lecturer
Meet Mr. Sean Kouplen, one of Oklahoma’s favorite bankers, speakers and writers. Kouplen earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture economics and his master’s in business administration from Oklahoma State University. He served as the youngest president of the OSU National Alumni Association. He has served on numerous boards, including the Oklahoma Bankers Association Intermediate School Board of Regents, International Trade Development Council and Oklahoma Workforce Investment Board, Tulsa Sports Commission Board of Directors, Junior Achievement, Jenks Public School Foundation and Tulsa Zoo Board of Directors. In addition, he founded the Executive Luncheon Series, where Regent Bank brings valuable free information to area CEOs and business owners on a monthly basis. He also introduced the CEO Roundtable program through the Tulsa Metro Chamber.
As an adjunct professor at OSU, Kouplen taught management, finance, marketing and communications classes. He is an author and nationwide speaker to a variety of student and young professional groups about the importance of focus and passion in our lives. His book, Out of the Blocks, is a modern parable for new college graduates going through 12 key life lessons that make the difference in starting off well in the race of life.
Kouplen fulfilled a longtime dream in April 2008 when he and his close friend Dow Hughes led a group of 70 investors who purchased Regent Bank, a 110-year old community bank headquartered in Nowata. Prior to that, Kouplen served as president and chief operating officer of Grand Bank and chief operating officer at Citizens Security Bank in Bixby. In August 2008, Regent Bank expanded into the Tulsa market and heightened its focus on small business banking. The bank has doubled in size in less than three years and has won numerous awards for its business and community focus. Regent Bank made more than $52 million in loans in 2010 alone.
Sean Kouplen likes to stay in touch with his clients.
“Most bank CEOs tend to locate their office at the back of the bank, behind walls, secretaries, etc., so that they are protected from clients. I am exactly the opposite. My office is out front, in plain view of our clients so that they can stop by and visit anytime they would like,” Kouplen said. “For the last two years, I actually functioned with no office at all. I spent all of my time out at our clients’ place of business, visiting with them and learning how we could better serve them. Now I have an office, but I am rarely there.”
Kouplen also finds time to give back to his community, by serving in numerous leadership positions with the Bixby Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Bixby, Daily Family YMCA, United Way and Vision 2025 campaigns. As chairman of Make it Happen Bixby, he was instrumental in his community passing the $25 million Bixby’s Future bond issue–the largest in history. His efforts helped earn him recognition by his hometown as Citizen of the Year in 2002.
“In a market where most bankers’ first instinct is to say no, Sean is creative and thinks outside the box when it comes to helping small businesses achieve their dreams. He will research ways to get them the loan that they need to grow and reach their goals, or use his vast network to help our clients make contacts that they may not have otherwise had access to,” said Danielle Conrad, Kouplen’s executive assistant. “As an author and entrepreneur himself, Sean Kouplen, president of Regent Bank, knows what it takes to start a successful business and continuously works to enhance his customers’ business opportunities. His dedication to working with local businesses to help them achieve their goals sets him apart from many bank lenders in these economic times,” said Michael S. Neal, Tulsa Metro Chamber’s president and CEO.
Although Kouplen had led other people’s banks, he said he learned a lot about leading his own and most of what he learned had to do with people.
“Personal relationships are everything,” Kouplen said. “You must be surrounded by people you trust and believe in, and who trust and believe in you. Surround yourself with people that complement you, not people like you. I am blessed with a very strong executive team whose members have more experience than I do and are certainly not ‘yes’ people.”
Since 2008, Regent Bank has grown rapidly under Kouplen’s leadership, primarily due to the relationships the CEO has built. Kouplen has made his position as CEO the organization’s top business developer. He hired strong operational leadership so he could spend his time developing relationships. He also co-hosts the Weekly Banking Update on KRMG radio, where he gives banking tips every Monday.
Outside the Sooner State, he’s the author of three inspirational books that reached the New York Times self-help genre best-seller list. That success put Kouplen before more than 100 audiences on the public speaking circuit, one-third of those out-of-state.
“I won’t do any more than two speaking engagements a month where I travel, but I will do as many as I can locally, because I can fit it into my schedule,” said the 41-year-old Oklahoma State University graduate. “It’s good for the bank.”
Kouplen sees his publishing and speaking as marketing tools for his primary job. Regent Bank has grown threefold since his investment team bought the Nowata-based lender in 2008, expanding first into Tulsa, then Oklahoma City.
“That’s the best part of the deal,” he said of his different career paths. “All of them are very enjoyable for me to do, but they all have contributed to the success of the bank, so I don’t ever feel like that I am benefiting one and taking away from the other.” “It identifies him as a thought leader in his industry,” said Mary Waller, chief operating officer and co-founder of Waller and Co. public relations. “Going out and speaking at groups or researching for his book is part of his continuing education and part of keeping him on the edge of trends, which is great for his profession and for his employer.”
It also creates opportunities for the bank and Kouplen to give back to the community through shared lessons and learning, Waller said. Such experiences strengthen consumer bonds.
“When you can see a person’s face, you can interact with them,” said 613 Marketing and Media founder Stefani Walker. “It makes people more comfortable when they’re putting their money someplace.”
Kouplen’s writing career sprang from an OSU-Tulsa class he taught nearly a decade ago. As student after student sought his career insights, Kouplen decided he could save everyone time by summarizing his thoughts in a book. He self-published that edition and gave it to his students, who shared it with others. It wasn’t long before the head of OSU-Tulsa suggested that Kouplen seek a commercial publisher, which culminated in the 2007 release Out of the Blocks. Two books followed from Tulsa’s Yorkshire Publishing, 12 Life Lessons Every Graduate Should Know and The Priority Promise. He expects to publish two more with Yorkshire in 2015: a book tentatively slated An Empty Bag, although that may change to Nothing Expected in Return, and a book he’s already speaking on, Five Questions to Significance.
“Our goal is to keep them all under 100 pages,” he said. “They’re all in the same kind of parable format, and they are based upon things that I have learned.”
“I’m not a novelist and I don’t tell stories,” Kouplen said. “I try to portray things that I have learned that I think will help others. It really is that simple.”
His speaking calendar started filling up last year, after participants at the ARMA International convention in Las Vegas ranked Kouplen’s talk first among 61 national presenters. That spurred demand with other providers.
“I try to schedule them in such a way that literally I can fly out, do the speech and fly back all the same day if I can,” Kouplen said. “Last year I did 24 where I had to fly somewhere and speak. I did 105 total, the remainder either here or in Oklahoma City.”
He’s increased his travel engagement fee from $1,000 to $5,000 plus expenses, with a $10,000 minimum for groups of 250 people or more. But Kouplen does most local presentations for free.
“I like giving that back to the community,” he said. “It’s frankly fun for me to do that.”
With out-of-state events limited to vacation dates, Kouplen said none of this takes time away from the bank. Since his move into the chairman’s role six months ago, Kouplen said his focus is primarily strategic operations.
“I don’t want them to ever wonder whether I am putting them first,” he said of Regent Bank’s investors. “I need them to know that they are always first.”
Keeping up with all this and his typical 50-hour banking week led Kouplen to employ a ghost writer for his upcoming works. He developed an outline for the books and electronically interviewed subjects, then shared the results with the hired pen. Kouplen then goes over the manuscript and works through the editing process with Yorkshire.
He has no idea how many other books lie before him.
“I didn’t think I had any books in me,” he said. “Honestly, the better they do, the more I feel compelled to write. I hope we are helping people. As long as I feel like I have something to share of value, I will keep writing.”
He drew faith in that from numerous reader emails, letters and phone calls.
“This is just wild, and none of it was planned,” Kouplen said. “I just wrote the book so I wouldn’t have to spend so long talking to the class. It’s just kind of led to all of this. Who knows where it will all go?”