The word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, which means to call or summon. For this month’s huddle, we spent some time with John Coffin about his calling and how we can work together to embrace ours.
For most people, their career journey looks like climbing a mountain. It’s a steady and consistent rise upward to larger companies and more prestigious roles. That’s the process that John Coffin took throughout his career as he climbed the corporate ladder in the banking world. While the names on his business card may have changed – Chemical Bank to Chase, Wachovia to Wells Fargo – his roles were similar, serving larger institutional clients as they increased market share. Moving to Atlanta in the early 2000’s led to a shift in focus, as he transitioned into the commercial banking side, where he served smaller businesses and saw the passion of these entrepreneur business leaders who poured their heart and soul into their nascent businesses.
In 2006, he decided to take a leap of faith by leaving his job at Wells Fargo and making a big bet on these types of companies when he and a few others walked away from their jobs and started Atlantic Capital Bank, which would focus on these smaller-medium sized businesses in the Atlanta area. Atlantic Capital was the largest startup bank in US history, with an initial capital raise of $125 million. Opening its doors in May of 2007, John focused on recruiting a 40 person team to implement the vision. When starting a bank from scratch, he wanted to find people who were drawn to the entrepreneurial spirit of those they served. Drawing people from across the career spectrum, it was important to find people who were bought into the vision of the new venture.
Over the next decade, Atlantic Capital grew to a $2.9 billion bank. Through mergers and acquisitions, it shifted from a private company to one that was publicly traded on NASDAQ. This shift came at an inflection point for John and gave him the inspiration for his next chapter, serving business owners and entrepreneurs in a different way along their growth journey.
Today, John is the co-founder and President of Practical Growth Advisors, which provides strategic advisory and forecasting services to 85+ privately held companies to enable them to grow faster with confidence. Typically, companies under $250 million don’t have a broad executive team, so John and his team come in and help entrepreneurs crystalize their vision and they put in place the processes needed to grow with intention in a smart and sustainable way.
John shared with us some of the lessons learned on his journey. He started by asking us to identify three people we admire and what attributes we admire most of each. For John it was:
- Teddy Roosevelt: action-oriented, asked questions and then proposed the “what if”, big thinker
- Martin Luther King, Jr: courageous, excellent communicator, challenges people
- His mother: kind, curious and stubborn (this is a positive)
We then ranked our top three attributes from that list, which John identified as bias toward action, desire to go big and being a challenger. These attributes are ones that have served John as he has progressed throughout his career, and he tries to emulate them and instill them in others.
According to John, great ideas, great teams and great execution are critical to successful growth. He shared how many great teams are like the spirograph we played with as kids. The spirograph drew perfectly geometric, yet elaborate shapes with the help of gears as guides. As you change pen colors, the shapes developed more detail and depth. While all of the pens operated independently, they were joined by the surrounding gears and together created a beautiful image.
We appreciate the time John spent with us as we work to discover and develop our vocare and help great businesses grow.