First Merchants Bank
A Purdue class project helped propel Chris Chatfield into the entrepreneurial arena while he was earning his marketing degree.
“My trajectory began when I worked with a business in need of marketing and advertising help as a class project,” he says. “I enjoyed that interaction and then worked as an intern with the SBDC.
“I kept in contact with the staff after I left and when an opening occurred I moved back and became the director of the SBDC in LaPorte County.”
Today, Chris continues to work with entrepreneurs as a commercial relationship manager at First Merchants Bank, helping connect clients to resources inside and outside of the bank.
“We consider ourselves trusted advisers. Businesses go through phases of growth and maturity and it’s great to watch the progression,” he says. “When they start out, they don’t know about all aspects and we bring them along and help them become mature and ultimately generate wealth and sell the business or pass it along to their kids. We help in all aspects of that.”
Chris also sees how his adviser role can pivot toward being a challenge assessor and key sounding board.
“Commercial bankers are also like psychiatrists. Part of what we do is challenge folks … I try to dissect and pull out of them: Who is your market? How are you getting to them? I feel I have become a pretty good problem solver,” he says. “When I was at the SBDC, I would talk them through when they were at the front step of running a business to make the decision if they wanted to do it or not. I still do that today.
“Owning a business sounds great, but do they understand the day to day. If they are risking personal capital, money and time, do they really know what that means?”
Chris finds his success is rooted in those who have helped guide his own career path.
“I have had mentors that were great teachers and helped me through the process, so I can be good at what I do day to day,” he says. “You can’t do this job unless you have really good people behind you.”
He continues to embrace the variety of working with all kinds of businesses, whether it’s a brewery or manufacturer.
“I don’t want to be in the office. I want to be out with a client going into a manufacturing facility walking through the muck and grime. You have to get out and be with them to understand the business,” he says. “I enjoy living through the day to day through the eyes of my customers.”
While he knows it has been said many times before, Chris truly sees small businesses as the strong foundation of our communities.
“I believe the cliché that small businesses are the backbone of our country and the backbone of our communities as they provide wages that help run households,” he says. “That has always kept me in the industry.
“As bankers, we help provide capital into the marketplace and that has a trickle-down effect. Ultimately, we provide jobs and stability for the people who live in our communities.”
First Merchants Bank
707 Ridge Road in Munster