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Comerica Bank executive Irvin Ashford: ‘Access to capital is the gasoline … makes the engine go’

Irv Ashford

Irvin Ashford Jr.
SVP, Texas Market
Community Development and External Affairs Director
Comerica Bank

What inspires you to show up at work every day?
I am inspired by my colleagues who are in the business of helping people be successful and the people we serve — who each and every day surprise me with their American spirit. Together, we strive to make our community a better place to live, work, run businesses and raise our families.

How did you determine your career path?
I didn’t determine it; God did. I was just ready to answer the call. I prepared myself via education, volunteerism and with the help of many people who made sacrifices for me. When the call came, I answered the phone.

What other industries connect to your career choice?
Well, I am a banker and access to capital is the gasoline that makes the engine go. Everything is connected to the money.

Describe the skill sets that are essential to future business leaders and innovators.
I think that the future skill set needed for business leaders and innovators include: critical thinking, language skills, people skills, situational leadership, and flexibility (go with the flow), diversity, patience, and the ability to be lucky.

Define innovative methods you apply to your business and life.
I am a continual and perpetual student. I gobble up information and read a lot. Innovation begins with knowledge and creativity. When you have both, you tend to see around corners.

Describe goal setting methods you use and how you evaluate your success.
I eat the elephant one bite at a time. I use my knife and fork, but mainly my knife. I get on the scale every so often. If I am gaining weight, then I know all is well. If not, I use my fork more.

Who do you consider your peers in your field? Share examples of who you seek out for support and best practices.
There are some great bankers in the community. I stand on their shoulders, especially the older bankers of color and community leaders who paved the way for me to be here. If it weren’t for their great results, I would not be here. Most of us are working very hard every day to make a difference.

Which information and increased skill methods do you use?
I read everything. I participate in national and international fellowship programs, engage in public policy debates and transatlantic/global relationship building. I know the world is global, not local.

Name your favorite role models for success in two industries.
I like Picasso and Jay-Z. They are artists who both paint vivid pictures.

Names four books that changed how you saw life and you recommend to others.

  1. The Art of War
  2. On War
  3. Tao Te Ching
  4. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

Explain why lifelong learning is important to you.
Knowledge is one of the only things that cannot be taken from you once you have it. It can be shared and it can be monetized for an unlimited return on investment.

Describe the voice of success that you hear in your head.
Success for me is when other people reach their goals and when the lightbulb “goes off.” I can see it in a kid’s eyes when they’ve learned something I taught. When I witness that, it’s like the sound of applause after shooting a three-pointer.

Community success based on what you do in the community means what?
I truly feel that financial literacy is one of the keys to community success. We must budget, save and invest. This will help us to manage our resources, prioritize and build wealth. Success is when people come to one of my financial literacy classes.

Technology plays what role in your daily life? 
It is fully integrated in all aspects of my life but it does not control me; I control it. I still like to read a hard copy. I do my calculations by hand and I like to see the customer service agent in person. Human contact is still worthy of effort and time.

What software and tools of technology have made the biggest difference in your life?
I am in the relationship business so the best tool of technology is my mind. As long as I use that, the rest of it is proforma.

How do music and culture align with your self-identity?
Hip-hop is my theme music: old school hip-hop. I still like Wu-Tang [Clan], KRS-One and Biggie. Black culture guides much of my spirit. My father was from Harlem and my mother is from the Lower Eastside of New York City, enough said.

Define your personal culture.
My personal culture is American, African American. It’s one of brilliance, kindness and achievement.

What is your favorite vacation spot? 
I have traveled all over the world and I have loved many places, but if I had to pick a favorite local place it would be Miami. However, Zanzibar [Tanzania] is a place I’d like to revisit.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would change how we treat the poor.

The hardships of being poor can be a horrible yet beautiful experience. The beauty of poverty is evident when sensitivity and human compassion emerge. As a kid, I witnessed families making do with what little they had, but always finding enough to help a neighbor with less. Countless times and without hesitation, neighbors borrowed food from one another. They believed in sticking together through good times and bad – even when the times were mostly bad. The ills of poverty are horrible because of the lack of and constant need for proper health care, education, food and other basic necessities. The lack of essentials breaks down communities. Hopelessness and despair can settle in. I’m optimistic that if we continue to invest in people, we will inspire others to thrive as I have all these years. Those of us with the most have the most to give. I am not talking about money alone, although money is the gasoline that powers most engines that need to move. What I am talking about is having each member of the community using their God-given talents to teach others to fish and fend for themselves. Individual talents can and should be harnessed to assist the least among us. This is not a black thing or a white thing or even a Hispanic thing. This is and should be a people thing. Love, it is the real glue that binds us together. The fact that we have great wealth, big business and diversity in America, will only serve us well if we work together and invest in the people who need it most.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Everything. Everything changes. Change is like water and water is life. I want to keep moving.