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ESL picks Evans as first business growth manager

Rochester Business Journal
June 6, 2014

Malik Evans plans to parlay his experience with banking and the Rochester City School District into success as ESL Federal Credit Union’s first business growth manager.

Evans was president of the district’s board of education for six years before announcing in December that he would not to seek a seventh. His term as a board member expires at the end of 2015.

Evans was with M&T Bank Corp. for 12 years, most recently as a vice president and branch manager, prior to joining the Rochester market’s largest credit union in March.

“This is like a dream position because it melds something that’s very important to me, which is small business,” he said. “But also, the goal of the position is to simultaneously solve social problems, while also lifting the economy in the community through small business.”
The business growth manager leads an initiative to create shared value through business growth in the Rochester area, ESL officials say.

“It’s a cross-functional position,” Evans said. “It’s something that’s going to be melded throughout the organization in terms of getting the entire company to think about small business as a tool to help Rochester out, and to help small businesses.”

The shared value program was established recently to enhance competitiveness while also solving economic and social problems in the communities in which it operates, ESL officials said.

“It’s all of our jobs to figure it out, but it’s my job to lead the effort,” Evans said. “Obviously, connecting with business banking is the most natural piece of it because it’s business growth.

“Also, part of our shared value initiative is the community piece of it, making sure that we connect organizations to community organizations that can help them advance their business.”

With shared value, if Rochester prospers, ESL prospers.

“There are not silver bullets,” Evans said. “But that is one way we can solve a lot of the issues in the community. Jobs, moving people out of poverty—you have the opportunity to do that through that entrepreneurial spirit in business.”

Evans is to work closely with Keith Cleary, who joined ESL in February as vice president and director of business banking.

“We have to be tied at the hip,” Evans said. “The only way my position can be successful is I have to work with just about every single unit in the bank, and more specifically with business banking because that is where the cash management person is. That is where the people who help businesses are.”

A native of the Rochester area, Cleary was with M&T for 13 years and with HSBC Bank USA N.A. for 13 years before that. He was regional manager of the Buffalo-based M&T’s business banking division in northeast Pennsylvania before coming to ESL.

Cleary oversees 13 employees in a department formed in September 2010. ESL had 3,000 members connected to small business then. It wants to double that by the end of 2017 and become one of the top five providers of U.S. Small Business Administration loans in the local market.

The credit union declined to specify how many of the 3,000 members moved their business banking to ESL when its department was launched, or to specify the size of its business banking portfolio now.

ESL ranked 16th in the Rochester market in SBA 7(a) loans in fiscal 2012-13 at $385,000, SBA numbers show. The top five lenders of the SBA’s most popular loan each provided at least $3.6 million.

“We’ve been at this four years, but I’ve counted about 200 years of collective experience,” Cleary said. “Couple that with ESL’s 100-plus years in the community and we’ve got a pretty powerful message.”

Nonetheless, many still are unaware of the credit union’s involvement in business banking.

“Even this morning at a breakfast, somebody said, ‘I’ve been banking with you for years; it’s good to see you’re getting into the business side,’” Cleary said. “So we still have a little work to do.”

Business growth has three pillars, Evans said: business acumen, a strong business ecosystem and access to capital.

“Obviously, if you’re a businessperson, you need to know a little something about business,” Evans said. “Building a strong business ecosystem is connecting folks to other organizations that can help them, so you build organically so you’re creating jobs.

“And the last one, and probably one of the most important ones, is access to capital. How can you make access to capital easier, more transparent, more understanding for both new and existing businesses?”

Evans grew up in Rochester, graduating from Wilson Magnet High School and the University of Rochester. He started the City/County Youth Council when he was 16 to get young people involved in community service.

“I always joke with people that I’ve been involved with the community since before I could drive,” he said. “From my experience in banking and in serving on numerous boards in the community, it gives you a lens into growing up in this community.

“One of the most important things for anybody is a job. Having the entrepreneurial mindset and spirit is absolutely key to a person’s success. The person that owns a business is more likely to make more money than a person that does not own a business. The key is a successful business.”

There are no plans to add credit union branches or offices in the city, Evans said. ESL’s headquarters—including a retail branch—is on Chestnut Street. Its 20 branches include locations on State Street and on Merchants Road.

ESL lists total assets of $4.8 billion.

“Shared value turns the traditional mold of banking and finances on its head,” Evans said. “You could have a building on every single corner in the city, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to advance everything you’re trying to advance.

“It’s not about a physical location. It’s about a mindset. It’s about connecting people in the community. It’s about helping businesses help themselves, while at the same time helping the community and also helping ESL and the larger community in which we operate.”

Rochester is the fifth-poorest city among the 75 largest metropolitan areas in the country, a report released in December by the Rochester Area Community Foundation found. Detroit; Hartford, Conn.; Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio, rank lower.

Nearly 161,000 people in the nine counties surrounding the city are below the federal poverty level, the report stated. Some 31 percent of Rochester households live in poverty. In Monroe County, 14.4 percent live in poverty.

“It’s a tall order but something that’s very important,” Evans said of his mission at ESL. “The ultimate goal is to see how we as an organization can create jobs in Rochester by strengthening existing businesses and helping to create new ones by giving them the proper support.

“I don’t see it as daunting, and I’m not one to use the word ‘challenge.’ I think it’s a great opportunity for ESL and for the larger community. When you talk to people about small business as a vehicle for helping to create jobs and making a strong Rochester, people are very excited about it.”

6/6/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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