Imagine being a kid in high school, handling tens of thousands of dollars in cash, wearing a three-piece suit and hanging out with rich people. That was Anthony "Tony" Weagley's life as a junior in high school and what launched him into the field of banking. Weagley, 54, now leads Malvern Federal Savings Bank.
"It was a little odd," Weagley said during our Executive Q&A interview published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer. "I could have graduated high school when I was junior. So they said to me, "Well, you can graduate", or go to a university take some classes there. But I'm like, just sixteen years old and not wanting to do that, so I went to work. So, in my senior year of high school, I'd go to school in the morning, take gym, take English, and then I think I took a computer math course, and then I went to work."
Question: You grew up in Madison, N.J. Where did you work?
Answer: In the bank. I started as a teller, so I was working forty hours a week.
Q: Wow. How did you get that job? I think you said that a high school guidance counselor made the connection. That's amazing.
A: It was something that was offered to me, and it sounded exciting. So, I went and did it, and you know, I liked working. I was very fortunate. It was the corporate headquarters of Midlantic National Bank. Under the old banking rules years ago, banks had to stay separate until they had so many branches in contiguous and then they could merge them together under the parent umbrella, which was Midlantic National Bank.
Q: What department were you in?
A: We did a lot of international work, so I got an education very quickly in different facets of banking, whatever that I found intriguing, that was exciting. So, I stuck with it, and you know, started taking courses, doing things.
Q: What did you find intriguing? I think it's interesting, that at 16, you were so fascinated.
A: I guess I liked money. So, obviously, that was an attraction, There were some very good mentors I had there. There was a woman that was my boss that took me under her wing, and taught me what it was to be a banker. And, I was dealing with clients. In other words, you know, people are the business, and she was very good at business development, or whatever, so I found that exciting.
It was a very high net worth client base, so I was dealing with very wealthy people and what they were looking for was service. So I was a bright individual, and you know, at sixteen, seventeen years old I was wearing three piece suits showing up to work, and you know, I got into it, and I liked it, and I just stuck with it.
Q: I had a somewhat similar experience, starting as a reporter at a very young age. What do you think about that? Is it like falling in love? Maybe you fall hardest for your first love, be it banking or journalism.
A: Obviously, it's passion.
Q: Everybody talks about passion. Isn't it a tiresome cliche? Seriously, you were 16.
A: You know, I think I wanted to succeed, so there's an inner drive in you to succeed and to be somebody, and here I was doing something that I was succeeding at. In other words, people respected me. I was doing well at work, so I think that's kind of what propels you, and that's where you start channeling your energy. Somewhere in there you have to have like what you were doing.
A: You have to enjoy the work, enjoy being with people, and type of thing, but I think that part of it is that simultaneously something else clicked and it started to define you, I guess. Does that makes any sense? I felt important.
Q: Because you had the suit?
A: At the time, because we're talking late seventies, you know, being a teller in a bank was a much more respected position. They expected you to do more than just cashing checks. I was doing international drafts all around the world. I was doing, you know, a lot of other jobs that weren't just basically sitting there being a teller.
Q: Was part of the appeal working with large sums of money?
A: At one point I took over as Head Teller, so I was managing a better part of, you know, half a million to seven-hundred fifty thousand, the money in the vault. There were clients we would take twenty or thirty thousand dollars to keep in their safe.
Q: You'd actually carry twenty thousand in cash?
A: Yeah. That's what I'm telling you. It was just an intriguing time. You know, I had this one client, she had thirteen children and they were all doctors, so she'd call up on the phone and say, "Well, I want more money.' So, me and the branch manager, so we'd put it into a paper bag. It wasn't far from the bank. We'd drive it over to her house. She lived in this big mansion. She'd invite us in, and we'd have to sit down and have tea, and she'd talk about her kids.
Q: A completely different world.
A: Even at that young age, you read about the people on Wall Street or in New York that were Private Bankers. They would describe their days and what they did, and it was all about, you know, giving service and just catering to people's needs.
Q: What are their needs?
A: The branch I worked [was in an area with a lot of big companies, so there were many wealthy people.] A lot of times though I was dealing with the wives, because they were coming in to take care of all the business because the husbands were too busy. So they would come in and they would want to get answers on things, or get things done, but then they also wanted to sit down and talk about their families. I used to give out my phone number, I used to have people that would call me on the weekends or whatever, because they needed an answer. So, you become part of someone's life almost. I guess, friends, if you will, to a certain extent. Obviously, there's a line there as far as the business relationship, but I guess I was mature for my age, just from an intellect standpoint, and then a maturity standpoint. So I could relate to people, and it just felt good these people wanted to sit down and get advice from me and talk about things.
Q: And you were seventeen, eighteen.
A: You know, it felt good.
Next: How do you save a struggling bank? Start by answering the phone.