David Becker, Chairman and CEO of First Internet Bank

David Becker Photo

6th Annual Inspire Awards, College Mentors for Kids’ Lifetime Achievement Award recipient opens up about his business experience and who has mentored him.

“They can’t eat you.” This valuable piece of advice from David Becker’s grandfather is possibly one of the most unforgettable phrases of truth in business. Shared when Becker started his first company, “Remember, whatever happens, they can’t eat you. You as a person will always survive and you can start over.” These words of wisdom set the stage of an already independent thinker, solidifying the fearlessness to step forward.

Growing up in Speedway, Becker had the unique experience of living near the track when crews rented out the surrounding garages of homes during the month of May. “As kids we were allowed to stay out until the drinking was well under way and the language turned south,” fondly recalls Becker.

After 7th grade, Becker’s family moved to Monrovia, where Becker graduated from high school. “I thought we had moved to Green Acres,” shares Becker. It was here in Monrovia where Becker developed an appreciation of land and space, influencing his current home built on 150 acres.

Becker opted not to accept a highly-coveted spot with the United States Coast Guard Academy, instead attended DePauw University. He listened to his gut again 4 years later, deciding not to enter law school, just 3 weeks before graduation. “It may have been impulsive, but I just knew where I was supposed to go, or more so where I was not intended to go,” shares Becker.

His first job was with General Electric Credit Corp. “This experience was like a working MBA,” states Becker. He quickly hit the ceiling, stagnating where he could have coasted for years, but that didn’t fit his style. Confirming this feeling, Becker met CEO Jack Welch during a company seminar in Chicago. Welch concluded his speech by asking if there were any questions. In a sea of suits, only one arm raised: Becker’s.

No one ever questioned Jack.

As Becker’s boss, seated next to him, was covertly yet frantically trying to get him to lower his arm, Welch called on him. After answering Becker’s proposed question, Welch called him up to the stage.

“No one ever raises their hand to ask a question. I commend you for being brave enough to ask. And it was a GOOD question,” said Welch to Becker off to the side of the stage.

This event confirmed what Becker already knew. He was not meant to be a sheep. He was a shepherd, having absorbed as much as he could at GE, he sought his next experience.

It was through the challenge of finding an adequate computer system for credit unions in Indiana that Becker found himself launching out on his own. After working with the Indiana credit union trade association during the deregulation phase of the early 80s, Becker wrote a biz plan on how to solve to their problem. The solution was simple, and outlined in his business proposal.

Upon presenting the business plan to the credit union, it was clear that they had no idea what to do with a business plan and could not even figure out who should read it nor what to do with it. Evident that this was going nowhere, Becker promptly quit his job and formed the company on his own. He would solve their computer problem: the credit unions would become his clients.

Becker found a guy in Michigan to sell him what he needed at wholesale. Without first solidifying capital, Becker immediately got into his car and drove straight up to Michigan to forge the deal, arriving at 9pm. The meeting wrapped up at 1am, and with his brain in overdrive with what he was taking on, he drove home during those early morning hours.

“I think the most influential mentors in my life were my parents and my grandfather. My grandfather (with a 7th grade education) was one of the most successful businessmen I have ever met in all kinds of different industries and my parents instilled me in from a very early age that my only limitation in life was me and my belief in myself,” shares Becker, “They gave me a lot of independence as a child and taught me the responsibilities that went along with that independence. I have always felt that if I put my mind to something and worked hard enough, I could accomplish almost anything.”

This conviction held true, for several tech companies later, First Internet Bank was started. It’s ironic that he runs a tech-based, banking business. During his DePauw days, Becker would pay a frat brother to punch in his codes for a computer class. “I hated computers, I swore I would never do anything with computers,” says Becker.

Not only that, he used to make fun of bankers. “They love widgets and something tangible,” states Becker, “First Internet Bank is intellectual property. Acquiring capital was next to impossible without a brick and mortar location.”

Becker’s oldest son, Jason, said, “Dad, the last thing I ever thought you’d be is a banker.”

“My style of management is a massive change for the conservative banking industry. The mantra at First Internet Bank is ‘the only constant is change’,” shares Becker.

The traditional banking model focuses on maintaining status quo. “A local bank did a year-end shareholder press release talking about the great success they had growing their assets almost 5% over the past year, we grow more than that on a quarterly basis,” states Becker, “We are changing the way consumers handle their financial needs, practically on a daily basis.”

David Becker has kept his NASDAQ-traded First Internet Bank headquartered here, in Indiana. In NYC, Becker was asked, “Why are you headquartered in Indiana?” and Becker’s response was, “Why not?! I can be anywhere in a couple of hours, the midwest work ethic is good, it’s a great place to live, and the cost of living is hard to beat.”

Throughout Becker’s career, he has always given back. Whether this involves his countless charitable work, assisting the entrepreneurial sector or commissioning artwork, Becker gives his time and efforts to bettering our community.

“I like bouncing both ideas and problems off others to get different perspectives. I think I get more out of the conversations than they do.” says Becker.

Becker’s positive influence in our community cannot be understated. When Mayor Goldsmith started the High Tech Task Force, Becker was immediately on board as a member. It was on this task force that Becker first met Kyle Salyers, Senior Vice President, Health Catalyst, a healthcare data and analytics company.

“David is tremendously busy, yet he always makes him himself available. Always. He listens, asks questions, and leads you down an intentional, thought-provoking path. Becker exhibits great humility. He somehow makes you feel like he is the one learning and growing from the relationship. This builds great confidence and gratitude in the people around him. But ultimately, he simply takes a genuine interest in people, and for that I am grateful.” shares Salyers.

According to College Mentors for Kids, “The Inspire Awards are an opportunity to connect with other business and community leaders who value mentoring in the workplace and community.”

Entrepreneurial communities are successful because of people. People like Becker, and a few others on that High Tech Task Force had the foresight to attract high tech companies to Indianapolis. Since that time, you can track, like a family tree, the influence and impact those individuals have made for our region.

“David Becker takes the time to grow the people around him. In turn, you feel an obligation to do the same, and pass along support and knowledge to others without ever asking for anything is exchange. This is how entrepreneurial communities grow, and our community has benefited greatly from David’s example in this regard” said Salyers.

At the 1999 launch of First Internet Bank, which received huge international media coverage, a reporter from the BBC  asked, “What do traditional banks have that you don’t have?” to which Becker replied, “long lines in the lobby.”

“I think I have always been an out-of-the-box thinker, because I never knew there was a box,” says Becker.

This article first appeared in Townepost Network, February 2015

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Kara Kavensky

Kara Kavensky