Banking Executive Walter Johnson Connects with Students at Awards Ceremony
The secret to a successful life isn’t much of a secret, according to Amegy Bank founder Walter Johnson. Hard work, determination and relationships are all important, he told Bauer College student leaders recognized during an awards ceremony in April.
“If you’re going to be successful, you need to be the hardest working person in the world,” Johnson said. “When I think about what I’ve accomplished in my life, it comes down to work ethic.”
As the event’s keynote speaker, Johnson shared his personal story of humble beginnings where it didn’t seem that college was in the cards to graduating from Texas Christian University in just three years before starting a career in sales and eventually founding one of Houston’s largest banks.
Growing up, Johnson said, he watched his father hold several jobs at a time and work with his hands, helping him take apart cars and put them back together, establishing an appreciation for hard work.
“I grew up the hard way,” he said. “I worked on milk trucks and paper routes, and it was a great way to grow up. You appreciate life more when you work for it.”
After graduating from college, Johnson worked as a typewriter salesman before beginning a career in banking, serving as president and CEO of Allied Bank, which he helped to build from $100 million to $5 billion in assets before it was purchased by First Interstate, which become Wells Fargo.
Over the course of his career, Johnson said, he changed paths a few times before finding his passion.
“Don’t be afraid to quit and start over,” he told the students. “If you make a mistake, correct it.”
More than 20 years ago, Johnson founded Amegy Bank alongside his wife Yvonne after personally raising $21.5 million to capitalize the bank. He took the company public in 1997 and ultimately merged it with Zions Bancorporation in 2006, netting $1.7 billion for shareholders. Today, Amegy has more than $12 billion in assets, 2,000 employees, and more than 85 branches in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.
Johnson said he owes much of his success to the team around him, which includes Amegy President Steve Stephens, a member of the Bauer College Board.
“I have surrounded myself with self-starters,” Johnson said. “They have to be team players. We can’t be successful by ourselves.”
Success is better when it’s shared, he added, noting the importance of service and community engagement. Johnson has chaired many fundraising campaigns for Houston organizations, including Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, Star of Hope and the Boy Scouts of America, among others.
Johnson left the students with one last piece of advice — never quit learning.
“You can always improve your life. Never stop learning,” he said. “I’m 81 and have never stopped. Learning is fun. You learn from reading newspapers, meeting people, networking. You never stop.”
By Amanda Sebesta and Jessica Navarro