Stephen Rotella – President of StoneCastle Partners

Focus on what the customer wants, not what you think they want and keep it as simple as possible. Listening is a big part of it; listen to customers and the people who are closest to them in your company.

As President of StoneCastle Partners, LLC, Stephen Rotella has direct responsibility for the day-to-day management of the company, as well as setting strategy and direction, with the partners of the firm. During his tenure at StoneCastle, Stephen has been instrumental in building the company’s cash management products and services. Under his leadership, StoneCastle Cash Management, LLC., has become an industry leader in cash management solutions for institutions and funding alternatives for community and regional banks.

Stephen brings over 30 years of strategic and operating leadership in banking and financial services to StoneCastle, with deep experience in retail and internet banking, marketing, organizational development, product innovation and large-scale operations management. He spent 18 years at JP Morgan Chase where he was CEO of Chase Home Finance, the fourth largest home lender in the country, and a member of the Executive Committee.

Stephen has been active in community organizations throughout his career with a keen interest in serving the underprivileged, boosting home ownership and the arts. Stephen is the Chair of the Board of Lift Communities, a national organization that is working to break the cycle of poverty for parents with young children. He was previously on the Boards of The Seattle Foundation, ArtsFund, Youthcare and Ballet Met. Stephen lives in New York City and holds a BA in Economics and MBA in Information Systems/Finance from the State University of New York.

Where did the idea for StoneCastle come from?

I joined StoneCastle (SC), when it was a smaller but highly, entrepreneurial business and it had a relatively new idea about connecting investors looking for safe ways to “park” cash and earn a decent return by using technology to weave together hundreds of community banks. The idea grew out of the fact that there are about 7000 banks all over the country and if you use technology to “link: them you can deliver value to them and various client groups. When I joined SC, that idea had $100mm in assets; today, about $11 billion.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m a morning person; up at 530 to 6, in the gym four mornings, then a solid breakfast and walk the dog in Central Park. I am zealous about always having a “to do” list; I work it every day. When I get in, I get ready for the day and focus on no more than 3 major initiatives at any one time and various near term tasks that need to be knocked off. Most important is to stay focused on our people with informal discussions, walking around, asking questions and other interactions. I learn a lot from them.

How do you bring ideas to life?

If an idea merits attention; (some don’t), I like to get a small group of smart folks with different opinions to weigh in, then set a path and high level plan. Then it’s an iterative process until there is enough meat on the bones to start executing.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

AI, robotics, bots of all kinds. I am not an expert in that space, but I can see the incredible power, if used properly, for all sorts of ways to deliver more and better services.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Simplicity is a virtue; staying focused on a minimally viable product or service.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Without naming names, the worst was due to the manager not the content of the job; he was highly political and treated people poorly, leading to lots of conflict. Life is too short to work with folks like that and culture is critical. It makes me want to do the most I can to make our work environment a good one.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I don’t believe in looking backwards; it’s not productive. I’ve had some setbacks and when that happens, you just have to pick yourself up and point yourself forward.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Constantly prioritize the most valuable resource I and my team have, our time, towards the highest and best use for our customers and stakeholders

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Focus on what the customer wants, not what you think they want and keep it as simple as possible. Listening is a big part of it; listen to customers and the people who are closest to them in your company.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We bought a little business that was really cool, but it was a stadium looking for players. We assessed the potential, then cut our losses and turned in another direction. You can’t fall in love with a business or product; you just need to be agnostic and move on sometimes.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

It was more than $100, but after the election, my family and I decided to minimize holiday materialism and give to organizations that can do good in areas like the environment, justice, women’s rights and poverty alleviation. It felt great and we still had wonderful holidays.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I am not a big reader of business books; I find that too many “experts” make things seem more complicated than they are or need to be. An oldie but goodie, even if the companies have gone through much change is “Good to Great”; the principles hold up. But I suggest reading books that take you outside the business world and expand your horizons; we spend enough time in that space.