The Last Time Firstrust Vice President Mort Kolman Sought Employment, James Tate Was Philadelphia Mayor and Richard Nixon Was President
In the current era of career pivots and midlife-crisis profession overhauls, Mort Kolman is a standout.
This banking-industry veteran has had but one employer over his 60-year career.
He is Vice President of Business Development at Firstrust Bank, which underwent some rebrandings over the decades but remains at its core the same institution that hired Kolman as an ambitious 20-something.
A Career Launched by Fate
Kolman got into the financial services industry by being the right guy at the right place at the right time.
“My mom was a widow,” Kolman recalled. “And we lived in the West Oak Lane section of Northeast Philadelphia.
“It was about a half mile from a Castor and Cottman branch of First Federal Savings and Loan. And my mom chose First Federal from three different banks on three corners there.
“The day after opening her account, she deposited a settlement check from a home we sold. And the day after that, she wanted to buy a car, so she went in to make a withdrawal against the check she had deposited the day prior.
“The teller told her the withdrawal would be denied, as the check hadn’t cleared yet.”
Kolman’s mother, seeking a way out of this conundrum, asked to speak to someone else in the bank who might help her.
“In a stroke of luck,” Kolman continued, “[bank founder] Samuel A. Green was there for the day, part of the regular visits he used to make, covering for branch managers who were out of the office visiting clients.”
In his encounter with Kolman’s mother, Green learned that she and shared had mutual friends from a prior neighborhood. The connection generated enough confidence in Green to give the Kolman matriarch the check-clearing approval she sought.
Green, finding Mrs. Kolman to be “such a nice lady,” offered employment to her son.
The Early Years
Kolman’s first position in the financial services industry was understandably nothing glamorous.
“They put me in the basement, filing things,” Kolman said. “Eventually, I worked my way up, and I stayed at that office for seven years.”
Advancement came via opportunities as a teller and then a head teller, then manager.
Kolman finally settled at the bank’s branch at 9309 Krewstown Road, Philadelphia, where he was part of a then-innovative approach to customer availability.
“We opened the Krewstown office inside a supermarket,” he said. “It was a very new thing to do.
“Before customers actually walked into the market, they had to pass our office,” he recalled.
The convenience made the branch very popular, even though it wasn’t as roomy as others in the chain. “I had two tellers and myself in like a 500-square-foot area,” Kolman laughed.
“But we exploded in there. We gave gifts — back then you could still do that, and we gave out luggage, flowers, statues … . You name it, we were giving it away.”
The freebies provided more than just foot traffic; they became a way of building relationships.
“I still deal with people who were coming in to get those things,” Kolman related.
Growth, Both Professional and Physical
Kolman expanded his knowledge base through continuing-ed training.
“Eventually, I went into commercial lending and got my security licenses so I could sell annuities and mutual funds.,” Kolman said.
As his product knowledge increased, so, too, did the customer base. And the influx of depositors and business-loan requestors required more square footage to serve them.
The branch eventually moved to another site in the same shopping center.
“We took an end cap,” Kolman explained, “so we could put in a drive-through.”
That increase in traffic — both on foot and by car — caused yet another expansion, the branch’s last. It now has ample space for depositors and borrowers, amenities like safety deposit boxes, and room for the growing staff.
Kolman quantified that increase: “I went from a staff of three, including me, to now about 10.”
The biggest testimony to the effectiveness of Kolman’s leadership and deep connectivity is the loyalty of his colleagues.
“I have a great team working with me these past many years, ranging in seniority from 40 years to five years,” he said.
The congenial work vibe that Kolman strives for and that staff responds to is one he cultivates purposefully.
“It’s like the show Cheers,” he explained. “When Norm used to walk into the bar, he’d say, ‘
‘Afternoon, everybody.’ And the staff answered back, ‘Norm!’
“That happens here. People come in. We have relationships. We’re dealing with second- and third-generation clients.”
Kolman also points out that those relational interactions are bidirectional. Customers supply loyalty; he recognizes that loyalty when it’s most needed.
“I have had some people that at one point were on my, what is called the NSF list — nonsufficient funds.
“I never want to bounce anyone’s checks.
“So I would call them at seven or eight in the morning and tell them, ‘If you come right in, your check won’t bounce today.’
“I do that because I know them. I have faith in them. And I help them as best I can.”
One guiding principle that Kolman has relied on greatly is a sentiment he cites as an “unofficial motto” at Firstrust: It’s not who’s right; it’s what’s right.
“That’s how we operate,” he said. “We can compromise. It’s in our culture. And the culture of this bank is second to none.”
As Kolman considers retirement (he plans to ease into it), he’s sure it will be his chance to dive even deeper into his extracurricular passion: Philadelphia sports.
“I’m a four-for-four,” Kolman said, meaning he’s a passionate follower of the:
“I live and die with every team,” he commented. “I love them all.”
Another upside, however, is the opportunity to spend more time with his wife.
“I’ve been married for 46 years,” Kolman revealed. “My wife is amazing because I worked a lot of long hours, and she never complained.”
He’s also looking forward to more pickleball.
It’s an apt substitute for his former sport of choice, baseball.
“I was playing [baseball] up until I was about 75 when my knee gave out. I’ve since had a hip replacement, too.
“But I’ll be 80 on June 6,” Kolman concluded. “And I love pickleball.”
Learn more about Firstrust Bank.
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