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Large business leader: Daniel J. Schrider of Sandy Spring Bank

Daniel J. Schrider has steered Sandy Spring Bank through crisis once before.

He became president and CEO of the Olney-based bank in 2009, after working there for 20 years, just as the housing crisis sent the economy into recession and left some banks suffering from capital woes as real estate loans soured.

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Sandy Spring emerged stronger than ever and grew rapidly, becoming a bank with $12.7 billion in assets spanning from the Maryland suburbs of Washington to Towson.

His experience helped prepare him for 2020 when the coronavirus precipitated both a health crisis and an economic one that disrupted how everyone lives and works. Yet the bank’s employees appreciate not just Schrider the businessman, but Schrider the person.

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“He truly cares about each employee, and his collected and down to earth nature is a breath of fresh air,” said one.

“The president is very connected to the employees,” added another. “He sends emails that seem like he is talking to you personally, some that have brought tears to my eyes.”

Schrider took some time to answer a few questions about how the pandemic has affected the bank and his leadership:

How has coronavirus impacted your workplace?

In March, we transitioned the majority of our employees to telework in a matter of days, and our branch and support staff implemented new safety protocols overnight. It all happened so fast, but our team never missed a beat.

As a community bank, the pandemic created a scenario where our clients needed us more than ever. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was a lifeline for over 5,000 of our small business clients — and those clients are the lifeblood of our local economy. We were also preparing to welcome over a hundred new employees to the company through our acquisition of Revere Bank.

While COVID-19 was extremely disruptive, it brought us together because there were two clear tasks at hand: Help our clients and keep everyone safe. We completed our acquisition without delay and we connected our clients to more than $1 billion in relief funding, supporting over 112,000 jobs.

With 80% of our non-branch personnel still remote and strict adherence to the CDC’s guidelines at our offices, we are still feeling the impact of the pandemic. We demonstrated our resilience early on, though, and I am so proud of how our people continue to take care of our clients and each other.

What are you doing to maintain your workplace culture in an age of virtual meetings, social distancing and closed offices?

Communication is critical. Since we were preparing to integrate Revere Bank into Sandy Spring Bank, we already had a steady stream of messaging to all employees. When COVID-19 became a factor, we turned up the dial. For over five months, I sent a personal message to our employees every Monday. I used that platform to share new updates, provide encouragement, and commend the team’s heroic efforts. A member of our executive team continues to share a message every week, so that people feel connected to our leadership and what is happening around the company. We also created a space on our intranet where employees can connect with their colleagues virtually by sharing recipes, images from home, funny stories, etc.

It is equally as important, though, to listen to what our employees are telling us. We have conducted surveys to gauge how our people are feeling and what they need. Our culture and our company will only succeed if our people have the ability to take care of themselves and their families. From a COVID-19 hardship leave to mental health resources, we have created several new benefits and tools to support our people.

What have you learned about your workplace that you did not know, or perhaps did not appreciate, pre-COVID?

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I have always believed that our employees are some of the most dedicated individuals. Time and time again, my colleagues give so much of themselves for our clients, communities and each other. During the pandemic, though, our team has taken that commitment to a new level by adjusting to a new work environment, continuing to juggle personal and family demands, and doing everything possible to help our clients through what may be the most difficult season of their lives.

It was amazing to watch people across our company engage remotely to develop the processes and technology needed to help over 5,000 clients access federal relief through the PPP. The collaboration, around-the-clock effort and innovation that our team put forward demonstrated how much our people care for those we serve. The feedback from our clients also reflects what I have come to know: our people are terrific.

How has the pandemic and related issues tested you as a leader?

We are a very relationship-driven organization. We strive to create an emotional connection with our colleagues and clients, because people are at the heart of everything we do. That is why I got into banking and stayed at Sandy Spring Bank for over 30 years. A big part of how I lead is by getting to know people, and I can’t tell you how much I miss the informal conversations. I love hearing about everyone’s kids and grandkids, the trip of a lifetime someone is planning, a big race they’re training for, or someone’s talent or passion that I never knew about. Understanding what is happening in someone’s life and what they care about helps me be a better leader, but those conversations don’t happen as organically with teleworking and social distancing. I am still trying to figure it out and to be more intentional about connecting during these strange times, because those personal interactions are more important than ever.

What are the lessons you and your organization have learned from the coronavirus?

We have long encouraged everyone at Sandy Spring Bank to practice empathy, but the pandemic has required every one of us to live it out daily. Everyone’s situation is unique and deeply personal. The pandemic is impacting everyone, but in different ways and at different times. You never know what someone is going through or how they are experiencing life right now, so we are learning together to listen and give grace.

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