Mike Brown: Life is heating up off the slopes for former downhill dare devil turned banker


Life is heating up off the slopes for former downhill dare devil turned banker.

By Alison Bailin Batz

North Valley business leader Mike Brown grew up in Liberal, Kansas.

“And it was anything but––liberal, that is,” says Brown. “But, our town was so crazed for skiing, a local ski club was formed with many of the residents, and they would actually charter planes to take the families to Colorado for a skiing vacation.”

Planes or not, Brown was never without his skis growing up––they were practically his second feet.

“As a result, I started skiing when I was 8 years old, which is pretty amazing for a kid from Kansas, and I continued my skiing career throughout college at Kansas State,” says Brown. “Eventually, however, it became clear that it was not going to pay my bills, so I put as much effort into my education and savings as I put onto my work on the slopes, even taking on a position overseeing an apartment complex in college with my wife so we could start our lives together.”

And while Brown and his wife moved to Dallas upon graduation, the nearby (ish) slopes of Colorado were always beckoning him. So, when an opportunity availed itself for he and his wife to move to Denver, they jumped at the chance.

While living in Colorado, the fresh powder-loving Brown––now also a banker––would even take on a role as a ski instructor at Copper Mountain with some very unique students.

“Oh, it is so not what you are thinking––ignore all those 80s ski patrol movies. My group was comprised of skiers 55-plus in age,” says Brown with a laugh. “The group, formally called the ‘Over the Hill Gang,’ was comprised of about 200 skiers ranging from beginners desiring to stay strictly on green runs, to expert skiers desiring to take on the entire mountain with me!”

Brown would also go on to teach another unique group about skiing––toddlers.

“My son started skiing at 17 months and was competitive through high school,” he says. “My daughter started at 2 years old and also competed. Both were active ski racers with the Copper Mountain ski team and the Summit ski team while we were still in Colorado, in fact,” beams the proud dad.

In teaching his passion, Brown actually learned several lessons himself, many of which he brings into the business world today as the first-ever Arizona regional president of Washington Federal, a bank celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and in the midst of opening its first-ever regional headquarters––a 10,000 square-foot-space that will house more than 40 team members and have its own branch within––right here in Scottsdale in October.

“First and foremost––what goes up, must come down,” says Brown, noting that on the slopes, you ride high, literally, on the chair lift only to speed down the hills, over and over again. “In business, there are ebbs and flows, and you have to be nimble to navigate both the times on that ‘chairlift’ on top of the world, as well as the times you are down at the bottom of the ‘mountain.’”

Also, according to Brown, skiing taught him to always devise a strategy––to create a roadmap of where you want and need to go. The same is critical in business. Brown’s road map in business, in fact, has helped the bank grow to among the top 10 largest in Arizona, with 31 branches, and counting.

“A final lesson, maybe the most important one, don’t be afraid to fall, whether it be on the slopes, in life, or in business,” says Brown.

This lesson came in exceptionally handy when Brown and his wife moved to Arizona (in 113 degrees, no less) in 2005.

“Just a few months into our new lives here, our house caught on fire while we were in it,” says Brown, who would fall hard after being thrown into the air from the power of the flames as they engulfed the house.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. But the Browns were temporarily homeless.

“We moved here so I could continue to build my banking career, and ended up needing to rebuild our entire lives,” says Brown, who would not only get up from that unexpected fall, but reach heights far higher than on any chairlift, including launching Washington Federal’s community outreach program in the area and donating more than $60,000 to local charities including Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Chicanos Por la Causa, and Habitat for Humanity so they could help Arizona families heal from their “falls” as well. “And we’re just getting started.”




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