In the small, picturesque town of Evansville, Indiana, things are abuzz at One Main Street. It’s the headquarters of Old National Bank, the same location where the financial institution first opened its doors in 1834.  

Old National Bank, the largest financial services bank holding company headquartered in Indiana and one of the top 100 banking companies in the U.S., has been known as an old-fashioned bank with a timely motto: put people first. The team wakes up every morning thinking about its clients and communities: how to support them better and care for one another, from the consumers who walk through its doors to its employees.  

“We’re going on 190 years of developing great relationships with our communities and our stakeholders and building a brand that emphasizes togetherness,” declares Roland Shelton, Old National Bank's chief strategic business partnership officer who focuses on providing capital to underserved communities and developing economic opportunities. “The company continues to stress 'people taking care of our people' and working together as a team.”  

That was shown as soon as EBONY touched down to interview Shelton, Old National Bank’s first African American C-suite executive. A congregation of Old National Bank employees and their alliances embraced our team, from meeting with new Black c-suite executives like Corliss Garner, chief DE&I officer, SVP, and board of director member Derrick Stewart, an executive with the YMCA retirement fund, to sitting down for breakfast and breaking bread with the bank’s chairperson and CEO Jim Ryan.  

With Shelton leading the charge, Old National Bank has been reaching out to a diverse clientele and impacting communities of color over the years. 

Old National Bank's CEO Jim Ryan and C-Suite Exec Roland Shelton
Old National Bank's Jim Ryan and Roland Shelton. Image: Old National Bank.

“While we're 190 years old, we've transformed ourselves in the last few years, and Roland has been a big part of that,” Ryan shared with EBONY. 

"We would have the opportunities to make loans, particularly in the minority business community, and they wouldn't fit the traditional mold of a loan application. I wanted someone we could put in charge of running a special loan program focused on underserved communities and populations and make it easier for them to do business with us. Roland has put a handful of leaders in place to execute this across our footprint ... He has always been a phenomenal cultural ambassador for the company." 

In this EBONY exclusive with Shelton, the executive explains several of the bank's biggest initiatives to help Black Americans and other BIPOC populations find ways to build generational wealth in 2024 and beyond. 

EBONY: Many exciting things are happening at Old National Bank in 2024. Let's start with the MDI, a big passion project of yours: building the first Black-owned bank in Indianapolis. 

Roland Shelton: Minority depository institutes—MDIs—offer an opportunity to work with underserved communities and serve the people through an institution run by those who look like themselves. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (which safeguards a diverse banking system that makes financial services accessible to underserved consumers and areas) has encouraged banks to get more involved with MDIs, so we decided to be major investors. We started with the CEO Council, a group of mainly minority emerging leaders working on the project for a year and a half, who learned how to start a bank and provide the platform for Rafael Sanchez, our chief impact officer and market president in Indianapolis, to move forward with the project. I'm excited about the impact this will have in Indianapolis. And we will eventually look at expansion in other markets. 

Starting the MDI will lead to better financial opportunities in that community. Old National Bank also offers an online program to help people across the nation improve their financial literacy. 

Ben Joergens, our financial empowerment program director, leads that effort, which, at every level, educates you on your financial abilities and areas like saving and understanding the banking system. We craft the whole educational process around financing and helping individuals, even those about to exit incarceration, who will now be starting their lives over with an understanding of finances. It's a great platform for us, and it continues to grow. 

Why is it so important for the Black community to be financially literate? 

Our community has struggled with understanding credit and the capital aspect of saving. Historically, it’s a trend that has hampered the community. Understanding financial literacy—your household income, savings and investing—can help create the generational wealth needed to change someone's life and the outcome of their family.  

Do you have any tips on how to start a successful financial plan? 

Control your expenses and don't overextend. It's nice to want to get certain items, but if they don't fit your financial focus, don't invest in something that will create great debt. Then, build off that. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a very disciplined process, and it takes time to build that generational wealth. 

Building generational wealth is also about entrepreneurship. How is Old National Bank helping Black entrepreneurs succeed on that front? 

We’ve created the empowerment small business loan program, with loans up to $5 million. We have a credit team that can review those opportunities. Economic success and generational wealth start with creating jobs and employment opportunities for people and working to build generational investment opportunities and the network they need. The empowerment loan program has generated more than $30 million in loans in its first year, providing access to capital to women and minority businesses. It's wonderful to see the changes it makes in an organization, its people and their communities. 

Old National Bank has expanded its supplier diversity program. Why is this initiative so important, and how successful has it been? 

Working with diverse suppliers, that’s women and minority businesses with 51% or more ownership, and knowing that creates job opportunities, partnerships and great services for the bank is amazing for Old National Bank. We have $50 billion in assets and that platform has grown because our footprint has grown. To see a woman- or minority-owned business benefit from working with us, how we help these businesses get the certifications they need through a program under the leadership of Kawn Watters, it’s all of us working together to drive economic strength, empowerment and community. Right now, we are succeeding in our eligible spend goal significantly. 

Old National Bank has extensive outreach to its communities, but it's also building leaders of color within the bank through its C-suite training program. 

Jim Ryan talked to me about creating a training program focused on minority mid-level executives getting experiences and development that can help them grow and stretch. And the CEO Council was created. Bringing in executives from all lines of business, involving them in project work, training and development, and letting them experience mentorship from the executive leadership team and understand the expectations is phenomenal. I've been to other organizations, and I've never seen anything quite like it in terms of training and getting the exposure you need to prepare for C-suite opportunities. 

What was the career path that led you to your C-suite position? 

It was unorthodox. I started in corporate sales with Campbell's Soup Company, worked a little while with Coca-Cola, branched off into manufacturing with Philip Morris and then spent a long time with General Motors. I also worked in the higher-ed space and fundraising. It wasn't a clear path to banking. I came here as the executive business development officer, and I did Old National Bank’s leadership program several years ago. I tell people all the time that there are transferable skills in leadership, no matter where you're at. You don't have to stay in one place to be able to benefit a company. I was very blessed to be in the right place and have the right skill set. 

You are the first African American in a C-suite position at Old National Bank. How did it feel to earn that visibility? 

I never thought it would happen in my career. And when it happened here, reporting to our chairperson and CEO and working with a dynamic group of executives at the top of their game in the field, I was blown away. My mother was still alive at the time, and she was so extremely proud. To be the first is great and very humbling. There is also accountability and expectations around that. I know that others have helped me through the process. I've had great mentors and sponsors. It's now my responsibility to do that. It's important to reach back and help bring people to the next level. It’s a great honor and a great responsibility. 

What are some leadership qualities a C-suite, and just a great human being, should have? 

Be authentic: be who you are. Understand the level of accountability and responsibility in your role. Understand that you represent not only the work that you're doing but the company, your shareholders, the community and others who are willing and want to climb in their careers. They're watching as well. You need ethics, integrity and flexibility. Understand the culture you’re in, the differences and people, and keep growing your network. Old National Bank has been a life-long journey, an opportunity to be my best with the best, and a platform to create unimaginable opportunities for our community and people. It's a blessing to use my abilities and skills and be supportive. Every day, I wake up thinking this is unbelievable. God has provided this opportunity. And it's my responsibility to do the best job every day.