Antonio Guillen: Capitalizing on Opportunities
Story By: Steve PenHollow
When Antonio Guillen, currently a senior vice president at Wintrust Bank in Chicago, was in his late teens, he was awarded a “full ride” to cover the cost of attending the University of Illinois.
He intended to spend the summer before his freshman year relaxing, but Guillen’s mother had other ideas.
Guillen said his Mexican-born parents believed in the value of hard work and they tried to push him.
“Typical of immigrant families, my parents did not have a lot of education,” he said. “In fact, my mother went to school one or two years and my father, three or four. They grew up on a ranch. So it was always about work. That was the hard work ethic that they instilled in us.”
Guillen’s mother told her mathematically inclined son to go to the bank where his sister was employed and see if there was any work for him. A hiring manager at the Chicago financial institution, Cosmopolitan National Bank, told him that they did indeed have the makings of a summer job.
“She said, ‘We’ll give you some summer work,’” he recalled. “Bookkeeping department; all kind of simple, customer service things. I said, ‘OK, sure.’”
Within a few weeks of working there, Guillen was asked to fill in for a longtime employee who had departed.
“They showed me, trained me,” he said. “And in no time, I was finished. Done. And she’s like, ‘You’re finished?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she said, ‘It took what’s-her-name forever to do this.’”
Guillen mastered successive responsibilities and he quickly went from “go-fer” to must-have. Guillen said he appreciated the increasingly complex work because he likes challenges.
“You can find mistakes and dig out what happened and ‘Why is this not balancing?’” he said. “I said, ‘I like this!’ and she said, ‘You like this?’”
When it came time for him to start school, his employers convinced him to delay his start date until January.
“That was a turning point,” he said, “because I didn’t go back to school.’”
The bank managers moved Guillen into the loan department because they believed his sunny disposition was ideally suited to working more directly with customers. He started taking night classes, working toward a certificate in lending and administration.
Guillen did not want his classwork to interfere with his job because he was getting as much education working the latter as he was doing the former.
“I was going to school at night and I was going to school at work,” he said. “Because everybody else was mentoring me.”
Guillen said he was taught every aspect of the bank’s business.
Guillen eventually had offers on the table from Wintrust Bank and Northern Trust, a financial services company. Wintrust won out, for reasons that had more to do with idealism than compensation.
“Wintrust definitely showed the interest and desire in backing up what we say and that was, you know, be community oriented; that we were going to grow in Chicago,” he said. “Commitment to diverse markets, which is something that Wintrust has demonstrated for five years that I've been here. It was a great choice for me to end up with Wintrust. Another blessing!”
By far, Wintrust’s biggest accomplishment in the years since Guillen came on board has been “living up to what we say are,” he said.
“We are definitely community oriented,” he said. “I don't think anybody out there can knock us and say, ‘Oh no, they're not. They say they are, but they're not.’ We definitely are. We’re relationship driven, without a doubt. I think the clients that we have see Wintrust as that institution.”
As important as community-oriented banking is to him, Guillen said his family (a wife and five kids) has always come first.
“I work hard and put in a lot of hours,” he said. “But I always try to balance out the time I give them. I made a point not to miss anything. I would put the things they were involved in as appointments in my calendar and tell my colleagues, ‘Hey, I’ve got to be there.’”