In an ideal world, Aaron Ryan would be a ballplayer.
“I certainly didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a banker,” said Ryan, sitting at a conference table in a San Diego high-rise.
However, when an injury ended his baseball career midway through college, Ryan immersed himself in work. He went from bank teller to progressively higher positions, eventually landing his current role: region manager for J.P. Morgan Chase.
Ryan and his wife are settling in to a new home in North County. They have two children.
Ryan still follows baseball and he loves to surf, particularly the North Jetty area near Oceanside Harbor.
He met with the San Diego Business Journal earlier in March. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic started affecting our everyday lives. I felt Ryan ought to offer his thoughts on this issue.
“We are facing unprecedented and extraordinary times as we grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak globally and in our communities,” Ryan said. “Our clients are looking for guidance, and we’re reaching out to companies to ensure they have what they need to weather any disruptions to their business and to provide guidance on resiliency planning. It’s imperative that we deliver for our customers, employees and each other.
“As a firm, we also just announced a $50 million global philanthropic commitment to address the immediate public health and long-term economic challenges from the COVID-19 global pandemic. The funds will support communities and people hit hardest by this public health crisis. We all have a responsibility to help our communities stand strong and recover.”
What follows is the original interview, which has been edited for length and for clarity.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a San Diego native, born and raised in San Diego. My parents live in Oceanside. My wife is from Vista. We both graduated from Vista High School.
We were really excited about the opportunity to come home to San Diego. We are parents of two little ones, so the grandkids are close to their grandparents.
For the last 20 years I worked and lived in Orange County. I went to college playing baseball on a scholarship. I spent two years at Chapman College. I transferred to Long Beach State, where I graduated. I spent the last 20 years in Orange County with another financial firm. I was pleased to get the opportunity to join J.P. Morgan Chase in San Diego; I could return home to San Diego and lead the market.
San Diego County is different from Orange County. What are the common threads?
The Southern California economy in general is a great market to be in. There is a lot of energy and a lot of opportunities in the economy with the technology sector. Both Orange County and San Diego tap into that. The quality of life and the community attract talented people, likeminded people. It’s a good place to raise a family and build a career.
How is Chase pursuing its business objectives?
The client is at the center of everything we do. We deliver a compelling product. For me that product is the people.
I started my career as a teller. It shaped my perspective. I rotated through lending, small business and various leadership roles. I learned the importance of a connection with customers.
My [current] role is regional manager of middle market banking. That is businesses with $20 million to $500 million in revenue. Other areas are branches, business banking under $20 million and corporate clients, investment banking clients.
It is a great space. You can really see and make a difference with customers, locally held San Diego companies. They don’t get highlighted enough. It’s that area where we can really make a difference.
Chase has received attention for its charitable work. “60 Minutes” did a profile on CEO Jamie Dimon and an initiative to rebuild Detroit recently. I understand you have a program in San Diego.
That’s the Advancing Cities program; here it is called Advancing San Diego. With a $3 million, three-year grant, it is a program to make the workforce well positioned to move into the next jobs that the next generation of middle market companies are creating. We are working with the San Diego Economic Development Corp. It’s exciting for me to be part of that initiative. I think it really speaks to the growth potential of this city.
We are working closely with the EDC on several initiatives. MetroConnect, with the World Trade Center San Diego, helps businesses access foreign markets for exports as well as sourcing for new suppliers. It will make sure San Diego is growing and thriving in a competitive global market.
Who do you feel is your biggest competitor in the San Diego market?
I think everybody is our competitor. I think traditional and nontraditional [financial institutions]. Here’s a data point. In 2019, J.P. Morgan spent $11 billion on a digital technology investment. It shows you the firm’s commitment to remaining relevant, providing clients with relevant tools to manage their businesses.
In cybersecurity and safety, at the end of the day, we’re handling sensitive information. It’s important that clients feel safe. The firm is investing in staying ahead of the game.
Tech companies are going into the banking sphere. The competition isn’t always another bank. That’s the reality we’re in today. It is evolving rapidly. If we were not thinking about the nontraditional competitor, we wouldn’t be doing our best to serve our clients.
It is as competitive as it ever has been. That is good for companies. At the end of the day, decision makers at companies choose people and relationships.
For me it’s about the next 20 years. I take a long-term approach. That doesn’t get enough attention. I look at the 100-year plan — the long-term, sustainable strategy. What’s got me really excited to come home to San Diego is the next 20 years. It’s what lies ahead.
Tell me about your first job.
It was bagging groceries at Ralphs in Oceanside.
What about baseball? What position did you play?
I played travel ball starting at age 11 and I played until I was 21. I played all positions; I was primarily a pitcher and first base. After two years [in college], I got hurt. I tore a ligament in my elbow. I faced Tommy John surgery.
I threw hard. My thing is I could throw really hard.
What did you learn the most from playing baseball?
I learned things that apply today: Preparedness. How you carry yourself. Dealing with adversity. Fortitude and the need to keep moving forward.