Longtime banker Dean Massey plans to close books on 35-year career

Dean Massey of Wells Fargo Bank calls the sculpture “Chrome on the Range” his favorite buffalo. The sculpture stands outside the north door to the bank at Fourth and Main streets. Massey will retire at the end of August after a 35-year banking career.

To understand what put the nation in the deep financial hole it now occupies, analysts needn’t look much further than the five “C’s” of credit.

Practically all of them were ignored in the rush to offer credit in the run-up to the near-collapse, said Wells Fargo Bank western Colorado Regional President Dean Massey.

“The country got what it asked for,” Massey said.

Borrowers who asked for and received loans far larger than they ever could repay, the lenders who gave them the money, the investors who knew better but did nothing, lawmakers who took no action, and so on ...

“There’s enough blame to go around,” Massey said, surveying downtown Grand Junction from his second-floor office overlooking Main Street.

It’s not as though he has never seen anything like this in his 35 years, a career that Massey, 58, has decided will come to an end in August, in the bank where it began when longtime Grand Junction banker Herb Bacon decided to hire the “cowboy from Unaweep Canyon” to be a teller.

That was back in 1975, just as an ill-fated oil-shale boom was building up.

Massey went from telling to installment loans, what the bankers now call consumer lending.

“That meant I became the collector and repo guy,” Massey said. “If you can survive that, you can survive anything.”

Including the oil shale bust.

Massey had just moved into commercial lending “when 1982 happened,” he said, referring to the collapse of the West Slope economy when Exxon pulled out of the Colony Project in Garfield County.

That put the region into a depression that lasted 10 years, he said.

In 1992, John Stumpf, now CEO of Wells Fargo and Co., but then Massey’s boss at Norwest, asked him to move to Denver to be the chief credit officer, promising Massey he could return to western Colorado in two years.

A dozen years later, “He said, are you ready to go home?”

Massey was.

On the wall by Massey’s desk is a photo of Grand Junction and the Wells Fargo office in the Reed Building almost directly across the street from where he now sits. The photo was taken as the Grand Army of the Republic marched down Main Street back in 1910.

His family’s western Colorado roots, though, go back to 1895, and he spent his early years in Gateway. His father moved to Grand Junction, and he graduated from Grand Junction High School and Mesa College and then from higher-level banking schools such as the graduate school of banking at the University of Wisconsin.

Bacon, who shepherded the bank at Fourth and Main streets through several ownership changes — and can share stories about the days when the bank was flanked by bars where borrowers frequently could be seen fleeing through the back door as bankers walked in the front, looking for them — said Massey “has been a key cog in this operation” from then until now.

Over his four decades of banking, Massey has seen the business transform from one restrained by the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited commercial banks from collaborating with brokers or participating in investment banking, to one more free to serve individual consumers in a range of ways.

The repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 was the biggest change he saw and it freed banks to do more, Massey said.

“We can absolutely do more for consumers,” he said.

His experience over four decades saw the rise of ATMs, then the debit card and now online banking, Massey said.

The lobby below might have only five customers, but the bank is busy, responding to the pulse of electronic banking by multiple means, even Twitter.

“It has been an incredible run,” he said.

As he prepares to retire, Massey is one of two employees — the other is Donna Johnson — who was there when the building was built.

He still remembers his phone jangling off the hook in those days, not from callers, but from the rattling of foundation pilings being jammed into the ground for the foundation.

Like the foundation that underlies the bank, those five Cs of credit — character, conditions, capital, collateral, capacity —  still need to underlie the credit business, Massey said.

He adds a sixth, though: competition.

As in a banker with another company is a “nice guy ... for a competitor.”

The idea “is to put the other guy out of business and that’s just what I set out to do” over his 35 years, Massey said.

When he retires from the fray, Massey said, he’ll follow the advice of a former Wells Fargo chairman, Dick Kovacevich, and do absolutely nothing for six months.

He does own a cabin in Fairplay, where he entertains his three daughters and four grandsons and a granddaughter due to arrive about the same time he takes his leave.

He plans, though, to remain in western Colorado.

After all, he and his wife, D.Ann Hickman Massey, “have deep, deep roots in Grand Junction.”


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