Bank executive offers advice to MBA grads

Steve Gunderson, Western Colorado region president of U.S. Bank, talks with seniors in the MBA program at Mesa State College. Gunderson urged students to endorse the free-market system as well as become involved in their communities. (Business Times photo by Mike Moran)

In the midst of soft national and local economies, businesses have socked away an unprecedented 7 percent of their assets in cash.

While cash can help businesses that want to expand operations and hire more employees, uncertainty over government regulation continues to hamper expansion, said Steve Gunderson, Western Colorado region president of U.S. Bank. It’s no coincidence that nations rated the most free from regulation also tend to be the most productive and boast the highest standards of living, he added.

Gunderson made his comments during a reception to honor seniors in the master’s of business administration degree program at Mesa State College in Grand Junction. The reception capped off the annual MBA Research Day, when seniors presented final research projects to members of the faculty and public.

Gunderson said energy companies face a particularly difficult time when current regulations change and future regulations remain unknown. He compared negotiating the current regulatory climate to driving on a road with no speed limit signs only to encounter a police officer who writes a ticket for speeding.

In Colorado, energy companies have complained that stricter regulations designed to protect water and air quality have unduly added to the expense of operations. A company that secured an oil shale lease in Utah cited the friendlier business environment for choosing that state over Colorado.

Returning to the subject of high savings rates, Gunderson said businesses learned lessons from the housing market crash, in which a national policy to raise the homeownership rate led to loans for people who couldn’t make mortgage payments. Government-backed programs offered through the Federal National Mortgage Association and Federal Home Mortgage Corp. guaranteed loans. When borrowers defaulted, the load fell on taxpayers and investors in the secondary mortgage market. Add the changing regulations in the wake of the housing crash, and businesses hold on to cash. “There’s a lot uncertainty in the marketplace. That’s bad,” he said.

Gunderson told graduates they can help by endorsing a free-market system and helping others understand it. “The private sector is the strength of our society,” he said.

Gunderson cited a human development index as verification for his beliefs. Each year, the United Nation ranks countries from most to least free. “There’s a direct correlation. The most free countries perform the best. The least free countries perform the worst. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand human dynamics.”

While endorsing the free-market system, Gunderson acknowledged it’s not always the easiest choice. “It’s never going to be easy. It’s like you weight train. It’s the challenge, the resistance, that make you stronger.”

Beyond the workplace, Gunderson urged students to become involved in their communities and work with others to accomplish goals.

Gunderson serves as president of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Colorado Discover Ability boards and as a member of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Council for Economic Education boards. He also serves on the Northwest Colorado Bureau of Land Management Resource Advisory Council and a local organizing committee for the Quiznos Pro Challenge bicycle race and belongs to the Grand Junction Downtown Rotary Club.

“You’ll have all kinds of opportunities in your lifetime,” he said. “Be involved.”