Doris Drain said she lives by the maxim “community success is our success,” which is why she chooses to involve herself with so many local organizations. Courtesy United Bank
Thirty-four years of service at the same bank have allowed Doris Drain to build a record of consistent, reliable leadership during times of prosperity and times of crisis.
Drain, who is vice president of commercial loans at United Bank, a position she has held since 1998 at the bank she joined in 1986, was named one of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 2020 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan in March, in large part due to her extensive community service and longtime leadership in the financial industry.
Raised in rural Northern Michigan as the descendant of Polish immigrants, Drain was the first person in her family to attend college. She received a B.S. in business administration with a minor in economics from Central Michigan University in 1982.
For several years after graduation, she worked as a credit report compiler for Dun & Bradstreet before landing her job at United Bank as a loan review clerk in 1986.
Drain worked her way into top leadership roles in the lending department during the past few decades, playing what she believes was a key role in growing the private bank’s assets from $100 million to between $650 million and $700 million today.
Based at 900 East Paris Ave. SE in Grand Rapids Township, United Bank started in 1887 as Wayland State Bank, moving its headquarters to Grand Rapids around 1980 and narrowing its focus to small business lending, although it does operate 12 branches that also serve personal banking customers, she said.
Believing that “community success is our success,” Drain is passionate about helping local businesses and entrepreneurs receive the resources they need to grow, whether through her work as a council member and coach with the West Michigan branch of Michigan Women Forward, through service with the Grand Rapids Rotary Club, or as a member of the loan-making committee for the racial equity lender Rende Progress Capital, which was founded in 2018 by Eric Foster and Cuong Huynh.
“I met Eric Foster through Local First. He was doing some diversity trainings for Local First and … he had a statistic that I think about 50% of people of color don’t even want to come through the door of a bank because they’re afraid they’re going to be turned down. They don’t feel like they’re going to be taken seriously. To me, this is so sad,” Drain said, adding this is what motivated her to join forces with four others at RPC to make loans to excluded entrepreneurs.
Drain’s nominator for the Influential Women award, Gwyn Harnish, her colleague of 33 years at United, said, “If something needs to be done, Doris doesn’t wait for someone else to do it; she takes action. She lives out one of her favorite quotes: ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world,’ by Mahatma Ghandi.”
Drain chuckled at the characterization but said what’s behind that is her belief that everyone has something to offer.
“I might be considered kind of bossy sometimes, but I am a take-charge person, and so I’m not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty,” she said. “I love volunteerism, not just boards, but committees and really hands-on opportunities. It’s how you meet and get to know other people, it’s a great way of expanding your network, and you really bond with people when you get down and dirty with others, doing tasks that benefit an organization.”
Drain spoke with the Business Journal during a flurry of activity at the bank’s headquarters. Employees scurried to put into place a “pandemic plan” that included moving to different office locations in the building so carpets could be cleaned, staff being asked to wipe down surfaces several times a day and to avoid close contact with others, including encouraging customers to take their business online as much as possible.
She said the pandemic response at United includes working in every way possible to get small business customers on a case-by-case basis the help they need during the COVID-19 outbreak. A March 16 executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer mandated the closure until at least March 30 of in-house dining at Michigan bars and restaurants, as well as theaters, casinos, gyms and other public spaces to prevent the spread of the virus — all of which is impacting small businesses.
As of press time, Whitmer was working to secure an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration for the state from the U.S. Small Business Administration, aimed at directing relief to small business owners.
Drain said she and her team at the bank, which is an SBA lender, will be directly involved in facilitating those applications for relief on behalf of small business customers if and when the funding comes through.
Meanwhile, Drain said she is taking a calm, non-emotional view of the crisis.
“You have to take precautions,” she said, “but you also can’t stop living. I and the bank are taking the proper precautions, but we will be here to help our customers.”
While “weirder” and more “unprecedented” than most crises the world has faced in the past few decades, Drain said the COVID-19 outbreak calls to mind other panics during her long career, such as the financial/housing crisis of 2008, during which time SBA borrowers were allowed to defer payments on existing loans for something like six months.
During that time, she said, United Bank was proud of the fact that it did not take any funding from the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), but rather worked closely with its customers to help them get through it.
“Not every (business) survived, and not (all of them) will survive this, unfortunately, but you do what you can to help,” she said.
That includes helping on a personal level, too.
“I will take the proper precautions and adhere to the rules and recommendations of our government, but there are still ways that I and everyone can serve others. If you know of someone who is not working right now, leave a bag of food and a package of toilet paper at their front door. If they have kids out of school, leave some games, puzzles and other kid-friendly activities,” she said. “Send an encouraging text to someone. Pay for the person in line behind you in the fast-food drive through. Order delivery from your favorite restaurant.”
Drain said she hopes she will be able to provide perspective, rationality and calmness amid the current pandemic.
“Just look at the financial crisis: We felt like the world was falling off a cliff, and this is kind of the same thing, only 10 times more magnified,” she said. “It will be interesting for me to watch how the world reacts and what happens — how this plays out. I am a person of faith, and I have a peace about it. I’m not going to freak out about anything, because I feel like God is in control, and so that gives me a great deal of peace.”
Drain said it was surprising and gratifying to be named among the region’s “50 Most Influential Women.”
“I’m still pinching myself. It blew me away when I got the email. I hope others follow my lead of getting involved in an organization with a cause that you’re passionate about. I know one person can’t change the world, but if we all did something, I think it would be a different place.”