Mentoring Matters with Jeff McGruder

Jeff McGruder is the chief relationship officer for Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Company. With over 20 years of experience in the finance industry, Jeff has valuable insight on what it takes to get to the top, the importance of seeking out mentorship and how to be a servant leader. He says, "Mentorship is really more about humbling yourself to get on the same level as your mentee, see through their lenses and walk through life with them." Read more about how mentorship has impacted Jeff's journey.

Jeff McGruder is a respected leader in the finance industry with over 20 years of experience and has a passion for community service. He’s a Nashville native and went to school at Lipscomb University and the University of Tennessee. After graduation, he started his first entry-level job at Wells Fargo in Knoxville, Tennessee and quickly worked his way up. Jeff has taken on various roles throughout his career, including credit underwriter, sales manager, business banker, private banker, financial advisor and more.

Recently, he joined Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Company as the chief relationship officer and a member of their new leadership team. The bank has a goal to be part of the growth and gentrification of the North Nashville community, a neighborhood Jeff grew up in.

Jeff has a passion for teaching financial literacy to clients and the community at large. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for KIPP Academy Nashville. He’s been an active volunteer and community partner with several other organizations, including CE McGruder Family Resource Center, Williamson County Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Franklin, Boy Scouts of America, KIPP Academy Nashville, WPLN Nashville Public Radio, Nashville ProAm Basketball League Hustlestrong Foundation.

From a young age, mentorship has played a crucial role in Jeff’s life. As a young executive in the finance industry, he learned how to seek out the support he needed to be successful and effectively lead others following a similar path. We had the opportunity to speak with Jeff about how mentorship has impacted his journey and why he thinks it’s so important.

Jeff will be a Guest Mentor for our upcoming event Mentoring Matters. Click here to learn more about the event and purchase tickets to his virtual table.

How has mentorship impacted your journey?

I’ve had many mentors in my life, and I learned to identify them early on because I grew up in a family of service and a family that prided themselves around education. And with that, you typically will build an infrastructure to have people you’re supporting. Some of my biggest mentors have been the people I met through church, Boy Scouts and playing sports and they exemplified this support system for me at a young age.

When I got my first job and went to college, I always understood that my job was not only to follow instructions but also to look for ways to develop a baseline for when it’s my turn to lead. Every place I go, my goal is to lead. I always start from scratch, but the mindset is, if you have enough experience in anything, you’re going to become a leader naturally. I’ve always understood that, but I typically humbled myself enough to seek the mentorship first, then walk through the process of becoming a mentor.

Why do you think mentorship is important?

It’s critical on both sides. As a mentee, it’s critical to seek mentorship. The mentee has a responsibility to take action to seek out mentorship and have enough humility to ask someone in an elder or a senior position to walk you through whatever it may be. But mentors and mentees should always walk alongside one another because the mentor can learn just as much from the mentee. They keep you humble and help you realize where you are and that you still probably have a long way to go. So, I think both sides have just as much work to do to make the relationship successful.

How has your experience as a mentee informed your approach as a mentor in your professional life?

When I went to grad school, I read a book called The Servant by James Hunter. And it was one of the books that I’ve always understood. I mentioned it in the last question around a mentor’s responsibility to not give introductions top-down. It talks about a paradigm shift of love leadership in which you start with love first. You start at the bottom of whatever pyramid that you’re in and work your way up. Having been a mentee myself, it taught me the humility around mentorship. Mentorship is really more about humbling yourself to get on the same level as your mentee, see through their lenses and walk through life with them.

What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has given you and why?

My grandfather was my biggest mentor and he passed five years ago. He was a gynecologist at Meharry for 40 years. He birthed every person in North Nashville. I couldn’t go into a grocery store without someone mentioning that when they had given birth, he was their doctor. He gave me a lot of advice growing up about finances, real estate, faith and all sorts of things. The biggest thing that I’ll always keep in mind is him telling me, “Don’t get slick.”

In college, knowing I had a sports management major and finance minor, he would send me these Wall Street articles about these white-collar crooks that were going to jail cause he was worried about me getting into the same trouble due to the big temptation for folks in my industry. He told me to do things the hard way and appreciate the journey of the struggle to get to where you want to be. It’s something that I always tell young bankers, when I say, “Don’t get slick,” it’s also about not cutting corners, taking your time and enjoying the process to get to your ultimate goal.

What would you tell your younger self?

Go slow. I got some great advice coming into this role as an executive of a bank for the first time. I had been in middle management and banks, but as an executive, I’m the last call. And I’m young to be an executive in this industry, especially African American and young, that adds a lot to it in banking.

As I was new to this role seeking information from Pinnacle, who’s a partner that works with us on a lot of different initiatives, I asked one of my mentors at Pinnacle, Rob Mckay, for advice. He told me to go slow. And that’s what I would tell my younger self as I was getting into new endeavors and making mistakes because I didn’t read something well enough or take the time to write an extra sentence to make something better. Just go slow.

Jeff McGruder is serving as a Guest Mentor for our upcoming event Mentoring Matters, a professional group mentoring event taking place virtually on September 22 from 5:30 PM – 6:30 PM. At this event, you’ll have the unique opportunity to spend an hour with Jeff or another successful industry leader of your choice. All proceeds go to supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee’s programs and services.

Buy tickets to secure your spot today at