You have two options: You can either be the kind of person that meets adversity head on and makes things happen, or you can be the person that sits back and watches while others change the world. Fred Rusteberg ’68, president and CEO of IBC Bank in Brownsville, says he chose the first option years ago. Now, looking back on a long and successful career, he says there are at least four key elements young people need to focus on to develop their lives and careers: work ethic, attitude, hunger for success, and integrity.

A strong work ethic is something he learned growing up on a farm and also while serving in the Army. Right after finishing school (a finance degree from A&M and an MBA from Texas Tech University) he headed to Korea as a U.S. Army officer, where he spent six to eight hours a day in the cockpit of a helicopter. “One of the times that I dreaded the most turned out to be one of the more rewarding times of my life,” he said of his years in the service. As an officer, he also learned much about leadership. “I learned more at a young age than many of my peers did about how to manage people. It was a wonderful opportunity.”

“Success can be defined in many ways,” said Fred Rusteberg ’68, president and CEO of IBC Bank in Brownsville. “Over the years, it has been proven that success has less to do with super-talent and more to do with identifying an opportunity and being able to seize it.”

He had long dreamed of becoming a banker, but life had other plans for Rusteberg when he left the military. He settled his family in his hometown of Brownsville, Texas, amidst a serious recession, and despite his education and experience, he couldn’t find a job. Then his infant son developed serious health problems, requiring a lengthy hospital stay that wiped out their savings. “Sometimes we need adversity in our lives to help spur us on,” he says. “It makes you find your inner strength.” Rusteberg’s hunger for success was ignited by this challenge, as he explored every company in Brownsville looking for a job, despite loads of rejection.

Eventually, his son recovered and Rusteberg became the assistant director for the port authority of Brownsville—far from his original dream job, but he says it was a valuable parallel experience. The job required frequent trips throughout the Republic of Mexico and daily interactions in Spanish, both of which served him well when, years later, he was offered an opportunity as a lender in banking. Subsequently, he had the opportunity to start a branch of IBC bank in his hometown as President/CEO, where a majority of the customers were Hispanic.

“There’s no place to hide when you’re the CEO, especially of a start-up,” he said, recounting the management challenges he faced when he took on the position. “When you’re the CEO, people expect you to have all the answers, even if you don’t exactly have all the answers,” he said. The hours were long while, over time, he and his team helped create a great bank—one of his proudest career achievements. IBC-Brownsville, with 15 branches in Cameron County, is now celebrating its 25th anniversary of high-performance banking and service to the community.

As he grew the banks, his management, investing, and lending skills grew as well. One of the keys to getting your people to give their all to the company is ownership, says Rusteberg. That’s why his officers receive stock options, so that they have an ownership interest and commitment in improving every aspect of the bank, from a piece of litter in the lobby to portfolio and earnings performance.

Rusteberg proudly bragged on his bank: In the financial turmoil of 2009, 106 banks have closed in the U.S., and a further 400 are on the FDIC endangered list. His bank and company, however, are still highly profitable and have a spotless track record of safe lending and investing practices. In October 2009, his bank was recognized with the Gibraltar Award from the National Bankers Association for its strength and strategic investment practices through the years. His parent corporation (International Bancshares Corporation) was ranked #11 out of all U.S. banks by the American Bankers Association’s Banking Journal for its strength and prudent business practices.

Besides work ethic, attitude, and hunger for success, Rusteberg says he’s built his bank on integrity, and that’s one of the reasons it’s standing strong today. “I can’t over emphasize the importance of integrity, because integrity can never be compromised…customers and employees entrust their money, their businesses, and their future to us…If you violate that trust, you’re done, and if you show consistent integrity, together with the other necessary values, you will build a valuable franchise.”

“The privilege of a great education is accompanied with a great responsibility. You’re going to be trusted to do the right thing. And you can’t just do it once, you’ve got to do it consistently, all the time. Every day. There are going to be temptations in any business. But if you err on the side of being conservative and in doing the right thing, it always pays off positively for the long term.”
— Fred Rusteberg ’68

“One of the great values and traditions that is instilled at Texas A&M is the volunteer ethic: giving back, adding value to our business, our community, our world, and helping future generations coming up,” said Rusteberg. He stressed the importance of community involvement at IBC: he expects all of his officers to hold leadership roles in at least three community organizations. “We do more,” is the slogan of IBC Bank. It seems to be Rusteberg’s personal motto, too. He has held leadership roles in numerous groups dedicated to improving the community of Brownsville and the region, including co-founding the Brownsville Economic Development Council, and co-chairing the “Imagine Brownsville” Task Force, which created a comprehensive 10-year plan for the city. In addition to economic development, he is also active at the University of Texas-Brownsville, where he has provided scholarships and served on the development board for 14 years, three of those years as chairman. He has a vested interest in the region, as his grandfather moved there 103 years ago and his family has made a home there ever since, helping the international region to successfully develop.

His circle of service also includes Mays Business School. Rusteberg visited several classrooms on a recent visit to guest lecture, giving advice to the next generation of business leaders. “You’re very fortunate to receive a wonderful education. Now, what are you going to do with it?” he asked students. “You’re going to be successful, and at some point, you’ve got to share your knowledge. You’ve got to give back.”