An Interview with Torry Berntsen

Torry Berntsen, Chief Executive Officer, Americas and Head Corporate & Institutional Banking, Americas, Standard Chartered Bank

Published April 1st, 2018

What are you most looking forward to do when the weather warms up in the coming weeks?

Probably being outside, playing a bit more golf. I also like to walk home at night and clear my head. When it’s really cold out, it’s easy to skip it, but it’s very nice to walk through the city on a beautiful spring or summer night. Also, spending more time in the park during the week and working out there instead of the gym.


What book have you read recently that you’d recommend and why?

Leaders: Myth and Reality by General Stanley McChrystal. It profiles various leaders throughout time and studies their lives. Whether it’s Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr, Margret Thatcher, it’s interesting to see their stories and to explore how their leadership worked in practice.


How would you describe yourself in high school?

I would describe myself as someone who was reasonably studious but also a good enough basketball player that I would hang with the sports crowd. I think I could assimilate with everyone in school and I think that may have helped me.


Follow up: Did you think you would end up in Finance or were you going to be a basketball player?

Well, I knew basketball wasn’t going to be a long-term endeavor, so I went to the business school at NYU. I’m not sure why. Probably because others around me did and, honestly, I needed to get a job. My parents were immigrants. My dad worked on a tugboat. Neither went to college. So, I needed something that would set me off on the right foot to a steady career. Initially, I went into accounting. I have a competitive nature and a lot of the smart kids were going into accounting, so I wanted to do well in that. A lot of my guidance was more self-generated in those days and there was a lot of bumping into walls.


What advice do you give your children?

Some of my principles, which I share with them are:

  1. You want to observe the people you want to emulate. Look around and see who is doing what you want to do, professionally, but also in terms of how they comport themselves and behave. Take note of those people.
  1. You want to listen. You want to listen to people who know more than you and have valuable insight. You want to listen to where your organization is going. You want to listen to people all around you and try to get a complete picture.
  1. You need to be able to adapt. There’s a saying here that I think says it all, “Change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” When you observe and listen, you must be ready and willing to take that information and use it to do and be better.
  1. Explore – try different things. Find out: what is your best skill set? Do that; that’s what’s going to make you most successful. One of my biggest regrets is not having an overseas assignment. I tell my kids – what a great opportunity if it is a possibility!
  1. You’ve got to work hard. You know the Staples “Easy” button? I tell them there is no “Easy” button in life. And you have to work hard because as you move up the pyramid, things get more and more crowded and you have to set yourself apart.
  2. Live with integrity. You want to be proud of what you do and as you get more successful, people will be watching. One of our children passed away and, along with everything else, it made me think of how I could set an example in how I react and how I could handle that process with integrity. When we’re hired on at a company in a new position, IQ is the driving force, but when we develop our careers, our EQ becomes the overriding and more important aspect. Even with Einstein, reading how he interacted with other brilliant people and learned from them was really eye-opening in terms of understanding how that listening and interacting process continues even at that level.