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Bob Rivers, Chair and CEO of Eastern Bank

Get to Know: Bob Rivers, Chair and CEO of Eastern Bank

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Get Konnected!’s “Get to Know” series explores the mentors that attend its bi-monthly networking events and make them possible. Learn more about what these Boston-area working professionals like to do in their free time, their career paths, and what mentoring means to them.

As Chair and CEO of Eastern Bank, Bob Rivers strives to improve opportunities for individuals in the Boston community—beginning within his own company. Under his leadership, Eastern’s board has increased to over 50 percent women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.

However, Rivers cannot make social change in Boston happen on his own and Eastern Bank was a founding partner of Get Konnected!, Boston’s premier inclusive multicultural business networking forum. Together, Rivers and Get Konnected! have worked to make the city a more diverse and inclusive community.

On the favorite part of his job at Eastern Bank. It’s the diversity of it, the opportunity to get involved in all aspects of the business and because of our resources and commitment to volunteerism, philanthropy, and advocacy get involved in the community with a respect to a number of things there as well.

On how his personal motto “The right thing to do is also the smart thing to do” relates to Eastern’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. ‘Right’ and ‘smart’ really go back to our founding 200 years ago. It’s the basic principles that we were founded upon back in 1818 and it carries forward today. With respect to diversity and inclusion, it is not only the right thing to provide equal access and opportunity to all people, but also it is the smart thing. Having a more diverse leadership team and group of employees leads to better decisions. Our overall objective for diversity and inclusion is to develop the most robust collective thinking that you can have in times that are more rapidly changing than ever before and you’re being faced with more complex decisions.

On how Get Konnected! has helped Eastern Bank with its diversity initiatives. In a number of ways and certainly through talent attraction—not only for those to join our team as employees, but also to join our team as board members. A number of people that now work with us in some capacity or another I met initially through going to Get Konnected!.

On how and when he first met Colette. I first met Colette about 10 years ago over lunch. I was sure she did not know much about me, but I had heard a lot about her. At Eastern Bank, we were at that time really embarking on a much greater commitment to diversity and inclusion than we had previously and felt that we had a real opportunity to improve our board in that regard so I reached out to Colette and basically cold-called her. I subsequently asked Colette to join our board as well as our board nominating committee. Colette has been a key ally in helping us reshape the board and the leadership team at Eastern.

On the importance of mentoring in his life. It’s been critical for me, in the past and today. I think mentors come in all forms. I’ve had mentors that are from my very early beginning—starting with my own mother and father—right up to present day to a number of people that I meet and know in the community.

On the informal mentors he has had. I’ve never had someone that we’ve had a formal mentor-mentee relationship, but I have had supervisors from which I’ve learned a lot on how to get better and how to approach situations. I’ve learned a lot by observing some people over time that have demonstrated the things not to do or the things that didn’t fit for me or that I wouldn’t act on. They can be people that you grow up with, meet in life, work with in your company, work with out in the community, or read about but never met.

On why mentorship is important for not only young people but everyone. We always learn and get better so I think mentorship is a process that never ends. Certainly for younger people it can be more important because they’re trying to determine the course of their career, how they’ll tackle situations. They, by definition of being younger, have less experience than those of us who have been around longer so mentors can be critically helpful in providing feedback, advice, and guidance, but I wouldn’t just assume it’s only for younger people. All of us, at any stage of our life, should always seek out mentors in one form or another and will benefit from them.

On the people who currently mentor him. There’s a lot of folks in the community that I work with on different things, seek out their advice with respect to those things, see them up close and personally. Certainly, Colette has been a mentor to me over the years as I navigated Boston and figured out the landscape here and who were the important influencers to know in terms of the work I was trying to accomplish.

Bob Rivers, Colette Phillips, and Priscilla Douglas

Rivers (middle) and Priscilla Douglas (right) celebrating Get Konnected! founder Colette Phillips (left), who received AJC New England’s 2018 Co-Existence Award on November 13.

On the most important lesson he learned from a mentor. I have to say one that immediately comes to mind is someone who I worked with at another company for many years who gave me a principle of leadership that I have followed ever since. Basically what he said was you always have to remember as a leader: “It’s not about you, it’s about them”—meaning the members of your team, the people you’re trying to lead. I always try to keep that in mind in terms of things I’m trying to get accomplished here at Eastern and outside in the community that it is really at the end of the day about those you’re trying to influence, lead, support—and not yourself.

On what he would do with a friend who had never visited Boston. I would take them is take them on both the Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail. Fenway Park and the Boston Garden would be places along the way on that trip I’d point out. I would make sure we had lunch in certain places like the North End and other restaurants I like.

And the locals he would introduce them to. I would try to introduce them to people in my network that really have grown up here in Boston and see different sides of Boston and to give that sort of historical perspective. People like Flash Wiley, for example, would come to mind for me. Jim Rooney of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce would be another person that I would introduce them to and City Councilor Michelle Wu for a different, younger perspective. So, there’s a variety of people in business and politics and in the community that I’d try to assemble for them to get a sense of what really goes on here and how things work.

On the last good book he read. That’s a tough one because I’m an avid reader and I read books going all the time. The last one I finished is by one of my favorite writers, Michael Lewis. He’s famous for writing Liar’s Poker way back in the day. He just wrote a book called The Fifth Risk, which really calls out the important work being done by federal government agencies. It’s in the lens of the Trump administration relative inattention to the work that they do and some of the odd happenings that occurred as the new administration was transitioning in. But underlying I think it demonstrates the high commitment level and important work being done by people in those agencies that aren’t appointed to those positions and have been in those agencies for a very long time.

On what he does to relax and unwind. I’m a big wine enthusiast and it is probably my major passion and hobby. I like to read about wine, I like to try different ones from different places.

On his favorite type of wine. There’s so many that I like. Probably my go-to wine on an everyday basis is Spanish rioja.

On the favorite thing about his hometown. I grew up here, it’s my home. I was the only member of my family that ever left and I’ve always had a strong emotional attachment to Boston. The thing I appreciate so much about Boston that makes it just a great place to be, especially for things I’m trying to accomplish, is that it’s one that punches above its weight. It’s a small city that acts like a big city, and what I mean by that is that it has expectations and aspirations that are well beyond what its size might indicate.

On the advice he would give to a younger Bob Rivers. The challenge I always have is time management so I guess the advice to me would be: “Don’t over commit.” I’m involved in many things, I care about lots of things, I have a wide range of interests, and I consider myself pretty accessible and have a proclivity to get involved in most things that I’m asked to get involved with. Of course, that becomes challenging in terms of being able to really focus and spend as much time on certain things when you’d like to. It’s an ongoing challenge, but as much as I give myself that advice, at the same time, getting involved in many different things has certainly been beneficial.

Some responses have been shortened or edited for brevity.

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