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Scott Anderson

Zions CEO on why investing in the arts is money in the bank


If Scott Anderson wasn't a major moneychanger, he could easily be confused for a community advocate at a small nonprofit. The Deseret News even wrote about how the CEO and president of Zions Bank, has "amassed a reputation that hovers far more toward George Bailey than J.P. Morgan."

Anderson is at the top of a company with more than 2,300 employees and $19 billion in assets. He is formidable and counts among his friends Oscar winners Robert Redford and Geena Davis, but nonprofit organizations in Utah and Idaho continually point to Anderson's passion for the arts. So it was no surprise when Boise Weekly sat down with Anderson, it was on the occasion of Zions Bank's third annual showcase of Idaho artists. We talked about the arts, smart investing and why he doesn't like being called the "unofficial governor of Utah."

Where does your passion for the arts stem from?

My parents cherished the arts, and I had a mother who wanted all her children to be artists. Unfortunately, I had no talent.

But you must have tried to perform or play an instrument.

I took piano, violin, dancing and singing lessons. All those teachers told my mother it was a waste of money. I love the arts but have no talent.

Now you're in a position to make a significant impact on an artist's life.

We want to create value for our communities. You do that by helping to build the cultural fabric of that community.

But you know all too well that too many artists can't make ends meet.

My cousin was such a gifted pianist. He went to Juilliard and was as good as any concert pianist, but he never got that break. He spent his career giving lessons and being a church organist. There are Navajo weavers who take a year to gather the right materials to make a basket, but people say, "I'm not going to spend $5,000 on a basket." Quite often, those artists think it's better to work at McDonalds. If you can help the arts, the community is always better and stronger.

Can you speak to how the arts remain the unheralded engine that makes an economy thrive?

In commercial real estate, there's a factor called the cap rate [capitalization rate]. It measures how valuable an investment in real estate may be in any particular city. And do you know who has the best cap rates? Cities that have a 52-week symphony and an NBA franchise.

That might be swell for Salt Lake City [home of the Utah Jazz]. Unfortunately, Boise isn't going to get an NBA team anytime soon.

What that really tells is that people want to do something after they finish their work. That's what the arts provide.

It's one thing for a CEO to show up for a ribbon cutting or balloon launch for an art reception, but you have made some significant personal and professional commitments to the arts.

I look at things like a venture capitalist. You can't give something a bunch of money and then tell them "good luck" the following year. You should invest in things three to seven years and see what happens. I'm very proud that Zions was one of the initial funders of the Sun Valley Film Festival. Look at it now. It's thriving. If we had cut our funding after the first year, it may not be here.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about a story in the Salt Lake Tribune that chronicled your political clout and called you "Utah's unelected governor."

That's a lot of poppycock. Whoever wrote that didn't do a very good job.

I promise, that article wasn't a puff piece.

I don't know what to say about that. Everyone tries to contribute what they can.