If you spend much time at all with Kevin Jones, regional president at Huntington National Bank, it becomes quickly evident that he is passionate about Cincinnati.

Jones, 49, who is in charge of the bank’s Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky/Dayton/Springfield market, grew up on the city’s West Side, and, outside of a couple of moves out of the area for short times, he’s been here pretty much his whole life.

Like many boys his age, he loved the Big Red Machine of the ‘70s, especially Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan.

“I wanted to play baseball for the Reds,” he says in a wide-ranging interview in his downtown office. But: “I was marginally talented.”

He started high school at St. Xavier, but moved his sophomore year when his father, a Procter & Gamble employee, took a job in Norwich in rural New York state. The family spent two years there—he even played baseball at Norwich High School—before moving back to Cincinnati, and St. Xavier, for his senior year.

“I jokingly say I had three freshmen years,” he says.

It can be hard for a kid to move at that time in his life, but Jones says, “It really helped me come out of my shell. I was pretty quiet, kept to myself for the most part and didn’t really have a lot of confidence. … I fortunately moved forward.”

Now Jones is way out of his shell. He is heavily involved in the community, serving on numerous boards, including Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, REDI Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Foundation, American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and Cincinnati Opera.

“That’s been an overwhelming part of this experience,” he says about serving with many of the city’s movers and shakers. “Growing up here and knowing the history of some of these very influential people in town, I’m taking this as a learning opportunity. These are folks who’ve really poured their life into their businesses and their civic and philanthropic engagement. It’s humbling to be in the room but also important to realize that you have to spend some time learning what’s going on and observing what’s going on. I try to get an understanding of the dynamic.”

Jones graduated from Miami University in 1989 with a degree in economics and finance. He moved to Cleveland to take a job at Prescott, Ball and Turben doing pension and profit-sharing fund analysis work for a year. The brokerage was bought by Kemper Securities while he was there.

Friends there told a young Jones, “‘You need to go hit reset. You need to go get yourself into a bank and get a stable job. This brokerage business is a tough business, especially for younger guys.’ So I got some great advice, and they connected me with some folks at Fifth Third.”

That experience “taught me my first valuable lesson, which was the value of knowing and making connections with people. It’s one of the more true things; regardless of the evolution of technology and business, it’s about connecting with people and knowing people, and doing the right thing. It’s not about what someone can do for you. It’s about what people can do for each other.”

Jones worked in several areas at Fifth Third Bank, then joined Huntington in March 2013 as senior vice president and director of commercial regional development. By October that year, he was promoted to market president.

“Things at Fifth Third were changing,” he says. “At the time, I was in a national business unit. Believe it or not, even though I worked at Fifth Third for 21 years, I never was a local banker. I spent most of that time on airplanes going all across the country developing business for Fifth Third in the lower 48 states and managing people all across the country. I lived here, but I never really was a local banker.”

Huntington offered him a chance to be a local banker in the city he loves.

“I had a few friends who joined this organization, and I had an opportunity to meet people in the organization, and it just felt like a good fit. And to see the opportunity that existed for a quickly rebounding, high-performing organization in the market where I grew up, it was just a really good fit.” 

Jones, a resident of East Walnut Hills, was part of Leadership Cincinnati’s Class 32, a leadership-development program run by the chamber, in 2008-09. The experience taught him many valuable lessons.

“It really exposed me to how a civic environment works—our local society, how it works, the interconnections, and where business plays a part, where the judicial system plays a part, government enforcement, nonprofit social services, you name it. It profoundly opened my eyes to inclusion—not that I wasn’t getting that before or didn’t believe in it.” 

While Jones enjoys all of the civic-engagement work, he also visits several of Huntington’s 50 branches in his area on a quarterly basis “to say hello and see what’s going on.” He says it’s important to acknowledge the importance of what his colleagues do day in and day out.

“I really love what I’m doing right now, in this job, because I have an opportunity to be civically involved and try to make a difference in the community,” he says. “My key role is to grow this bank in this market. If the community is better, and the people are thriving and the market is thriving, and we’re doing our job, we’re going to thrive.”

Banking has undergone many changes in the past two decades, and the Great Recession was a test for the entire system.

“The industry still faces some headwinds,” Jones says. “There are nonbank competitors in our space,” such as Lending Tree, Ally Financial, crowdfunding websites and other online financial services.

“I think that the competitive nature of the business is changing dramatically, so the industry has a lot of things to wrestle with. The whole capital space is really moving at a rapid pace. If you look at longstanding, traditional, reliable banks, we have an infrastructure hurdle. Many banks are talking about what to do with their branch distribution network, how you acquire new clients when you don’t have new branches, how you service those clients that you have.”

Columbus-based Huntington is Greater Cincinnati’s fourth-largest bank with $2.6 billion in deposits, behind U.S. Bank, Fifth Third and PNC Bank, according to the latest data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. That’s up from $2.1 billion two years earlier.

Jones views the Federal Reserve’s December rate increase—the first since June 2006—as a positive.

“We’ve been so sensitive for so long about the economy. I view it as there’s some confidence in the economy.”

Longer term, Jones says he would like to give back in the area of education. He and his wife, Michelle, have three teen sons: Harrison, 19; Colin, 16; and Palmer, 15. Following in their father’s footsteps, the oldest is at Miami University, and the younger two attend St. X.

“Despite all of the vibrancy and everything that’s going on here, our status as the second-highest childhood poverty rate in the country has to be addressed,” he says. “There are so many agencies that are doing such great work, but there’s an opportunity to do more, and how do we do more?”

He thinks that education is key—teaching children in poverty how to turn a passion into a career, be it through college or a technical trade.

“We need to bring back the nobility of trade,” he says. “We need to bring back that it’s a noble process to exit high school and enter the labor force. You have an opportunity in front of you, you have a long path to get there, but we can show you how to get there. And it doesn’t have to be something that’s so intangible.”

All of that plays into Jones’ desire to make Cincinnati a better place for all. 

“There is so much charm, so much appeal, so much opportunity in this city.”