In full swing

Mike Combs lets opportunities soar through community and professional pursuits

By Jon Shoulders

here might not be any immediately noticeable associations between golfing and the banking business, but for Greenwood resident and lifelong southsider Mike Combs, they will always have a special connection.

In 2004, after more than 15 years as a golf instructor at Orchard Golf Center on State Road 135, Combs was approached about a marketing development position at The National Bank of Indianapolis, which was about to break ground on a new location in Greenwood. Initially hesitant, he soon realized he had been unknowingly laying the groundwork for the position since first taking on duties as a golf teacher in the late 1980s.

“When I graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 1987, the owner of Orchard Golf (who is also) my old coach, Joe Singleton, asked me if I wanted to work in the golf shop, and after a while people would come in and ask if I would give some lessons,” says Combs, who served as captain of his golf team at Perry Meridian High School and as a non-scholarship player at IU while pursuing a degree in communications management. It wasn’t long before Combs found himself working 50 to 60 hours every week doling out golf knowledge to students of all ages. “That was back when golf was in one of its heyday periods, in the late ’80s and early ’90s.”

The work, although exhausting, became a means of forging relationships with many southside residents. “Because Johnson County is somewhat of a small community, we’re all pretty attached down here, and you’ll find who you can trust and who you can’t trust,” Combs says. “It gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of people.”

Along the way he played in several local and state competitions, and even competed in an annual tournament at Pebble Beach in Monterey County, California, alongside former Professional Golfers Association Championship winner John Daly. “They arrange teams of three people and then pair each team with a PGA professional,” Combs says. “Daly hits it further than anybody you’ll ever see. People were coming out of the houses on the course to get his autograph.”

Singleton, who operated Orchard Golf Center from 1980 until 2005, recalls Combs’ uncommon dedication to his craft. “Mike was always extremely motivated and would give three times as many lessons as some of the other instructors,” Singleton says. “A lot of people wouldn’t actually believe that he would give 10 lessons a day, but I would show them his lesson book, and they’d be amazed.”

One of Combs’ students at the golf shop was Andrea Conner, bank controller for NBI, who in mid-2004 suggested to her colleagues that he might be just the person to inject some much-needed life into the bank’s then-struggling Greenwood branch.

“They realized I didn’t know much about banking, but I knew everyone around here, and basically banking is a relationship-based business,” Combs says. “I don’t know what the average is for interviews now, but I bet I had eight or 10 different interviews over a six-month period. They’d call me out of the blue, and we’d go to lunch.” On New Year’s Eve in 2004 he officially embarked on a new career path and 13 years later serves as vice president of the NBI’s Greenwood location.

NBI has accumulated an extensive client base as the only local bank in the area, in no small part due to Combs’ community presence. “I really don’t do anything better or more special than anybody else; it’s just that I have great relationships with people who have taken a chance on me over the years,” he says. “NBI allows us to be an old-school-type bank that people want. They want us to always have our phone, be engaged in the community and have the highest level of service for people.”

Bank duties aren’t the only thing propelling Combs into the community regularly. As current chairman of the Franciscan Health Foundation (the fundraising arm of Franciscan Health Indianapolis), a member of Leadership Johnson County, a member of the Sertoma Club of Greenwood and a board member with the Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Combs has continued shaping the kinds of local relationships he began to develop back in the late 1980s.

“Mike is somebody that always comes through. If he says he’s going to help you out, he will do that,” says Christian Maslowski, president and CEO of the chamber and president of the Sertoma Club of Greenwood. “And that is unique. A lot of people have great intentions, but they’re busy or they let things fall behind. He consistently puts other people and other organizations first.”

When he’s not serving in various community capacities or hosting bank clients at events like Indiana Pacers games regularly, Combs spends as much time as possible with his wife, Lynn, a nurse at My Ortho Team in Indianapolis, and their energetic dogs: a Leonberger named Bruce and a Bernese mountain dog named Cooper, each weighing in at 150 pounds. Their daughter Alex, 22, is a senior at Hanover College, and son Matt, 20, attends Ivy Tech and will transition to IU Bloomington this fall.

One might assume Combs has gradually set aside a time-consuming hobby like golf given his daily professional, community and familial responsibilities, but he cannot  abandon a passion of more than three-and-a-half decades lightly.

“There’s not a day that goes by in the summer that I don’t try to play or just get out and hit balls,” he says. “It’s very much still in me. My father is 78 years old and still plays a lot. He’s probably the only person I know who has more passion for golf than me, and that’s an inspiration.”

Combs also feels inspired when contemplating Johnson County’s potential for growth and development in the near future and the prospect of contributing to that growth through his banking and philanthropic roles.

“The next hundred years of how Johnson County is going to be will be decided in the next five to 10 years,” Combs says. “In those years we’re going to have the ability to do a lot with the money that’s going to be coming in here. With the purchase of the old Greenwood Middle School property by the city of Greenwood, the baseball fields that Bargersville is building and things such as that, there’s a lot happening. Who’s to say we can’t do something big like build a trail that runs all the way from Franklin to Greenwood or from Center Grove to Bargersville? There’s a lot of possibility.”

Photo by Haley Neale