What follows is the general text of my remarks at our company’s annual Rally Day, which was held on Columbus Day. With all of our employees present, it was an opportunity for me to expand on topics of importance in our corporate journey. This year, we honored the retirement of an outstanding employee who has contributed much to our success. My tribute to Sue Evans is below:
Some 22 years ago, I met Sue Evans. I was the Des Moines President of Brenton Bank and Sue was a region manager for US Bank. We were scheduled to meet on a winter day in Des Moines at the Latin King restaurant and the Latin King closed on Mondays. So we had our introductory interview at a Perkins in Northeast Des Moines. Shortly thereafter, Sue was hired to be the Market President in Indianola, Iowa. She became the first female President of a Brenton Bank.
In 2000, Brenton sold to Wells Fargo and I moved to Iowa City to become the CEO of Iowa State Bank & Trust. It did not take long to see that one component was missing from the management team and that was a leader for Retail Banking. I called Sue in early 2001 and we met in Des Moines. A few weeks later, I had her commitment to move to Iowa City.
Her addition to our management team was just what we needed. Sue injected energy, accountability, humor, and, yes, candor (always!) into our company. She quickly built a strong team around her and in those early days, we hired standout performers such as Todd Means, Susan Weinschenk, Cindi Schrock and Adam McLaughlin. All but Adam continue to contribute to our bank today (and Adam remains a fan and customer of our company). Sue has always understood that to win and succeed in our industry today, one needs to build and maintain an excellent team. These fine employees and many others are one of her legacies.
One of the things we did as we built the team was to read the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. Sue was passionate about the principles espoused in the book and in the early days, it was not uncommon to see her storm past my office (she is a heel striker and, thus, her arrival is often heard before it is seen) and one of those times I clearly remember her saying “I am going to talk to someone about Chapter 3!” For those who have not read the book, Chapter 3 is titled “Confront the Brutal Facts.” But here is what many may have missed in this building of the team: Sue cared. She cared deeply. She saw every person as a human being, not a cog in the wheel that made our bank run smoothly. In the inevitable times that we were forced to make a removal, it deeply affected Sue. It was never routine (nor should it be).
In 2007, we embarked on the transformation of ISB&T through our merger with MidWestOne Bank. The deal closed in early 2008. ISB&T, though the surviving entity, changed its name and Sue’s marketing plan was carried out perfectly in the Iowa City market with almost no push-back from our long time customers in the community. It soon became clear to me that we needed a Chief Operating Officer due to the fact that our company had grown and changed. We needed someone to manage the day-to-day affairs of the bank and, more importantly, to bring our employees together with one culture and one mission. There was really never a second choice: Sue was the “One.” The day I offered her the job, I told her that I wanted her to be our “Culture Warrior.”
Sue embraced the job with her typical energy and vitality. She visited offices regularly. She connected with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of employees. You all know her and know she can find a connection with anyone – and do so in about 30 seconds! She mediated disputes between departments as we worked steadfastly to live up to our operating principle of work as One team. She mentored dozens of employees. She implemented an incentive system for our retail employees so that they, too, would be able to earn incentive compensation when they excelled in their jobs. When we had an unfortunate compliance hiccup in 2011, Sue (along with John Henk) held her hand up and took responsibility to get it fixed.
Sue is also an innovator. The list of things that she authored or helped author is too long to list today. But here are a few important ones:
- Rally Day is a Sue Evans’ creation. This is the 12th Rally Day and from its modest beginnings in the Kinnick Stadium press box, we now have a large room filled in Cedar Rapids with video links to the Twin Cities, Denver, and Naples. Wow.
- Gratitude Friday is a Sue Evans’ creation. On the last Friday of each month, each employee is asked to send a handwritten note of gratitude to someone who has positively touched his or her life. This has perfectly fit and enhanced our culture.
- Remember Banker Buddies in the 2015 merger? Each MidWestOne employee was pared with a Central Bank employee and exchanged handwritten notes. It was a small gesture, but helped extend a lifeline as people learned new ways of doing things and simply helped to connect employees working together across the company footprint!
- Sue did not create the Quilts of Valor project. But she did grab it and run with it at our company! My wife made a quilt for an Oskaloosa veteran last November and I can tell you that this is a very meaningful gesture for both our veterans and our quilters. It would not have happened at MidWestOne without Sue Evans.
There is so much more, such as being named on the 2012 “Women to Watch” list of the “Most Powerful Women in Banking,” which is recognized by the American Banker each year. This was a huge honor for Sue and our company. I am so proud of her graduation from the Graduate School of Banking in Colorado with highest honors and then being named to the Board of Trustees (the first female in the school’s history) and eventually becoming Chair.
Here’s my bottom line: I have worked with this fabulous human being for more than 22 years. She has picked me up when I was down. She has given me honest (Chapter 3 ALERT: sometimes brutally honest!) feedback when I most needed it. She has positively touched and impacted the lives of many persons who are here today and that includes me. None of you know how much I am going to miss her.
Our company has changed and we now move on. Sue would be the first to say that bigger and better things are ahead. But the future MidWestOne Bank is built on the strong foundation of the MidWestOne of today, and that foundation would not be nearly as strong without Sue Evans.
So, Sue, we go on without you but you will never ever be forgotten. We wish you Godspeed. On this Columbus Day, we toast YOU with gratitude because you are indeed “the One” whose career we celebrate.