Bill Cooper, who took over Twin City Federal in 1985 and turned it into Minnesota's third-largest banking company — now TCF Financial Corp. — passed away Tuesday night. He was 73.
Cooper died from complications related to cancer, the Star Tribune
“The entire TCF family is deeply saddened by the passing of Bill Cooper and we will miss his passion for our company, its people and his strong leadership of our board of directors,” said Craig Dahl, CEO of TCF, in a statement. “Over 30 years, Bill showed tremendous leadership and courage, pioneering numerous innovations in the banking industry and establishing a rich tradition of philanthropy and community involvement within TCF.”
Cooper began his career as a Detroit cop in the 1960s. In 1967, he earned his accounting degree from Wayne State University and took a job as an auditor at Touche Ross. His first banking job was at Michigan National Bank as an assistant treasurer until Later he being named president of Huntington Bank and then president of American Savings and Loan Association. Come 1985, he moved to Minnesota and took over as CEO of Twin City Federal.
He was quick to make changes to the Wayzata-based financial institution, reducing its number of troubled loans, which totaled more than $1 billion at his time of entry. One of Cooper’s most-lauded implementations was “Totally Free Checking” accounts, which drew in thousands of new customers.
In a TCB’s 2012 feature “Bill Cooper’s Way
,” Joe Witt, CEO of the Minnesota Bankers Association, touted Cooper’s mid-1980s strategies — which emphasized free checking, seven-days-a-week banking and branches in supermarkets — as revolutionary to the industry.
During that time, in 1986, Cooper also led TCF through its public offering.
He first retired from TCF in 2005, but returned to the CEO chair three years later to manage the bank through the Great Recession. Cooper’s official retirement from TCF came in August 2015, although he remained on the bank’s board of directors.
Aside from being a pivotal figure within the state's banking scene, Cooper was active in its political community, as well. From 1997 to 1999, he was chairman of the Minnesota Republican party and became a vocal advocate against government regulations on banks and bailouts for large financial institutions amid the Great Recession.
Cooper grew a reputation as a boardroom bulldog when he and TCF sued the Federal Reserve, the chief banking regulator, in 2011 over its move to drastically reduce debit card swipe fees. “Most of my colleagues in the business basically said, ‘Hey, let me hold your coat while you go in there,” Cooper had told TCB. “We didn’t win, but we got something out of it… We came out of it better than we were going in. We took a leadership role on that one because it was just plain wrong. It was a huge part of our business.”
Neil Brown, TCF’s former president and chief risk officer once described Cooper, with a chuckle, as “very intimidating.”
“I tell people, ‘If you’re not prepared for a meeting with Bill, postpone it,’” he said. “Otherwise he will eat you up like a sausage. He has a pretty big bark when he needs to.”
When asked about his tactics when dealing with public officials, Cooper compared his style to that of Vince Lombardi. “Vince Lombardi was an asshole,” he had said. “But the guys who played for him loved him. Why? Because he won! They knew he was an asshole. But their attitude was, ‘He’s our asshole.’”
Outside of the political and banking realm, Cooper was also a strong advocate for charter schools.
As an illiterate student early on, Cooper credited his third grade teacher Mrs. Hope for saving him from being the self-described “dumb kid” during his later years in school.
“Every successful person I know got help form someone, most commonly a teacher,” Cooper often said.
Under his leadership at TCF, the bank “sponsored” 16 of the state’s 149 charter schools, most of which were in low-income areas.
“[Cooper] came from a very modest background and never lost touch with the importance of creating opportunities for the economically disadvantaged, particularly through education,” said Vance Opperman, lead director for TCF’s board of directors. (Opperman also owns MSP Communications, the parent company of Twin Cities Business
“Bill was not only an outstanding leader for TCF, but he was a great friend,” Opperman added. “He was truly one-of-a-kind and one of the most creative and innovative leaders in the banking industry.”
A memorial service celebrating Bill Cooper’s life will be held at a later date, TCF said. Those who wish to make a donation in tribute to Cooper’s life can direct contributions to Friends of Education, a Wayzata nonprofit supporting K-12 education.