Randy Newman wanted to start his own business, but it just never panned out. So he did what he calls the “next best thing”: taking the reins of Alerus, a Grand Forks, N.D.-based bank, and growing it into a regional giant.
In fact, Newman saw that he had no choice but to make the company more entrepreneurial. When he joined Alerus in 1981, it was the First National Bank of Grand Forks, an institution more than a century old. Though the region it served was holding its own, the bank wasn’t growing. When Newman became president in 1987 (he would be named CEO eight years later), he was determined to make it more than just a local bank.
He’s rebranded Alerus to reflect that it comprises more than a Grand Forks bank. Newman’s company has acquired other banks, as well as wealth management and home mortgage businesses. He’s done 18 acquisitions since 2002. During his tenure, Newman grew fiduciary assets from $80 million to more than $25 billion, expanded into Minnesota and Arizona, and steered its performance to the top quartile of financial companies.
Newman is quick to share the credit for this with his managers and employees. While working construction during college, his constant questions irritated his boss, who said Newman had been hired “from the neck down”; now, he strives to be a different kind of boss, who empowers employees to ask questions and to think entrepreneurially themselves.
“I never wanted [an employee] to be hired ‘from the neck down,’ ” Newman says. “I value people too much to deny them the opportunity to grow and learn and to find value in their time at Alerus.” During the mid-1980s, he helped the company establish an ESOP. Employees now own 10 percent of Alerus and make up its largest shareholder bloc.
“He’s the type of leader who cares about every single interaction,” says Katie Imholte, a business development director at Minneapolis-based staffing agency Salo LLC, who has worked with Alerus on several HR projects. “He lifts up his employees, appreciates his clients and values his partnerships. And he always greets me with a smile.”