Joe Lunch Bucket’s Banker
To: Bill Cooper, Chairman, TCF Bank
It’s been announced that as of the beginning of this year, you have turned over the day-to-day operations of TCF to Lynn Nagorske, though you’ll remain as chairman through 2008. In a very real sense, this marks the end of an era. Many of us will miss you greatly.
Stockholders who like to receive superior returns on their investment will miss you most of all. In the 20 years since you took over as CEO of the old Twin City Federal Savings and Loan, you and your team have outproduced all relevant stock indexes and almost all of your competitors. You built TCF into Minnesota’s third-largest bank and tripled its assets to almost $13 billion.
Many TCBM readers will remember the savings and loan debacle of the ’80s and its continuation through the government-financed Resolution Trust Corporation. Midwest Federal, the other large savings and loan serving the same market as TCF, cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. And I’m sure, Bill, you would be quick to point out that Midwest Federal was headed by a Democrat, Hal Greenwood. You avoided all that.
You were both good at hiring and firing; When you first came to TCF, you fired 41 of the 43 managers. But you’ve also grown the company to 442 branches and 8,300 employees. In an interview in American Banker, you once said that you had accomplished this success by being the banker for Joe Lunch Bucket.
True to that image, you and TCF have made your achievements the old-fashioned, blue-collar, hard-working way. You went to Wayne State University, and that educational background informed your executive hiring practices: very few Harvard MBAs, but a lot of practical Midwesterners. You have stressed convenience for the average worker: TCF pioneered being open seven days a week, operating branches in supermarkets, and no-fee checking. Many readers of TCBM know the CEOs of other major banks; I bet you’re the only bank executive who has gone out of his way to say that you welcome kids in tennis shoes and ponytails.
American Banker named you Innovator of the Year in 2004. You were a finalist for Morningstar.com CEO of the Year in 2005. But if anything, you are the Joe Lunch Bucket of banking.
Minnesotans will miss you for far more than your business success. In an interview with TCBM’s then-publisher Tom Mason in 1997, you explained that people who are successful have an obligation to stand up and be involved in the political process. Unlike so many in the business community, you put your money where your mouth was.
You ran the Republican Party of this state and had many successes. As an envious observer, it seemed to me that your biggest achievement was the growth of grassroots funding, which enabled your party to retake the Minnesota House of Representatives. (Your goal of electing a Republican governor was derailed by Schwarzenegger Lite in 1998.) And you’ve been a source of great political quips, once calling Norm Coleman, in his quest to become U.S. senator, a “dead man walking.”
The “TCF Philosophy” reads like your political philosophy and approach to life. It’s clearly the product of an accountant and should be read by all of your competitors. Something else they should emulate: your modest compensation compared with that of other bank CEOs. (You earn wealth the old-fashioned way, through stock appreciation.)
Now, of course, I have disagreements with your political philosophy. But what we all admire is your passion and belief that businesspeople should be involved in the grubby details of the political process. Nothing, after all, is more grubby than rooting out grassroots money for legislative campaigns. Apparently, that task is a bit like finding hundreds of thousands of small checking-account customers and selling them a debit card.
If there’s one thing this state needs more of, it’s successful businesspeople involved in the political process. We don’t need a process run by and for the political professionals. We need more Joe Lunch Buckets. We need more Bill Coopers. Please don’t leave.
Very Truly Yours,
Vance K. Opperman
Grateful Shareholder, Happy Business Activist