ABA Banking Journal - October 2009 - (Page 20)
COVER STORY A good time for a steady hand Art Johnson has kept his bank relevant and profitable over four decades. The Michigan community banker is ready to lead the ABA through another momentous year T o other bankers, the most singular fact about Michigan bank CEO Arthur C. Johnson is likely to be that his bank is profitable despite eight consecutive years of job losses in the troubled Great Lakes State. Simply put, Art Johnson, chief executive of United Bank of Michigan, Grand Rapids, is a good banker and a good businessman. Conservative on credit, leverage, and growth; but aggressive in changing course when necessary. The incoming chairman of the American Bankers Association has guided his bank through two radical course changes and has kept it abreast of new technology. He recognizes that in business you never stop learning, because nothing stands still—especially now. That’s one reason why Johnson loves to visit small business customers. “They just light up when you ask them to explain their business,” he says. “And there is always something I can learn from them for the bank. Once you stop doing that, you’re cooked.” Johnson, 59, is one of those low-key people who quietly impress you the more you get to know them. Spend some time with him and you find out that while he and his wife Patty are avid hockey fans—one of the faster, more raucous spectator sports—his favorite pastime is By Bill Streeter, editor-in-chief gardening. And while he is CEO of a $425 million-assets, closely held community bank, he does not go in much for trappings, occupying a 12 x 12 windowless office. As a staunch believer in the vitality and relevance of community banks, Johnson is as bothered as any other banker that the vast majority of them have been unfairly blamed for the financial crisis and are in danger of being hog-tied by sweeping new regulations. Yet he is not among those angry at “the big banks.” In fact, he is certain that indulging in that view will only guarantee worse results from Washington. Johnson, according to people who have known him for years, is a thoughtful man who doesn’t tend to say a lot until he has heard both sides of an argument and thought it through. In regard to the recent crisis and ongoing difficulties in the industry, he observes that, “It’s an outlier problem, not a size problem, because there were big banks that didn’t do [the bad] stuff, and there were little banks that did.” In his view, flawed business models were the common denominator. His main concern is that it is very destructive for some elements of the industry to go after other elements because it makes it that much easier for policymakers to say they’re getting mixed signals, which allows them to ignore industry input. “That’s always been the case,” he says, “but it’s even 20 OCTOBER 2009/ABA BANKING JOURNAL Subscribe at www.ababj.com
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