When Mick Blodnick began working at First Federal Savings and Loan of Kalispell, it was 1978, Jimmy Carter was president, and Blodnick was a young man joining the banking world.
His first job was working in the teller line, considered to be the frontlines of any brick-and-mortar financial institution since they are the first to interact with the customers.
“The best thing I absolutely could have ever done was start in that teller line,” Blodnick said last week. “It gave me a great foundation.”
Working his way up the ladder, Blodnick stuck with the company, and in 1998, when it became Glacier Bank, he was tapped as CEO. Blodnick has stayed in that post ever since, growing its assets by purchasing other financial institutions.
By 1998, Glacier Bank had expanded to 16 Montana communities, with $710 million in assets. Cautious growth and keeping an eye toward its small-town roots led the bank to continue growing with Glacier Bancorp, Inc. a bank holding company with $8.76 billion in assets and operating divisions in Kalispell, Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, Billings, Lewistown, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and Colorado.
Given the large expansion, Blodnick still says the foundation of his success was learning about the organization from the bottom rung and up. Understanding each piece of the puzzle is integral to smooth operations, he said, and the teller job taught him how much major institutions rely on every employee.
It’s with such care that Glacier Bank chose his replacement, Blodnick said. Glacier Bank announced last year that it was seeking a replacement to transition into Blodnick’s chair, winnowing the list and eventually selecting Randall Chesler, who was working at CIT Bank in Salt Lake City at the time.
The bank created the president title and position for Chesler, and he started working in Kalispell in August, one day after overseeing the close of a $3.4 billion deal for CIT to purchase OneWest Bank in Pasadena, California.
It was that deal that brought Chesler to Kalispell – once it went through, the headquarters was going to shift from Utah to Santa Monica, California. As a native of the state, Chesler said moving back to California felt like a step in the wrong direction for his family.
After growing up there in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck, Chesler graduated from State University in New York, and began his financial career on the East Coast. But the move to Utah was an easy choice, he said.
“Most of my career has been in the west,” Chesler said.
At CIT, Chesler took $300 million in assets and helped guide the bank to its current holding of $20 billion in assets, all within 10 years. Still, when the offer was made to move to California, the mountain west held on to the family.
“My wife and I, we wanted to be in the west, but not in California,” he said.
Since starting up with Glacier Bancorp in August, Chesler’s family has acclimated well, he said, with his youngest daughter a student at Glacier High School and he and his wife of 28 years, Susan, getting to explore the nature wonders of the area.
The call of staying in the Rocky Mountain West was a draw for Kalispell, he said, but the largest reason to take the job is the stability and consistent growth Glacier Bank has shown in the last 20 years.
“The Glacier story is a great story,” Chesler said.
Blodnick said he will remain the CEO until Dec. 31, but he will start handing over the reins this year, and Chesler should be in control by July of this year. A longer transition ensures that it will be smooth, Blodnick said.
One of the interesting aspects of taking the captain’s chair at a successful, functioning business is not changing much but still innovating, Chesler said. Glacier Bank grows at a sustainable rate, usually acquiring two banks a year in the six-state region.
“The growth is continuing with that same approach,” Chesler said.
But the future holds other opportunities for Glacier, such as keeping up with technology. Chesler’s background includes extensive banking technology experience, and he believes Glacier Bank will be able to maintain its small-town feel while also keeping up with modern times.
“From older folks to younger, there’s a wide variety of ways people use technology,” Chesler said.
As he transitions out of the CEO chair, Blodnick said he will maintain a presence at the bank, but he’s confident in Chesler’s leadership. Blodnick said he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Kim, in retirement.
And if the recession taught him anything, it’s that there will always be challenges lingering in the future. That’s why the search for a new CEO was thorough, he said, and why the transition period will further cement Chesler into the position.
“I have absolutely no doubts that he’s going to continue captaining this ship forward,” Blodnick said.
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