First American expects smooth transition

More than 15 years ago, Tom Schnurr said the transition to his then-new position as president and chief executive officer of First American Bank and Stark Bank Group – where he succeeded Thomas J. Kregel – was an easy one.

As Schnurr prepares to step down in August, he’s predicting the bank’s transition to a new CEO will also be easy.

After all, he recruited his successor and has been envisioning John A. Fisher in the role for some time.

“There’s nothing new about this,” Schnurr said. “Not only is it part of a plan, but I’m going to stay on the board, most likely in a consulting capacity for (C. Richard Stark Jr., chairman of the board) and the holding company. I’ve got a good relationship with John and with Richard … and the timing is good.”

Stark, in a prepared statement, said there were unprecedented challenges during Schnurr’s tenure, as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.

“He leaves the bank on a very solid foundation and poised to grow safely with the leadership of John Fisher. John’s appointment as CEO and president is simply the execution of the board’s management succession plan. His leadership was instrumental in navigating the challenging marketing conditions, and he has played a significant role in developing and executing the bank’s strategic plan.”

Schnurr said his reason for retiring this year is twofold.

“We have the right people to do it today,” he said. “This transition should be pretty smooth. The last five years have been really challenging, but really rewarding too because of the people we have. I’ve been amazed at how we’ve been able to work through all of the problems, and the people … the time and effort and energy they’ve put in to make this successful.

“The bank is positioned well today, and it gives me an opportunity while I’m young enough to continue consulting, which I’ve always liked, and working with people that I think a lot of. Here’s a chance to have a little more flexibility,” he said.

There’s also a more personal side to Schnurr’s decision.

“I’ve got seven grandchildren spread across three states. We want to spend time with the kids,” said the 62-year-old.

However, with his continued role as a director of the bank and the holding company, and his position on the Trinity Regional Medical Center board, he also intends to stay involved with the community -but there will be more time to travel to warmer climates, Schnurr said.

The transition, Fisher said, “really started in 2012, when I was appointed president of the bank.”

“I don’t really see major changes here. We’ve done a good job from the succession planning standpoint. Both Tom and I, and (Chief Financial Officer) Cindy Burke and others have played a critical role in building a business plan that has sustainability and that is a well-thought-out plan on a risk-adjusted basis, which is very important. It should provide value to our shareholders down the road.”

Despite the change in leadership, the legacy of First American in Fort Dodge continues, Fisher said.

A recent redesign of the bank’s logo and colors not only signals a celebration of the institution’s 80-year history, “it goes back to who we are as bankers today and ties us to who the bankers were that founded us, and it follows that vision. It’s about taking care of clients, it’s about being active in our communities and community involvement,” he said.

“That’s what separates us from the large national banks,” he said. “We know people by name. They’re just not a number, and that is a difference. “

It doesn’t matter, he said, if a customer is in a First American Bank in Iowa or in Florida.

“A couple of thousand miles separates them, but the culture is very much the same; the culture is really tied to what was started in 1934 in this company in Fort Dodge,” Fisher said.

Fisher, who was recruited in 2008, has more than 20 years experience in the banking industry. He joined First American as the Florida market president and was named First American Bank president in 2012. A native of Ottumwa, Fisher is a graduate of Central College in Pella with a master’s degree from the University of Iowa. Prior to his career in banking, he served eight years in the United States Marine Corps.

First American is a privately owned community bank, headquartered in Fort Dodge, with 14 locations in Iowa and four in southwest Florida.

The bank has assets of approximately $1.1 billion. Stark Bank Group Ltd. is the holding company.