For David Bochnowski, the CEO of Peoples Bank and its parent, NorthWest Indiana Bancorp in Munster, the key to success in banking is building a strong team and then letting the team do its job.
In a recent interview with Hoosier Banker magazine, Bochnowski said, “My job is to build the team and keep it moving, and the bank has been blessed with an outstanding team. Our senior management group works tirelessly to reach peak performance throughout the bank and to inspire that same outlook on every level.”
Bochnowski describes his team as “overachievers.” “The secret to leading a successful organization is to surround yourself with talent that is smarter than you are.”
In the current economy, Bochnowski says, that’s more important than ever. And, he adds, it’s the primary reason Peoples Bank is looking forward to celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Starting in January, a series of special monthly events are planned by the bank.
“Our bank is doing fine,” says Bochnowski. Peoples Bank operates 11 offices (a 12th office will open in the fall in St. John). As of September, Bochnowski says, Peoples Bank had assets of $678.2 million and total loans of $463.1 million.
Since its founding in 1910, Peoples Bank has always been involved in the community. Bochnowski says it’s important for the bank to keep in touch with the community and its residents in order for it to grow. If the community isn’t growing, then the bank won’t grow, he explains.
It’s the same philosophy used by his grandfather when he founded the bank, and by his father when he ran the bank.
John Bochnowski immigrated to the United States from Poland and settled in East Chicago to work in the steel mills. When he arrived here, he had $13 in his pocket.
At night, though, John Bochnowski ran a saloon, which had the only safe in the neighborhood. Because of that, neighbors asked him to keep their money in his safe. He did, and with that The First Polish National Building & Loan Association was formed.
“He came here for a better life,” says his grandson. “And we’ve succeeded because we’ve remained relevant.”
If his grandfather was here today, Bochnowski hopes he’d feel the bank has remained close to its roots.
Bochnowski says his grandfather was a big influence on him. His grandfather got involved in politics—serving on the East Chicago City Council—and had a very strong work ethic.
Bochnowski, too, has gotten involved in the community, but he’s also served his country. In 1967, Bochnowski was part of a group called Crossroads Africa that spent the summer in Lesotho, a poor, landlocked country within South Africa. There, he helped build a maternity clinic in a mountain village.
When he returned to the U.S., he enrolled at Howard University where he earned a master’s degree in African studies before volunteering to become a military advisor in Vietnam.
He trained at the Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, N.C., and in 1969 and 1970, as a first lieutenant, he was assigned to a fire base “out in the boonies” in South Vietnam.
After he returned to the United States, he earned a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he worked as an intern on the staff of former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana and clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Jim Noland. After a short time in private practice, Bochnowski in 1981 accepted the position of CEO at Peoples Bank.
Bochnowski is proud of the work Peoples Bank (the name adopted by the company in 1989) has done in Lake County and Northwest Indiana. In the 1950s, it was actively involved in providing G.I. loans to returning servicemen. It was also at that time the bank began expanding from its one-office operation in the Woodmar section of Hammond.
In the 1960s, the bank expanded to Merrillville, and in the in 1970s, ’80s and ’90s to Dyer, Munster, Schererville and Hobart. Its four-story corporate office opened in Munster in 2003.
But as proud as Bochnowski is of the bank’s past, he is just as excited about its future.
“The biggest change in banking, obviously, is the technology,” Bochnowski says, adding that he can recall when his grandfather and father pored over handwritten balance sheets and ledgers.
“Back then, people came to the bank to cash their checks. Today, that’s all done electronically, but our customers still want to come to the bank. That’s a function of our culture and it’s part of the outlook of the company,” says Bochnowski. “Our senior managers have their roots in Northwest Indiana, so they understand that culture. It’s why we’re tied to the community.”
Bochnowski says those ties to the community are what sets Peoples Bank apart from the big national banks that are competing for customers in the region. “We have the ability to offer one-on-one counseling with customers. We build relationships and that has been really significant for us and the community,” he says.
“In this day and age of change, customers have so much more information they can use to make decisions,” Bochnowski continues. “We work hard to be informed because a bank is no longer just a place to put money.”
Bochnowski says the kind of involvement he and his senior managers have in the community shouldn’t be looked at as something special. It is something the bank does because as a neighbor, he says, it has an obligation to be involved in making the community a better place to live.
Bochnowski is involved with Munster Community Hospital, the Legacy Foundation of Lake County, the Quality of Life Council, the Purdue Technology Center Northwest Indiana and Calumet College.
Professionally, he has been involved with the Indiana Bankers Association, American Bankers Association, Indiana Department of Financial Institutions, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis and the Federal Reserve Thrift Institutions Advisory Committee. He frequently meets with members of the Indiana General Assembly to educate them about the banking business so that “they know the facts.”
“All bankers need to get involved,” Bochnowski told Hoosier Banker. “We are a highly regulated industry. Our output is only as good as our input. Decisions are being made at the congressional and state levels that impact us. These decisions need our input. First and foremost, these decisions impact consumers. It is the duty and responsibility of every bank to guard the well-being of our customers.”
It is a formula that has worked well for Peoples Bank for 100 years—through prosperous times and some not so prosperous times. Bochnowski says he has no doubt that formula will be successful well into the future.
Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly is proud to recognize Peoples Bank on its 100th anniversary. We are looking for other companies that have been around for 100 years or more. If you know of any such company, please contact Publisher Glee Renick-May at firstname.lastname@example.org or Editor Rick A. Richards at email@example.com.