Boardroom Conversation

Michael “Mick” Blodnick is retiring at the end of next year as president and CEO of Glacier Bancorp, an $8.5 billion asset bank holding company in Kalispell, Montana, which has been fairly successful with its unique acquisition strategy. Mick has managed 25 deals in his 37-year career at Glacier, which started when he was a teller and culminated with his promotion to CEO in 1998. The bank has a return on average assets of 1.34 percent as of the first quarter of 2015, pretty good considering the rather isolated, sometimes rural markets in Western states where Glacier operates. Blodnick has a good reputation with investors, says Fig Partners’ analyst Tim Coffey. He was honest with the investment community about the company’s problems during the recession, and that won him a lot of points.

What has been your growth philosophy?
We wanted to acquire really good community banks, give them resources they might not have had and allow them to keep doing what they are doing in the market. We diversified ourselves geographically and economically. We were not just a Montana franchise or a Pacific Northwest franchise dependent on real estate lending. We were far flung. A lot of these areas tended to be more rural in nature. They had all their separate economies and markets. Some of the banks [we acquired] were business banks or retail banks. And collectively, it gave us the diversification that was so critical during the financial crisis.

Because you are in slower growth areas, did you need to make acquisitions to grow?
That was part of it. These were very good banks, but they weren’t necessarily in great growth markets. Over the years, I have seen a lot of management teams in not real robust economies that made a lot of money. And I have seen management teams in great growth markets that have found ways to destroy the bank. But for us, it was always about acquiring really good management teams.

What compelled some of these banks to sell to Glacier?
Sometimes, the management team was aging and there was no succession plan. Sometimes, it was a management team or ownership group that wanted liquidity. For a number of years we were the only publicly traded bank based in the Rockies, back in the 90s and the early part of the last decade. We brought a track record of having the most stable and increasing dividend compared to almost any other bank in the country. The biggest driver was the fact that we ran this unique model. A majority of our acquisitions over the years were allowed to keep their name, keep their board, keep their management team in place, keep their products and services and keep their staff. We were not going to buy this bank and then collapse it into a new bank. For strong community banks, our model was the key to getting deals done. It certainly wasn’t that we were going to be able to pay top dollar.

What deal do you wish you had never done?
I can honestly say none.

What lessons did you learn?
As we progressed we got way better at integration, especially with technology and data processing. Letting a bank be itself is another one. That’s been something over the years we have continued to modify. Obviously, you can’t let them go off the tracks in a whole different area that wasn’t consistent with what we were trying to accomplish. That was rarely an issue. It was important to let them do what they were good at doing. We didn’t try to force certain products on them or certain services that they knew wouldn’t work in their markets. There were a few things we felt so passionate about, we would often say even before the transaction, this is something we absolutely feel will work and we will expect you to do.

You grew up the son and grandson of people who worked in a copper smelter and you lived in public housing for a time. But somehow, you made it to college and worked your way up from teller to CEO. How did that happen?
There was a fair amount of luck; sometimes it was being in the right place at the right time, but it was a heck of a lot of hard work. I may not have been the smartest person but I wasn’t going to let anyone out work me. I had terrific mentors over the years. It’s been a great career. As I wind this thing down, I think I’ve been very blessed.

As bankers, we are dream weavers. We make things come true for people, whether it’s businesses, individuals, whether it’s savings or securities or loans for their homes or their cars. But with current regulations, you spend your days complying with one rule and one regulation after another. We push a lot of paper. We fill out a lot of reports. We double and quadruple check stuff and at the end of the day, I don’t think any of it helps customers all that much. When I was younger, that wasn’t true. What I was doing when I was younger wasn’t overshadowed by the regulatory environment, but it is today.

To get the full interactive experience of the digital magazine, download the app today!

Bank Director Staff Writer

Join OUr Community

Bank Director’s annual Bank Services Membership Program combines Bank Director’s extensive online library of director training materials, conferences, our quarterly publication, and access to FinXTech Connect.

Become a Member

Our commitment to those leaders who believe a strong board makes a strong bank never wavers.