Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with the President and CEO of The State Bank in Fenton, Michigan and hear about his unplanned path to the bank presidency and the benefits he sees in having the same employer for his entire life. During the conversation, I found out why this is actually pretty common among the senior staff employees at the bank.
As we settled into the interview, I was surprised at first to learn that Ron Justice has always lived and worked in Genesee County. He started his professional career as a bank teller in the Linden Branch of The State Bank in 1984, while still a student at the University of Michigan – Flint. There are only two employees who have been at the bank longer than Ron’s thirty one years, Patricia Callender of Gaines and Janie Mansueti of Linden.
Justice was on track to graduate with a BA in business administration with an emphasis in accounting. He had every intention of pursuing a career as a CPA (certified public accountant) after graduation; however, his current employer had a different idea in mind.
The Human Resource Department had approached Ron and asked him to spearhead the development of the audit department after he received his degree. He accepted and was quickly named head of the Internal Audit Department, which was the first management position he held. He stayed in that position for three years.
From there, Justice was named the controller and quickly became the CFO and then senior retail officer, which handled “most areas of the Bank with the exception of loans.”
During this period, he was able to gain experience in different departments and have relationships with different boards of directors. He also spent three years each as the president of West Michigan Community Bank, and President and CEO of Davison State Bank. These were owned at the time by Fentura, the current holding company of The State Bank. This was an experience that fine-tuned his leadership skills and also prepared him for the next chapter in his career. Ron continued to reside in Genesee County during this time.
“If you look at my resume, some might consider it a negative trait, only having one employer. I don’t. I look at is as a strength. To me it says I’m loyal, dedicated and, with the experience in all the different departments, have a well-rounded background.”
The Presidency and the Growth
For the last five years, Justice has served as president and chief executive officer leading Genesee County’s oldest financial institution, The State Bank, through times of recession, then growth and now expansion. Justice is responsible for maintaining and enhancing the bank’s position as a community partner in Genesee, Livingston and Oakland counties. “Our mission is to serve the markets and communities we are located in,” Ron states.
“I think it’s a privilege working only nine miles from home. I know my community and can truly be their neighbor. We pride ourselves in relationship banking and local decision making.” Ron continued, “There are many financial options available out there and we understand we must earn the business.”
“Ron is the kind of person who trusts his leadership team to follow their responsibilities. He puts the right people in places they can succeed, and can trust they will be able to fulfill their responsibilities,” explains Kristy Schaffer, senior vice-president of human resources and marketing. “He still keeps the core values of the bank at the forefront. The first question he asks someone when presented with a new idea is ‘how is the customer going to be affected?’ That is the foundation the bank was built on, the idea that our customers come first.”
The State Bank prides itself on creativity, something not all banks have the ability to do. “Because we make all our decisions in-house, we know our customers and our community, and we can make decisions based on their past history and our relationships with them,” Ron explains.
Decisions happen fast at The State Bank. “We close mortgages quicker, which allows realtors and our customers to move faster to closing,” Ron explains.” This makes people happy, and that is a good thing!”
This flexibility has also allowed commercial clients to reach their business goals. Recently, The State Bank was instrumental in the financial orchestration of a large project in Fenton that was comprised of state, city, private and borrowed funds.
“We can be creative and flexible in funding business expansions, lines of credit, and commercial real estate too,” he says. “Many people do not know we are also an SBA-preferred lender, which means we can make it faster and easier to approve this type of loan. This allows us to provide lower payments to our clients based on the SBA’s expanded term options. We pride ourselves in our strong relationships with the municipalities of the communities we serve.”
Another shining star in their portfolio of services is the existence of an Investment and Trust Services Department. This is a wonderful complement to their banking organization because it allows them to offer options for portfolio management, financial planning, bill payment services, retirement and trust services.
“When done properly, a sound financial plan will take our clients from the beginning of their career, through their working life and into their retirement years. Along the way, it will help them educate their children, save for retirement, manage debt and create a spending plan for the funds they have accumulated,” explains Dennis Leyder, President of the Wealth Management Group.
Having the last independent trust department headquartered in Genesee County is one of the many reasons people look to The State Bank Trust Services Department for expertise.
The Future and the People
“I am privileged to lead one of our community’s greatest financial institutions,” Ron says. “I’m very excited about our opportunity for new growth; we are well-positioned and that makes me very confident in our future.”
Ron speaks of the changes transforming his industry due to new technologies. “Twenty years ago, I would have known the majority of our customers by name because everyone came into the bank. Now, that isn’t the case because of online and mobile banking. Even just 10 years ago, 70 percent of the banking transactions were done face-to-face and 30 percent were online. Now, we have 75 percent of our transactions online and only 25 percent of our customers come into our branch locations.”
The State Bank is proactive and current in their branches and banking practices. They make it easy to bank online and even on your mobile device. They even have a rewards app, Perks+, which allows their customers discounts at local and national retailers.
“We continue to invest in the latest technology for our customers to make their banking experience efficient and secure,” Ron says. “The banking world is ever-changing, and we have made a point to continuously research and invest in emerging technology, providing it creates value and makes sense for our customers. Our website also has 24-7 live chat capability, so any time of day, any day of the week, you can speak to someone who can help you with your banking needs.”
Ask Ron Justice what the secret of the bank’s success is, and the answer will be quick and simple: “it’s our people.” The State Bank not only has a dynamic leadership team, but also takes steps to identify and recruit top bank talent. Once in the organization, staff members are treated well and the bank goes the extra mile to keep their staff happy at work. The underlying theory in this business practice is that a happy workplace produces happy employees, and that is most effective in relationship-building in the local community.
Kristy explains further about the unique dynamic at The State Bank. “We certainly have our fair share of employees who have worked here for their entire careers, myself included. When we are interviewing new candidates, we let them know we have a mix of individuals. The first groups are the people who have started their careers here and have grown with us. There is another segment that was disenchanted at their former bank employers and came to us with great training and experience and are able to make an impact in an environment they can grow in. Thirdly, we have a brand new group of people who are excited and willing to learn about banking and because of the mix, it works.”
“Ron knows the names of all the employees, and he has an open-door policy so staff members can go in and talk to him at any time,” Kristy says. “This creates a productive and positive culture.”
The State Bank also believes that if they are going to invest in having the best people in their local communities, they want to show them off too. So you will often see State Bank employees volunteering at local events, in the local schools, and giving back.
“The State Bank is a good employer, fair and competitive; we are a family who works together in an exciting and positive environment,” says Ron.
An acquisition of the Community State Bank in St. Charles, Michigan is currently in the works for later this year and with that comes excitement and many questions. “We don’t want to get so big that we lose the definition of a community bank,” Ron says. “This expansion will allow us to serve our markets better and also create more opportunities for customers of the Community State Bank and for The State Bank customers. It is a decision that makes sense. We do not have any other planned expansions and as we grow, we are looking to the south and southeast of Genesee County.”
Many people do not know this, but The State Bank is the financial fuel behind hundreds of successful businesses and entrepreneurs in our community. They have a large range of products and services that are robust, efficient and helpful. The State Bank has definitely proven to be the power propelling many local businesses and their customers forward.
175 N. Leroy Street | Fenton, MI 48430