By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
NEW ULM — “Indescribably awesome work culture” isn’t a term used by employees too often these days.
But when Lou Geistfeld’s employees nominated him for a prestigious banker award, their letter was gushing with accolades.
“We do some interesting things and it gets some buzz around town,” said the 59-year-old Geistfeld, who has been president of the $318 million Citizens Bank Minnesota for 25 years.
Such as the zumba dance lessons employees did last year. “We had someone come in to teach it at 5, after work, and they’d crank up the music in the lobby and dance. People walking by would look in, wondering what’s going on,” Geistfeld said.
For his talents as a boss, for his and employees’ vast volunteer work, and for his skill at keeping the bank profitable even during the recession, Geistfeld has been named 2013 “Banker of the Year” by NorthWestern Financial Review magazine, a community banking magazine covering 14 Midwestern states.
“I like to stay low profile, so it’s a little overwhelming,” Geistfeld said.
“I’ve been getting a lot of calls from people. After doing this 30 years, there’s enough that goes wrong that you agonize over, so it’s nice to enjoy something like this.”
While profits dipped after 2007, the bank stayed profitable throughout the recession and in 2012 had it’s highest earnings in history.
They have an insurance agency and lend to individuals, farmers and businesses.
Geistfeld said volunteering comes with being a small-town banker. “People ask you to do things. I’ve been on every volunteer board in town over the years.”
And he extends that dedication to his 80 employees, giving people time off to do volunteer work and encouraging them to be involved.
Recently, he started a “shop local” campaign, challenging his employees to spend a total of $200,000 at local stores during the past holiday season. He took groups of 20 or 30 employees out for “cash mob” events, giving each employee $20 and showing up en masse at a local business to shop.
“We have a big parade the day after Thanksgiving, and every year 20 or 30 employees dress up and march in it. This year they dressed as candy canes that were lit up. They do it all on their own time,” Geistfeld said.
As part of a fitness program, 24 employees have lost more than 600 pounds.
The bank’s Relay for Life team has donated more than $100,000 to Brown County in the past decade.
“He’s wonderful. He’s very supportive of all the ideas people have,” said Lori Kollman, who has worked at the bank 35 years.
The work atmosphere has paid off with an extremely low turnover rate. To wit: The bank bought the small Lafayette bank in 1992; in the 20 years since, just one employee left that bank.
A Vernon Center native, Geistfeld graduated from Minnesota State University and joined FDIC as an examiner for six years, based in Mankato. He joined the bank in 1981 and was named president in 1987.
Founded in 1875, the bank has more than 400 shareholders, most of whom live in New Ulm.
“Our stock is widely held. A lot of it gets passed down from generation to generation,” Geistfeld said. “A lot of times you’ll help someone open a safety deposit box after their parents die and there will be a note saying, ‘These are bank stocks, don’t sell them,’ which is pretty gratifying.”