Infantes Banking History Stellar
ROOSEVELT PARK — It sounded like a good idea at the time.
Earn a degree in Russian studies, move on to graduate school, get a job somewhere doing research.
One problem, though, as Jose Infante found out from his academic advisers:
“There’s no jobs out there” for Russian history majors, said Infante, the president and CEO of Community Shores Bank in Muskegon who today looks back at his initial career choice with laughter.
“Dumb idea,” he says as he recalls the events that led him to choose a career in banking.
Thirty years later, as head of the bank he helped to found more than two years ago, Infante is having the time of his life.
“There are challenges out there, but they’re different when you have fun going to work each day,” he said.
Infante, 48, and a group of colleagues founded Community Shores Bank in 1999 after leaving Huntington Bank, where he was regional city executive for the Muskegon region. Their decision to start their own bank came after they became disenfranchised with Huntington soon after its July 1997 acquisition of the former First Michigan Bank Corp., or FMB.
The change in corporate culture from FMB to Huntington was too much for Infante, who had talked with a handful of close colleagues for months about forming their own bank. He left Huntington in June 1998 to begin laying the groundwork for what became Community Shores Bank.
“It was a different culture,” he said, “working for an organization whose philosophy was so different than what we were used to. I couldn’t do it.”
While a “scary” proposition, Infante felt it was the right move at the right time in the era of bank consolidation in the late 1990s that opened a window of opportunity for new, smaller players in the banking market to serve customers who felt left behind by the larger institutions being formed through mergers and acquisitions.
“I said, ‘I can do something different or I can start my own shop.’ It’s always a scary thing when you start your own shop. It isn’t like we’ve all done this before,” he said. “But the opportunity was there. It was the right time. If you hadn’t done it then, there wasn’t much time to do it.”
Community Shores Bank opened its first office in November 1999 and now has three branch offices in Roosevelt Park, North Muskegon and Grand Haven. A fourth office in is the works for eastern Muskegon County. The bank now has assets of more than $135 million and broke even during the first quarter as its heads toward profitability and a less scarey future than when Infante and his co-workers began recruiting investors for the bank nearly three years ago.
“I’m having a great time,” said Infante, whose career in banking began as a student at Miami Dade Community College in Florida.
Infante, a 1970 graduate from Grand Rapids Christian High School, agreed to spend his first year of college in Florida to be close to his parents, who had moved there shortly before his high school graduation. While in Miami, he got a part-time job in the credit card department of a bank, taking calls from retailers seeking approval for customers’ purchases.
After a year in Florida, he was ready to return to Michigan. His supervisor in Miami offered to help him find work through business contacts he had in Grand Rapids. That help landed Infante at Old Kent Bank, where he worked in credit card and collections operations while attending school, first at what was then known as Grand Rapids Junior College, then at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
Graduating from Western with his bachelor’s in Russian history, Infante was beginning to come to the conclusion that his job options were limited and that graduate school wasn’t in the cards. That’s when Old Kent offered him a new opportunity to begin training as a bank administrator.
“I thought, ‘That might be fun. Why not?’” Infante said.
He accepted the offer and later began his move through the ranks at Old Kent, where over the years he held positions in branch management and commercial lending.
Infante left Old Kent in 1986 after being recruited by FMB Lumberman’s Bank, the Muskegon affiliate of FMB. He became FMB Lumberman’s vice president of branch administration, overseeing the operations of nine banking offices in the Muskegon and Grand Haven areas.
“They had an opportunity I liked. I wanted to run a branch system,” Infante said of the move.
Over the next several years, Infante moved into new executive positions that held higher responsibility, finally ending up as president and CEO of FMB Lumberman’s in 1994. At the same time he got deeply involved in community affairs and a number of civic organizations, and today he sits on the Grand Valley State University Board of Trustees. He also has served on the board of directors of Mercy General Health Partners in Muskegon.
Overall, things were going well at FMB, he said. Then came the Huntington acquisition and changes in the corporate culture and structure that Infante saw as diminishing his position within the organization, as well as that of other senior executives in Muskegon.
Looking back, Infante says he and his colleagues at Community Shores simply didn’t feel they could remain at Huntington. In hindsight, he said, the buyout provided him the best professional opportunity he ever had.
“I’m thrilled. This is the best thing that could happen,” he said.