Sewick Capitalizes On Return

April 26, 2004
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HUDSONVILLE — He didn't have to think about it for very long.

On the personal side, returning to West Michigan to run a small community bank that his employer was buying would bring him closer to family and the two young grandchildren he wanted to watch grow up.

Professionally, Bob Sewick knows the market, knows the players and had always wanted to become a chief executive.

"The responsibility and the challenge of calling my own shots — I said, 'Hey, I can actually do it," said Sewick, a veteran banker who became president and chief executive officer of West Michigan Community Bank in mid-March following its acquisition by Fenton-based Fentura Financial Inc.

The move brought the 55-year-old Sewick back to West Michigan, where he spent 25 years with the former FMB Corp. and Old Kent Bank.

As he settles into the new job, Sewick is in the midst of leading an executive team that's changing the strategy and charting a new course for the Hudsonville-based West Michigan Community Bank, which for years has operated as a small, community bank that had a handful of offices and kept a low profile.

That's all changing now with the acquisition by Fentura Financial, the holding company for The State Bank in Fenton and Davison State Bank, both of which are west of Detroit.

West Michigan Community Bank is now moving into a "controlled growth mode," Sewick said, planning an "aggressive" business development program, new branch offices that will open in the next few years and a higher presence in the market following the community-banking model. The bank presently has offices in Hudsonville, Jenison and downtown Holland.

"In order to do that, it's just good customer service and back to the basics," Sewick said. "It's a people business."

Internally, the bank has a higher commercial lending limit under Fentura Financial, will expand the local board of directors from five to 10 or 12 members, and encourages employees and officers to become active in their communities, civic organizations and projects that contribute to the broader profile Sewick wants for the bank.

"When people hear 'West Michigan Community Bank,' I want them to go, 'Hey, we see them and we know their people,'" Sewick said.

Sewick says he feels the bank has the potential to grow assets — now at $134 million — and deposits by 15 percent annually. Given the success of other community banks in the market in the past several years, including those started and run by colleagues and former co-workers, Sewick believes a steady growth rate for West Michigan Community Bank is achievable, although he's not looking for rapid growth.

"It's singles and doubles. We don't have to hit the home runs," he said. "We don't have to have the huge deals."

Positioned in the fast-growing Kent and Ottawa county markets, Sewick sees future branch offices occurring north of Holland and Grandville, where an office is planned for a site near RiverTown Crossings Mall. Other potential future markets to tap are Zeeland, Wyoming and Byron Center.

A native of Saint Clair Shores in suburban Detroit, Sewick began his banking career after graduating from Western Michigan University in 1971 with a degree in business administration. Recruited out of college, he joined the former Hackley Union National Bank in Muskegon, now Comerica Bank.

Two years later he was recruited to the former Pacesetter/Old Kent Bank in Grand Haven, where he spent nine years in consumer lending. He later joined FMB Corp., where he rose to regional senior vice president in charge of commercial lending, responsible for a $3 billion territory that covered western Michigan from the Upper Peninsula to the Indiana border.

By 1999, after 16 years with the company and two years after FMB was bought out by Huntington Bank, Sewick was feeling lost in the larger corporate structure and disconnected from the customers with whom he enjoyed past business relationships. Working with a search firm, he began looking for a new job, hoping to connect with a small institution that followed the community-banking philosophy under which he spent much of his career.

"It wasn't me. My roots are closer to people," he said. "I finally realized community banking is where I see myself as a person and as a banker. I had to be closer to my customer."

The job search led him to connect with Donald Gill, the president and CEO of Fentura Financial, a small bank holding company that over the years had experienced steady growth and enjoyed a reputation as being well run and well capitalized.

He interviewed with Gill and was offered a position. With his three children grown and out of the house, and with relatives in the Detroit area, he decided to relocate and join Fentura Financial, where he became senior vice president of administration for The State Bank in Fenton.

"I couldn't have passed it up," Sewick said of the opportunity with Fentura Financial.

Nearly five years later, Fentura Financial's CEO offered him another opportunity he couldn't pass up: running West Michigan Community Bank.

Sewick and Gail, his wife of 35 years, took no more than two hours to consider the move, he said.

In naming Sewick to the post, Gill called Sewick "the right person to lead West Michigan Community Bank because of his proven expertise in banking and his long-standing ties to the West Michigan community."

Now, as a CEO, Sewick is finally calling his own shots and planning for West Michigan Community Bank's future growth.

The objective of growth is to drive earnings for the publicly held parent company and its shareholders and capture the market potential of West Michigan Community Bank.

Banks, he said, will need to grow as the market and its customers grow.

"You can't sit still. The market won't allow you to," Sewick said. "If your customer grows and you say to them, 'We can't do that loan,' that's leaving the door open for your competitor."    

Briefly

Name: Bob Sewick

Organization: West Michigan Community Bank

Title: President and chief executive officer

Age: 55

Residence: Norton Shores

Hometown: Saint Clair Shores

Biggest Career Break: Joining the former FMB Corp. in 1982, a bank renowned for its customer focus. "It showed me how the best banks in the country are run."

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