Brolick Leads Community Shores

July 17, 2006
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MUSKEGON — Heather Brolick, president and CEO of Community Shores Bank, more or less happened into the financial services industry because the economy was tight and she was fresh out of college and in need of a job.

In college, Brolick pursued a double major in theater arts and English and a minor in accounting and worked summers for a gasoline distributor during the oil crisis of the early 1970s. The job required her to interview people in the agricultural sector and help them fill out applications to see if they qualified for additional gasoline allowances to maintain their crops. Upon graduating, she attended a job fair and interviewed with some banks.

“My mindset was: I’m getting a job,” she recalled. “The banks were responsive in my interviews to the fact that a lot of what I’d done in the summertime job was a lot like lending. That’s how I got started in banking.”

She hired on as an officer trainee with First Interstate Bank of California, now Wells Fargo. The bank had a year-long, in-depth program for trainees that exposed them to every aspect of bank operations and every position. She became a loan officer and worked on different types of retail credits in the Los Angeles area. Brolick spent eight years with First Interstate and was then recruited by First Michigan Bank in Grand Haven, where she was department head of mortgage and retail lending for First Michigan Lumberman’s Bank in Muskegon.

Seven years later, FMB was acquired by Huntington Bank. Brolick stayed with Huntington for a couple years, then joined with former FMB employees Ralph Berggren, Tracey Welsh and Jose Infante to found Community Shores Bank in 1998. The bank opened in January 1999.

“We were all working together as a group and believed that with the dissatisfaction our customers were experiencing with the transition of FMB to Huntington that there was an opportunity for us to do something different and deliver a different type of service that we perceived at the time as becoming a dinosaur. It was going away because of all the bank acquisition from outside the area. We believed there was really a need for something ‘local,’ and that was the driving force behind starting Community Shores,” Brolick said.

She has served as senior vice president of the corporation  since 1998, as its president and chief operating officer since September 2003, has been a member of its board since December 2003, and has served as secretary of both the corporation and the bank since 2000.

Community banking was the model the founders of Community Shores wanted to stick with. Banking is a business that succeeds or fails based on how well it relates to both retail and business customers, Brolick said.

Like any business, she said, a bank has a mission, a vision and a game plan regarding how it wants to deliver its product. Brolick, Berggren, Welsh and Infante really believed they could make a difference by being smaller and by paying more attention to and being more responsive to the community, she explained.

“That’s not to say that our larger counterparts can’t do that. But I think that, overall, because we all live in the immediate community in which we work, and we’re very active in all of the service organizations and give a lot of our individual time, that we have a vested interest in the area, and there is a difference in our commitment to and knowledge of our community. I think that’s maybe the defining difference.”

While Community Shores is publicly traded, most of its shareholders are local, she pointed out.

“There is something to that commitment that does not get diluted through various levels of management. We can just make decisions faster, be responsive and cut out a lot of the extra stuff that larger organizations have to have because they’re doing business in multiple states.”

Community Shores has grown to $225 million in assets and is the only independent community bank headquartered in Muskegon. It serves businesses and consumers in Muskegon and Ottawa counties with a staff of 80 and three branch offices.

In Brolick’s admittedly biased opinion, the Community Shores staff “is the best.” She is proud of the people involved and proud of the fact that the founding team took the risk and pursued their vision. Before opening the bank’s doors, management had about 18 key individuals they had recruited who were on board helping them set up and get ready for opening, she recalled.

“They took that leap of faith with us, and the majority of them are still here; they’re excited about what we’re doing today and about our future opportunities,” Brolick reflected. “By and large, the most satisfying thing to me is to have begun with an idea and to see it turn into something tangible.”

Brolick said she has never looked back and has never had the desire to look elsewhere. As she sees it, the experience of building Community Shores has made her sensitive to the kinds of issues business owners have to deal with day to day.

This fall, Community Shores will open a fourth branch at the corner of Mount Garfield and Harvey Street, across from the Lakes Mall in Muskegon. Brolick said the company’s short-range plans are to expand to the east side of the county, and it’s presently wrapping up a property purchase on Apple Avenue. It’s also expanding its branch in north Muskegon. 

She noted that Community Shores entered both the Muskegon and Grand Haven markets with leased branch spaces, which have served the company well until now. The bank is investing money in improvements in both of those markets to accommodate the bank’s growth and customers’ desires for more drive-through lanes and better access. Short term, she said, the bank is really going to focus on its core defined market area of northern Ottawa County and Muskegon.

Brolick said she’s highly motivated by the desire to see the bank succeed — not just for her personally, but for “all the wonderful people” on Community Shores’ staff and for the bank’s shareholders and investors.

“We see ourselves as continuing to remain an independent, viable, locally-owned community bank. We’d like to continue to sustain moderate double-digit growth; if we grew in the 10 to 12 percent range on an annualized basis, I would probably be very satisfied with that. I really think that the strategic plans we have are going to increase profitability and provide a better return to our shareholders.”    

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