Deur Followed A Different Path

April 22, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — As bankers go, Garth Deur is a little different — at least from the perspective of his career path.

Deur, president and CEO of the Bank of Holland, acknowledges that to a lot of people in the financial services industry, he probably seems an unlikely choice to lead a bank, because up until two years ago, he didn’t have a background in banking.

As a young man, Deur didn’t set out to pursue a career in banking. Influenced by both his grandfather and his father, who owned car dealerships, he had his sight set on business. After graduating from Calvin College, he worked in the family business a couple of years and then went on to earn a Master of Business Administration from Grand Valley State University.

Throughout the 1980s, Deur worked as a certified public accountant and business consultant for Arthur Andersen. In 1989, while doing consulting work for General Motors on the east side of the state, he was introduced to some people at Prince Corp./Johnson Controls of Holland. Six months later, he joined Prince’s finance group, where he worked on customer-related financial issues, such as pricing, investment, business forecasting and new business proposals. Deur migrated quickly to the customer side of the business, and spent his last four years with Prince in business development, working most closely with Chrysler Corp., Prince’s largest customer at the time.

In November 2000, Deur hired on at Gentex. He was promoted to senior vice president in June 2001 and then promoted to the position of executive vice president in 2002. As executive vice president, he was responsible for purchasing and logistics, human resources, facilities management, legal, accounting/finance, systems and corporate communications/investor relations.

Deur left Gentex and spent a year working with a group of local investors, one of whom was Bank of Holland founder Richard Lievense, now president and CEO of Lake Michigan Financial Corp., parent company of the Bank of Holland and The Bank of Northern Michigan. The Bank of Holland opened in October 1998 in Holland. 

“We started a couple of small businesses, bought a couple of small businesses, and one of the businesses I invested in that year was the Bank of Holland,” Deur reflected. “In a small way, I’ve been involved in this organization from the very beginning, although I never had any idea that I would one day work here.”

Deur was well recognized in the business community and had connections not only to Lievense but to some of the other directors of the Bank of Holland. When Lievense broached the idea of Deur coming to work for the bank, Deur said he politely dismissed it. But Lievense didn’t give up on the idea and neither did the bank directors.

“They followed up with me, stating that they were very serious and very interested in adding someone to the senior management group of the bank that came from something other than a banking background, just to bring a different perspective, other industry knowledge and other experiences to the bank,” he said. “When they started talking about this opportunity in those terms, that’s when I became interested.”

Deur joined the bank in 2006 as executive vice president and has since been integral to the bank’s business development and leadership. One of the biggest challenges in banking, he found, is that it’s a more highly regulated industry than any other he had been involved in.

He said that joining the bank afforded him a “wonderful” opportunity to reconnect with West Michigan after 17 years in the automotive industry, where he had worked mostly in Detroit or outside the country.

“The opportunity to contribute right here in West Michigan has been really exciting,” he said. “It has been kind of like a return to my roots.”

He was promoted to Bank of Holland’s president and CEO in early February of this year and is responsible for the strategic direction, long-term planning and complete oversight of both the Holland and Grand Rapids operations and their combined 70 employees.

The full-service community bank serves primarily small- to mid-sized businesses. It doesn’t have any branches or drive-through banking lanes because its goal for each client is to provide a person-to-person experience, Deur explained. Since most of the bank’s clients are business owners or principals in a business, they tend to have greater needs, he said, and the bank believes it can best serve those needs person to person rather than through a drive-up window. 

Deur doesn’t think the Bank of Holland has any limitations in having only one building in each market. Technologies such as electronic banking and remote capture make banking very convenient, and the company also offers a currier service.

The Bank of Holland currently has more than $525 million in assets. Deur anticipates it will be a billion dollar bank in five years. He sees continued opportunities to grow the bank’s customer base in the Holland market and “wonderful” opportunities to grow its base in the Grand Rapids market.

“Probably the best opportunity we have here in Grand Rapids is to continue to add people to this franchise who have values that are consistent with the culture we’ve established, and more importantly, who really have a passion for working with smaller independent businesses in West Michigan,” he said.

“I think if we continue that focus, there won’t be limits on our opportunities to grow, especially here in Grand Rapids.”

Banking is a very relationship-based business, Deur pointed out: Business is earned through making commitments, following through on commitments, taking excellent care of customers and building a reputation for it.

“Growing up in a small town and in a small family business, I came to understand the value of personal relationships and the importance of building a good reputation,” he said. “The same is important for a small community bank. I’ve worked with people over the years, both from this area and outside this area, and I’ve gained an appreciation for the fact that treating people the way you want to be treated is pretty universal.”

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