Kerber puts communities in line to find success

November 8, 2010
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When Lynn Kerber was appointed regional president of Chemical Bank in March 2009, it was with the knowledge she would again lead the local efforts of a financial organization that has been on an upward path for the 20 years she has been with the company.

Kerber was hailed by David B. Ramaker, chairman, CEO and president of Chemical Bank, for her steady ascension up the bank’s hierarchy.

“Lynn has provided our Holland and Grand Rapids markets with exceptional leadership over the past four years as senior lender and community president since joining our company in 1990,” said Ramaker. “Her dedication and commitment to achieving exceptional customer service has helped us immensely in the western Michigan marketplace. I look forward to her guidance and enthusiasm as we continue our growth in this important region of the state.”

Kerber is responsible for overseeing the operation of the corporation’s West Michigan division, which is comprised of the greater Lakeshore Region from South Haven to Fremont, the Holland-Zeeland communities and metro Grand Rapids.

Kerber has nearly 25 years in the financial services industry and has worked in many areas, including business development, credit administration, business and mortgage lending and retail banking. 

She started her banking career with Muskegon Federal Savings & Loan in 1985 and, in 1990, joined Citizens Trust & Savings Bank, which later became part of Chemical Financial Corp.

She has a long history of community involvement, including leadership roles with United Way, Junior Achievement and the South Haven Chamber of Commerce. She currently serves as president of Community Action House in Holland, vice president of West Michigan Lakeshore Certified Development Corp., the South Haven Local Development Finance Authority and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

A native of Muskegon, Kerber grew up in Spring Lake. She now lives in South Haven with her husband, Paul, and their two sons.

Kerber holds a master of business administration degree and a bachelor of business administration degree from Western Michigan University. She started out in WMU’s biochemistry program, but when she took a job working part-time in a bank, she said, she “loved the personal and business connections, and changed my major.”

After her first position at Muskegon Federal Savings & Loan (later Ameribank), she moved to South Haven and worked for Citizens Trust and Savings Bank. That was the start of a career path that took her to the former First of America’s mortgage department, and then, in 1990, to what would become Chemical Bank.

“Personally, the combination of ability to use business skills, intellect and the challenge and opportunity to be involved in the community” is what has kept Kerber plugged into an industry that has seen its rocky times in recent years.

“Community banking is very focused on community,” she noted. “It’s a line of business that by its nature is very focused on business and its customers. It has a lot of diversity. The underlying theme for me is the willingness to be creative and be innovative, always looking for ways to promote the communities and develop.

Kerber’s free time involves a focus on family activities. “Both of our boys play soccer so I’m a soccer mom and help coach their team. We spend a lot of time outdoors, a lot of time on the lake fishing and kayaking. In the winter, I just started to downhill ski. I haven’t broken anything yet.”

Her professional life isn’t encountering any obstacles, either.

“Our bank is definitely one of the strongest in Michigan, and in West Michigan we’re growing and having more impact on the communities as we grow. We’ve had terrific deposit growth. We’re here to do business and looking for strategic opportunities to grow and continue to be a great community partner.

“Over last couple of years, it’s become even more dynamic with the economy the way it is,” she noted. “We do a little bit of everything. We link with customers to help finance a business, and work with different community groups to support their endeavors. That’s what I love about it — helping out the community and its business talent. That’s what’s enabled us to grow our franchise.”

Kerber acknowledged the financial sector has experienced “the deepest recession that many of us have seen in a long time. For some business owners and some bankers, it’s the first one we’ve experienced of this magnitude. Those businesses that have been the most conservative in their approach over the years has allowed them to weather the recession better. It’s come down to the difference in management and the abilities of business owners and managers. There remains an overall attitude of creativity and perseverance — moving forward every day in order to thrive.”

Kerber has found herself in a position to help administer one of the most significant local banking mergers in recent years. Midland-based Chemical Financial Corp. purchased O.A.K. Financial Corp., the parent company of Byron Bank. The company completed its acquisition of OAK for $83.9 million April 30.

The acquisition of OAK and Byron Bank resulted in increases in the company's total assets of $820 million, total loans of $631 million, total deposits of $693 million (core deposits of $495 million) and goodwill of $40 million. The consolidation and systems conversion of Byron Bank into Chemical Bank was completed in the third quarter of 2010.

With the acquisition, Chemical Bank now has 35 offices in its West Michigan region that extends from South Haven to Fremont. It includes the Grand Rapids area, Holand and Grand Haven.

“It’s all gone really well,” Kerber said of the deal. “We’re operating very smoothly. Right now we’re working on the more qualitative parts of the merger. We’re beginning to be very focused on bringing the operational part together. There are some true benefits of the merger. The expanded branch network has rounded out Chemical in this market. We’re starting to see customer traffic taking advantage of the new network.”

Kerber said Chemical has doubled its West Michigan lending staff from 12 commercial positions to 24 and has done a similar expansion in the mortgage lending area. “That’s been huge. We now have much broader coverage of the market from a business lending standpoint. We’re in a position to lend. It’s also brought a wider array of wealth management products to both sets of customers, as well. One of the primary benefits is brand awareness.”

Chemical Financial Corp. recently posted 2010 third quarter net income of $8.9 million, or 32 cents per diluted share, compared to net income of $4.4 million, or 17 cents per diluted share, in the second quarter of 2010. Net income was $15.6 million, or 60 cents per diluted share, for the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2010, compared to $7.5 million, or 31 cents per diluted share, for the nine months ended Sept.30, 2009.

CEO Ramaker credited the O.A.K. acquisition for having a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

"We are pleased with our reported third quarter earnings, which benefited from higher net interest income, as well as a lower provision for loan losses, offset by higher expenses. The quarter's improvements were attributable, in part, to our acquisition of O.A.K. Financial Corp.," he said.

Kerber said Chemical has been able to shelter itself from most of the turmoil experienced by the industry in the past few years.

“Being conservative and traditional in its services allowed us to have a very strong balance sheet and excellent management enabled us to survive and do well in the economy to grow and take advantage of our strengths,” she said.

“A lot of banks’ lending capacity was frozen due to lack of equity. Our bank remained very strong. We are participating in small business lending and will work with any new provisions to help our clients.”

Kerber sees differences in the various communities the bank serves in West Michigan, but points to some common themes.

“Look at Grand Rapids and you have things like ArtPrize. In other communities you have green technology, wind turbines and different manufacturing processes. It all comes down to the ability or willingness to innovate.”

The bank was recently involved in a partnership in which the Byron Center and Grand Rapids communities will receive $692,500 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis for the construction of a six-unit group home for adults with developmental disabilities and the rehabilitation of 10 two- and three-bedroom rental units that will have increased energy efficiency and enhanced street appeal. Through the FHLBI’s Affordable Housing Program, Chemical Bank collaborated with two nonprofit organizations to secure the grant money: Inner City Christian Federation Housing Corp. and Covenant Enabling Residents of Michigan, doing business as Faith House.

AHP funds are awarded to member banks of the FHLBI who submit applications on behalf of project sponsors who are planning to purchase, rehabilitate, or construct affordable homes or apartments. Funds are awarded through a competitive process, which typically takes place twice a year. Nineteen projects in Michigan and Indiana were awarded grants totaling $5,960,365.

“We are grateful to the FHLBI for awarding this grant money, and thankful to our team members who dedicated their time and expertise during the application process. That commitment is what fuels the bank’s passion to serve its customers and communities,” Kerber said.

She said Chemical Bank is committed to helping families and individuals in need.

“These grants represent more than an investment in affordable housing,” said Kerber. “They are also an investment in the prosperity and quality of life in our communities.”

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