Porteous pursues blend of politics and business
His professional life, which melds his interests as a lawyer, businessman and political activist, hasn’t drifted much beyond West Michigan, but his influence continues to spread well beyond that with his political affiliations and, most prominently these days, as the lead director of the board of directors of Huntington Bancshares Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio.
Huntington is a $52 billion banking institution with offices in six Midwestern states. Porteous was elected to Huntington’s board of directors in 2003 and named to the lead director role in November 2007. He previously served on Huntington’s regional advisory board following the acquisition of First Michigan Bank in 1997.
“My experiences have been a natural sort of outcome of how I was brought up,” he said, alluding to the banking background and community involvement of his grandfather and father.
“Banking was a revered profession,” he noted. “It was something that was talked about at the dinner table, and I was able to observe two people who were involved in not just the bank but their communities.”
The patriarchs of the family ran banks during previous difficult periods, including the Great Depression. His father, William L. Porteous, led a small bank in Reed City for 42 years. When Porteous returned to Reed City in 1978 to establish his law practice, he soon earned a position on the bank’s board of directors. That position, through several mergers and acquisitions, has progressed from oversight of a two-bank system managed by his father into serving as the lead director for the nation’s 35th largest banking institution
He used his family’s banking stories during an ambitious communications journey that caught the eye of many in the banking profession.
David L. Porteous
“I’m a born optimist,” Porteous said in reflecting on the status of banking services in the U.S. “We have had some tough challenges. Huntington is committed to going forward in the communities we serve.”
Porteous credited the work of Huntington’s West Michigan leader Jim Dunlap, who was promoted last year to senior executive vice president, for spearheading efforts to keep the bank holding company on solid ground.
Upon committing himself to holding a series of town-hall-style meetings with employees and customers who were seeking more information about Huntington’s status, Porteous took responsibility, with full support from his board colleagues, for communicating the organization’s intentions to its stakeholders. “I thought it was important for them to hear from me, the lead director, about the process we went through and the board’s commitment to remaining independent and strong,” he said.
The trips, most of which were by car, involved excursions to many of the communities that housed Huntington’s 600 branches across six states and 11 operating regions. It was a strenuous nine-month odyssey that was squeezed around his other professional obligations and capped by a June session in West Michigan.
The focus of his discussions recapped the bank’s successful campaign to raise $1.66 billion in capital, and of how the management was investing in new products and marketing initiatives to position the bank for the future. While Huntington lost $3.1 billion in 2009, it returned to profitability in the first quarter of 2010, a year ahead of schedule, earning $39.7 million. Profits for the first six months were $88.5 million.
Porteous is a partner in the law firm of McCurdy Wotila & Porteous PC, with two offices in West Michigan. He specializes in corporate and municipal law and government relations. He is a special assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan and was appointed to the Attorney Grievance Commission by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2007. He is a past director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis and Chemical Bank Central.
Due to appointments to government board positions under the governorship of John Engler, Porteous has become a recognized authority on economic development and has served on the board of directors of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Michigan Economic Growth Authority, Michigan Strategic Fund, Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and Alliance for Health in Grand Rapids.
He said his interest in politics was piqued when he was a student at Michigan State University and was hitch-hiking to Mt. Pleasant. The person who stopped to give him a ride was none other than Dick Posthumus, a colleague of Engler’s during his early runs for state office in the legislature.
“I was intrigued by their vision and plan, even back then,” Porteous said. “I followed and became involved with that campaign, and he won the election as an underdog. That provided a transformational moment and gave me the grassroots passion, and convinced me of my ability to be impactful beyond the community in which I lived. It led to a long relationship with the Engler administration. It was one of the great highlights of my life, being able to work with so many talented people.”
Porteous graduated from Michigan State University cum laude in 1974. In 1998, he was elected to the MSU board of trustees for eight years, serving as board chairman from 2003 to 2006. He is currently a member of the board of trustees of the MSU College of Law.
He received his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and also has studied at Yale University, Oxford University in England and the University of Hawaii.
Porteous is involved in community activities including Rotary International, the Osceola County Community Foundation and the United Methodist Church.
One the most visible positions Porteous has held in recent years was his seat on the MSU board of trustees. After being appointed to the board in March 1997, he was elected for eight years in 1998, serving as board chairman from 2003 to 2006. He was a significant player in helping MSU bring its College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids. The Secchia Center medical education building opened this fall.
“MSU couldn’t do it on their own,” Porteous said. “What happened with the partnerships involved in this will certainly be replicated in other communities. To see it happen in a community I love, in such a philanthropic way, says so much about the people here. I chaired the board during that time, but my role was small.”
Porteus’ interest in pursuing a law degree again involved his interest in politics.
“I always was engaged in the political process,” he said. “A law degree provided a great foundation that would be a benefit in promoting those interests. I find a great deal of enjoyment in helping individuals, helping candidates” for office.
His recent legal work has included forays into representing property owners in the Reed City area targeted by natural gas development interests. The shale rock foundations in the area were seen as prime targets for a controversial process known as fracking — deploying high-pressure water streams to blow apart rocks underneath the earth to release natural gas. It marked an increase in speculators flooding the region, which has since abated somewhat due to other market factors. Porteous represented several property owners during the surge and became so well-versed on the topic that he was interviewed for stories on “60 Minutes” and on the PBS “Nightly Business Report.”
He also has had a focus on business and corporate work and represented numerous municipalities, a workload that involves heavy travel throughout the area. “It’s a much smaller place than when I was growing up. It’s a two-hour drive one way to Grand Rapids, but with computers and cell phones, we’re never far away.”
Porteous followed his father’s lead by meeting his future wife, Joan, while a student at MSU, although his dad attended the institution when it was the Michigan Agriculture College. They have three children, all of whom have attended MSU.
Having worked with Michigan Gov.-elect Rick Snyder on the state economic development boards in their early stages under the Engler watch, Porteous is excited about the vision Snyder is bringing to Lansing.
He saw Snyder’s business acumen at work when economic development issues came before the commissions, and said: “I’m incredibly enthusiastic and optimistic about the future we have here. Everything is sort of lined up with the potential to be transformational. (Snyder) is already showing his ability to be a leader in the political process. We can help one another get things done in this state. He’s building that platform.”
Porteous believes the influence the business community is having on the state’s political process, including the work being done by the Business Leaders for Michigan, offers opportunities to grow Michigan’s economy and tweak economic development efforts to preserve and attract business.
“There is no silver bullet in addressing some very complex challenges,” Porteous acknowledged. “We need to develop partnership with local communities that impacts the progress that is unique to each community. Every project needs to stand on its own. It can’t be a cookie-cutter approach. We need to balance the interests of the community and state and of the companies that are already here or are interested in coming here.”
He said The Right Place Inc. formula for economic development offers a prime example. “The success there is legendary, primarily due to the public and private partnerships. And at the same time, we must stress the stewardship involved in taking care of taxpayers’ dollars. Local communities can lead by example but also have some skin in the game.”