Beard Follows The Golden Rule

July 16, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Founders Bank & Trust President and CEO Laurie Beard wants customers to leave Founders feeling that they were treated very well by a responsive, friendly and welcoming staff.

“We want them to leave feeling that they were serviced by people who really like where they work and who take a great sense of pride in their work,” Beard said. “It’s something we’re very committed to.”

Beard, too, takes a lot of pride in the bank she co-founded in 1991. Founders’ vision, she said, is to be the bank of choice in the communities it serves. At Founders, Beard promotes a do-what-it takes work ethic, a positive attitude and a passion for serving customers. The best service, she believes, will turn customers into “raving fans” of the bank. The core of Founders’ culture is to follow the Golden Rule — treat others the way you would like to be treated.

In Beard’s youth, her father owned and operated a drug store in the small town of Virginia, Ill., and that influenced her to consider a career as a pharmacist. She started down that path in college but switched gears about a year later to pursue a business degree. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and finance from MillikinUniversity in Decatur, Ill.

Beard began her career as a bank examiner with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in Chicago. After moving to Grand Rapids, she earned an M.B.A. from GrandValleyStateUniversity.

“I always enjoyed learning and always enjoyed challenging myself in terms of learning new things,” Beard said. “I had taken a couple of classes that made me very excited about investments.”

Subsequently, Beard worked as a stockbroker from 1981 to 1991, first for the local Paine Webber office and later for A.G. Edwards & Sons here. Beard said she thoroughly enjoyed her years as an investment advisor. She was overjoyed when in 1991 she was invited to be on the management and founding team of a new bank in Grand Rapids — what was then called Founders Personal Bank. 

Beard and her group raised the capital locally to start the bank in December of that year. She co-founded Founders Financial Corp, a bank holding company for which she serves as president and CEO. The group established Founders Personal Bank on the corner of

Cascade Road
Spaulding Avenue SE
, and Beard took on the role of the bank’s senior vice president and head of the bank’s Trust & Investment Management Department.

“For me, it was a really good fit, because I still loved the investment world and I thought the ability to manage and grow assets for people would be a very key niche for our bank. So that gave me the opportunity to do more for people.

“In addition to being an investment advisor, it gave me the opportunity to do even more for people: I could also grow into offering them full banking services.”

Founders started in 7,000 square feet of space in a building across the street from its current headquarters and has since grown to include three other branches, plus a trust and investment management office in Traverse City. It offers a full menu of financial services, including personal banking, mortgage lending, consumer lending, commercial lending, business banking, and trust and investment management.

Its trust and investment management group, in fact, now has assets of more than $350 million.

Founders’ management team opened the downtown branch at

161 Monroe Ave. NW
and the Traverse City office in 2000. Founders’
Wilson Avenue
branch at
5601 Wilson Ave.
debuted in 2004 and its Northland branch at
5020 East Beltline Ave. NE
opened for business this past January. The company’s main branch at
5200 Cascade Road SE
remains its busiest location, Beard noted.

Unlike many other privately held companies, Founders has an employee stock purchase plan. It was one of the first things Beard put in place when she took over as president and CEO in 2001.

“I think people who have a chance to own shares in the company they work for have a clear alignment with the company’s goals and have a vested interest in the success of the company.”

Beard is a hands-on leader. Her office is on the main floor near the entrance to the bank’s headquarters, rather than tucked away out of sight on the upper level. That’s intentional, and it’s the way she likes it. Employees drop by her office daily to introduce her to new customers. She likes that, too.

“Talk about an open door policy — I don’t even have a door,” she joked.

As Beard sees it, in this day and age things are more impersonal than ever, and that continues to present Founders with the opportunity to show people that it can put the “personal” back in banking. It’s more important to Founders to build relationships properly with customers rather than just process transactions and grow bigger, she said. She’s not convinced that bigger is always better.

The Founders’ team prefers to manage the bank’s growth and take the time to get to know their customers better, so steady growth is its chosen path, she said. As consumers banking preferences evolve, she said, Founders wants to be able to offer a mix of ways people can bank — a mix that satisfies the wants and needs of age groups across the spectrum.

Founders’ most recently introduced product, for example, was remote deposit.

“We’re solid and strong and here to stay. We’re not perfect, but we sure strive every day to be better,” Beard remarked.

“I love my job and love everything we do here. The bank has been very successful, and we continue to grow by adding good people who have that great customer service attitude and passion.”     

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