Port State Bank’s CEO is named state association Community Banker of the Year
Port Washington State Bank President and CEO Steven Schowalter was named the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s first Community Banker of the Year last week.
It was not an honor Schowalter had designs on.
He was nominated for the award by Port State Bank’s senior staff. The nomination was made at the urging of his friend Fred Schwertfeger, president and CEO of Horicon Bank, who won a similar recognition from the Community Bankers Association — which recently merged with the WBA.
Testimonials were submitted on Schowalter’s behalf by customers, community leaders and other banking professionals.
The award presentation was during the organization’s annual executive conference at Monona Terrace in Madison, and it came as a complete surprise to Schowalter.
“It was totally unexpected and a little humbling,” he said.
“I was at the award dinner with my son, and I suggested we sit in the back of the room so we could sneak out when we wanted to head home,” Schowalter said.
“James said we should sit toward the front, so we could see what was going on better.”
Even as the presenter noted that the award winner was a Marquette University graduate who has been in community banking for more than four decades, Schowalter didn’t expect to hear his name called.
“I wondered if the winner was someone I went to school with,” he recalled thinking. As Schowalter looked around, he noticed all the people sitting at his table kept looking away to avoid eye contact.
When he was named the award recipient, Schowalter said he remembers trying to pull random thoughts together as he approached the podium.
“I said I don’t think I do things different than anyone else in the room,” he said of the more than 350 bankers assembled from around the state.
“Rather than any specific accomplishment made over the past year, I guess you could consider it more of a recognition of my body of work as a community banker.”
Schowalter said the award was also a nod to his ongoing involvement with the state association.
He served on the group’s board from 2010 to 2013, as well as on the boards of two of the association’s business-specific subsidiaries — its insurance trust and its financial institutions products corporation.
Locally, Schowalter is a longtime member and past president of the Port Washington/Saukville Rotary Club, former member of board of Portal Inc. in Grafton, longtime member of Port Washington Economic Development Committee and a member of the advisory board of Ozaukee Economic Development.
Schowalter also represents banking interests on the Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton and Cedarburg Chambers of commerce.
While a student at Port Washington High School, Schowalter began working part-time at the bank that was founded by his grandfather, C. Donald Hill, and managed by his father, retired CEO and current chairman of the board Ron Schowalter.
After graduating from Marquette University’s College of Business Administration, he began working at Port State Bank full-time in 1972 as a teller and assistant cashier.
Schowalter was named president of the bank in 1991, succeeding his father. At that time, the bank had assets of approximately $100 million and three offices.
Assets under management have grown to more than $500 million.
The bank’s business success and commitment to community were singled out when it was named Large Business of 2015 by Ozaukee Economic Development.
Schowalter said the Banker of the Year award can also be seen as a pat on the back for his entire staff.
“One person can never accomplish all that needs to done to remain a respected and viable community resource as we have for over 116 years,” Schowalter said.
“I have literally been blessed with an outstanding group of associates, top to bottom.”
He singled out his brother Mark, the bank’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, and son James, senior vice president and chief credit officer, as being keys to the bank’s growth and success.
His son outlined the admiration he has for his father in the award nomination.
“I’ve been proud to be his son my whole life and can only hope to live up to his legacy of service above self in our community,” James Schowalter said.
In discussing the achievements that led to the award, the senior Schowalter quickly deferred the focus to the team managing the bank and its six branches.
“Somebody has to be the leader, but I have found the best approach is to empower your people and step back — letting them do their thing,” he said.
“You want your managers to feel they are the boss, they are the one who are responsible for the success of the business.”
In business for more than 116 years, Port State Bank has long been a cornerstone of the business community in Port Washington.
But, Schowalter looks at another barometer of success.
“You look at the bank’s involvement in the community. There aren’t many charitable causes that the bank hasn’t supported with donations of time and money,” he said, singling out the United Way as a favorite charity.
Beyond corporate philanthropy, Schowalter said the bank encourages staff members to be involved in worthy causes. As an example, he said, the bank is paying staff members to help inventory items this month at the Port Washington Food Pantry.
He said he takes particular pride in the low-interest loan programs it offers in partnership with local communities as a way to stimulate business growth.
PORT WASHINGTON STATE BANK CEO Steven Schowalter has been named Community Banker of the Year by the Wisconsin Bankers Association. Photo by Mark Jaeger