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A conversation with Frank Suellentrop

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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When Frank Suellentrop first began thinking about the job he wanted after college, his primary criterion was something that would allow him to stay in his hometown of Colwich.

“Just growing up, I thought it was a great place to live,” he said.

And even though the choice may seem obvious now, the chief executive of Legacy Bank wasn’t thinking about a career at his family-owned bank. He seriously considered being a pharmacist.

“That seemed like a nice business to be in,” Suellentrop, 60, said. “But I realized I wasn’t cut out for the medical field. Things like chemistry, you’d have to enjoy. The idea was good. The practicality was not.”

Since joining the bank in 1973 following graduation from St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Okla., Suellentrop has watched and help guide Legacy – formerly Colwich State Bank – from a single-office bank with $14 million in assets to one that has $275 million in assets and six branches in the area. Legacy also ranks 10th in the area for deposits, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Legacy was started in 1886 by a group of Colwich investors. In 1911, Suellentrop’s great-grandfather and grandfather, who were in the mercantile business, became shareholders of the bank. Over the years, the Suellentrop family has become the majority owner of the bank.

After 40 years in the business, what keeps you interested and engaged in the banking industry?

I certainly enjoy the business aspect of banking, which in my mind is helping our customer with their needs, whether that’s banking services or lending. In the case of lending especially, whether it’s personal or business, you’re providing a valuable service to people buying a home, financing other life expenses and … helping their business to start new or to grow.

Is Legacy primarily a consumer bank, a business bank or both?

Ninety percent plus of our loan portfolio is business versus personal or consumer. It’s just our niche. It’s extremely competitive for things like a car loan, home equity (loan).

Would you consider Legacy an aggressive or conservative lender?

We don’t necessarily consider ourselves aggressive, but I think the regulatory agencies do. We’ve been doing it for 20, 25 years or more, and we think we have the capacity and the staff to handle it.

How is the lending business, and do you see it improving?

It’s certainly been a slow period of time, probably since 2009 or so. We have seen a little bit of growth in ’13 that makes me think things are going to pick up and business growth is going to be positive, but it’s probably too early to tell if that’s going to continue or be the trend. But I think in general my opinion would be we’ve hit the low point and hopefully were moving toward higher growth for new and expanding businesses.

Do you feel like you learned anything new as a bank manager having experienced this last recession?

I hope we always learn something. In my mind, you go through maybe 10 good years and you think maybe it’s going to go on forever that way. But you’d better be prepared to take on only what you can handle, to remember when we go through the (loan) approval process, if this isn’t successful, what is the impact (to the bank). You have to consider the risk of business failure (when making loans, even in the good times).

How did you manage the bank through this last recession?

You know who your customers are and come up with ways to work through the hardships, whatever they might be. Hopefully, most can be worked out. But not all of them do.

What’s the toughest thing you deal with today as a bank manager?

We continue to add regulations to everything we do … in other words, regulatory burden. Just the accumulation of those over the years has been a challenge. When I see the mountain of paperwork to document that … the most difficult from a management perspective is the regulatory burden.

What has been one of the most rewarding experiences for you at Legacy?

In 1989 we had kind of a generational shift in bank ownership and my dad, Clem, and I worked on putting a bank holding company together. We got that approved during fairly difficult economic conditions. It was not an easy process.

What in your mind are the qualities of a good bank executive?

To me it’s the ability to develop a quality management team, to hire good people – people who can work together – that helps spread the operational responsibilities of the bank.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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