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Humble Beginnings

Gateway Bank Shares Their Foundation

From starting in a double-wide trailer almost two decades ago, Gateway Bank has come a long way.  I sat down with Gateway Bank President Bruce Downey and Market President Brian Maxwell to discuss that journey, and some influences along the way. 

Before the founding of Gateway Bank, both men worked at another community bank called Signal Bank that was acquired in 2001.  And it was after Signal Bank was purchased, that Bruce decided, “If I could, it might be better to control my own destiny” and start his own bank, rather than join another community bank.  “It was probably insanity to quit your job and start a bank, but it worked out great,” says Bruce.  And so, Bruce met with his future partner and CEO of the Bank, John Schreier for, “Breakfast at Perkins,” and the two men decided to team up and start what would later be Gateway Bank. 

Bruce laughed when talking about those early days of rented offices and double-wide trailers: “Quite honestly, that first day we had a folding table from home, a laptop and a phone.  We went to OfficeMax and bought a stapler and probably some scotch tape.”  But during that period of raising money, applying to the Federal Reserve Bank, the FDIC and State of Minnesota, Bruce and John came to a philosophical understanding about the organization they were launching: ‘If we make it a great place to work, it will be a great place to bank.’  And in January of 2004, from the inside of that double-wide trailer, Gateway Bank opened its doors in Mendota Heights with six associates, including Brian. 

A focus on culture was always at the heart of Gateway Bank.  When talking about where that ideology came from, both men cited their time at Signal Bank as inspiration.  “It was like a case study on how you have a successful business that just happens to be a bank,” says Brian.  Signal Bank’s strong culture and ethics directly flowed into Gateway Bank’s focus on creating a strong culture.  And when it comes to creating comradery at Gateway Bank, it’s the simple things that both men work at: “It is really folks getting together to celebrate, whether it’s a birthday or a promotion or a goal getting met,” says Brian.  Bruce adding, “It seems a little corny, but it gets people out of their offices.” 

Another aspect of creating a company that is great to work at and therefore to bank at, is its associates.  “It really comes down to the collective group of people you have,” says Brian.  A key aspect of the bank’s hiring practice consists of peer interviews where candidates meet their potential co-workers to see if they would be a good fit.  “It’s as important for you to choose us as for us to chose you.  We want people to look at our bank and look at our philosophy and say, ‘that’s where I want to be and that’s where I want to make my career,’” says Bruce.  For potential associates, character always comes first: “If you got the right person who’s motivated, you can hopefully turn them into really good bankers,” says Bruce. 

Beyond Signal Bank and business influences, Bruce cited his father, an Edina schoolteacher and swim coach of 62 years as foundation for his, “Worth ethic and moral compass in terms of how you treat people and how you go about your life.”  Brian similarly cited his own father, an Administrator at Fairview Hospital, for “How he handled himself and how he interacted his co-workers,” as well as his high school coach Jerry Webber for his, “Preparation and how he handled problems.”  All those influences “bleed over into business,” says Bruce affecting how Gateway is structured, operates day to day, and treats every client. 

But at the end of the day, Gateway Bank is just that, a bank.  For Bruce, the goal is simple: “Our product is the dollar bill, and every bank has the same product.  It’s just how they deliver it, and what we can do to differentiate ourselves.  So that’s what we strive to do.”  For Brian, “It really is the personal touch,” that separates Gateway Bank.  He strives to make banking less intimidating: “Whether you’re looking at borrowing money or trying open an account for your kids, it shouldn’t be difficult to do, and we do our best to make all of those things easy.”  So as Gateway Bank approaches its twentieth year in business, they still strive to do right by their associates to give the best experience to their clients, even if they’ve outgrown their double-wide trailer in the process. 

For more information, visit www.gateway.bank. 4530 France Ave S. #200, Edina. (952) 465-3890.

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