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By Dale Hemmila
In life, the decisions you make may not seem momentous at the time, but when looking back, you can sometimes pinpoint real-life game-changers. That seems to be the case for Roxanne Daust, currently chairman, president and chief executive officer of Range Bank, an independent community bank with nine locations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
For Daust, that type of decision came early in her working career and began a process that ultimately led her to the top leadership position of a 133-year-old banking icon in the Upper Peninsula.
“I was working as a 20-year-old waitress at the Villa Capri (restaurant),” she recalled recently while discussing her path in the banking world. “I had the opportunity to be a teller (at another banking institution) and I had to question whether it was worthwhile, because with the money they were paying, I could barely afford to live off of, with a child; I was a single mom. So, I did decide that it made sense to take that bank telling job, because what’s your future as a single mother waitress? So I started off as a teller and worked (there) for 10 years in a couple of different departments.”
Her life-changing decision has now come full circle. The Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP) has named Daust the recipient of the 202 LSCP Distinguished Service Award. She will be recognized at the organization’s annual dinner in March.
“I am excited that Roxanne has been chosen as our Distinguished Service Award winner,” said Amy Clickner, LSCP chief executive officer. “She has excelled in her career and in her community. Sh is a role model for our future leaders. As for the LSCP, she serves in a leadership role and has helped set up the organization for continued success. Over the many years of working together, I am honored to also call her a friend.”
The path to Daust’s success and high achievement in the banking industry was not necessarily a straight line. During her first decade working in the banking industry, Daust finished off an accounting and computer information systems degree at Northern Michigan University, and her career path continued in a little different direction. She actually ended up leaving the banking industry and went to work at an accounting firm for a couple of years.
“I learned a lot, because I did a lot of auditing of banks and credit unions,” she said. “I feel like it was a good two years; I liked the experience because I learned a lot.”
Ultimately, the required travel during auditing assignments led Daust to return to banking full-time as a better career choice.
“I had seen an ad for a cashier position at First National Bank of Negaunee (which would ultimately become Range Bank) and I didn’t even know what a cashier was at the time; it’s kind of an old name for the accounting person.”
She got the job and continued to move up in her career over the next 20 years, first as chief financial officer position, then becoming executive vice president, and finally taking over as president in early 2018. She was promoted to chairman and CEO six months later, when her predecessor, Ken Palmer, retired.
She credits Palmer with helping her make the moves that lead to her current leadership position.
“Ken Palmer was a really great mentor to me,” she said. “He always pushed me to do more and believed in me. He asked me if I wanted to apply for the executive vice president position, and the first time, I said no. I was happy where I was at. But as I grew more confident, I felt that, yeah, I can do this job.
“And then we knew that this was the path that I was kind of on, in training to take over for Ken, when he retired. Ken did a good job of backing off on his role for the last year, so there weren’t really a lot of surprises. I knew what I was in for, and it was a pretty natural progression, but there is a lot of burden because the buck stops here. The additional pressure is knowing that, ultimately, the decision-making, along with the board, is up to me.”
As in any business where leadership at the top changes, the new leader tends to reshape the business to reflect his or her vision. For Daust, that meant making some cultural changes.
“We have made a ton of changes, and it all comes down to the fact that I am very focused on people,” she explained. “I formed a leadership team, which we never had before. We have a really strong leadership team, and I collaborate with them, and we make decisions together. It’s not just me sitting at the top, telling people what to do; it’s more of a collaboration of what’s best for the bank. ”
So, with her people-focused approach, Daust has instituted short employee surveys to obtain opinions about working at the bank, and then getting together with all the employees in small group meetings so staff can share ideas to improve the banking experience.
Daust believes that businesses need to keep up with competition in order to move forward. During her first couple of years as CEO, Daust and her team have provided the leadership to address the challenges of banking in the 21st century.
To help keep the bank on this path, Daust brought in a consultant to help improve services to both retail and business clients, to provide employee training, and to provide marketing assistance.
“One of our key focuses at the bank is making sure that we have the technology that customers need to do business with us,” she said. “Which means they don’t have to come to the bank very often, so we need to provide the products and services they need (online).”
But even with new technology and online competition, she also hasn’t lost sight of the people aspect of her industry.
“With community banking services, that’s always going to be the key,” she said. “I mean, when you have a problem, or you have a question, we answer our phones, we answer your question, you can come into one of our offices. We’re never going to get away from customer service being our differentiator, but we also need to have the technology that customers demand.”
Meanwhile, sitting at the top of a regional banking operation, it is not lost on Daust that she is a woman in what has traditionally been a position filled by a man in most of the banking world.
“When I’m sitting in a room of bankers, I’m definitely in the minority,” she said. “But when we’re in that room, I don’t think of myself as a woman; it’s more about getting stuff done and working together.”
She does note, however, that seeing more women in leadership roles in what were, at one time, considered mostly a male domain, is inspiring.
“I think it’s a great time for women to be in business, but it hasn’t always been that way. It’s good to see progress, and I see all the women across the U.P. that have gained higher level positions, and that’s been good to see.”
As for her own skills that lead her to her current role?
“I don’t give up,” she said. “I kind of have, ‘I get it done attitude,’ where there’s a way to figure out a solution to any issue that comes up. It’s just getting the right people in the room, and working hard, and not giving up.”
Daust has carried that attitude outside of her bank office into volunteer positions with organizations such as The Marquette Ambassadors and the Lake Superior Community Partnership (LSCP).
As for Daust, as a woman leader in the business world, she has advice for young women who aspire to something similar.
“Do things that make you feel uncomfortable,” she said. “Because you learn and you can be proud of yourself. You can learn that you can do things that you never thought you could do. If you don’t try, you will never know.”