According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2016 the average number of years an employee worked for their employer was 4.2 years. In Sue Black’s case, she is one of the few rare individuals wht have reached their 40th anniversary milestone working at one company – The Bank of Elk River.
In 1977, while engaged to be married, Sue Cooper (now Black) stopped into The Bank of Elk River with her fiancé, Bob, to see if they could get a $15,000 house loan. Black was heading down to St Paul Title later that week for her second job interview, when she and Milt Dwyer, then bank president, were talking about the house loan and he said, “ Oh Sue, you won’t be happy there” and hired her on the spot with no application or interview.
Black joined 11 other employees at the bank and spent the first part of her career balancing marriage, a young family, home schooling and filling a number of roles at the bank. As the bank was small, Black balanced many roles including receptionist, bookkeeper, teller and new accounts staff member. In time, as her experience and knowledge grew, Black started working in the loan area and worked directly with Pat Dwyer, Milt’s son, in the loan department. She obtained financial statements from customers and worked with loan files.
“As I look back, I really enjoyed the jobs I held at the bank. In the first half of my career, I had great opportunities to fully learn the inner workings of the bank as well as getting to know our customers,” said Black.
One of the more interesting jobs Black held was taking employees out to lunch. After the bank began expanding and branch offices were added, she was asked to facilitate weekly group lunches with one employee from each office. The purpose? To build stronger connections and to collectively talk about positive happenings at the bank.
“This was really the start of my entry into human resources,” said Black. “By being involved with these weekly lunches, I was able to facilitate team building and help employees get connected.”
In the late 1990s, Black attended a “train the trainer” program. This, combined with her strong people skills and business knowledge, allowed Black to begin her new role as a training specialist facilitating management and customer service training programs for the bank.
From this point forward, human resources became Black’s career path. She went on to be a human resources generalist, an employee relations officer and then an organizational development officer.
In 2011, Black took over as director of human resources and helped lead the bank through the Great Recession, working hard to create and maintain a culture of excellence, warmth, dignity and respect.
Over the course of her career, Black said she felt privileged to attend the Graduate of School of Banking, receive her Human Resources Generalist Certification from St. Thomas as well as receive significant training in human resources and the DiSC® training program. Within the past year, Black also obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family counseling.
Black, now executive vice president and director of human resources for The Bank of Elk River, recently was awarded the 2016 Top Woman in Finance Award from Finance and Commerce. This award recognizes the top 50 women in Minnesota for their outstanding achievements in business.
“Sue’s longevity at the bank provides her the benefit of knowing our culture and how we, as an organization, can remain true to our core values that drive our success,” said John Babcock, chairman of The Bank of Elk River. “Sue is one of the most qualified and talented HR executives I have ever had the privilege of working with and I admire her dedication and commitment.”
Though the bank has changed many ways in the past 40 years, something that has not waivered is the bank’s commitment to their customers and community. “Caring about our customers, our employees and treating people with dignity and respect – that hasn’t changed in 40 years,” said Black. “I’ve been privileged to see our organization grow and being a part of those changes has been exciting and rewarding.”
So what is the key to success in keeping employees long-term at an organization? According to Black, it is all about alignment. There has to be a dynamic energy where you are always reaching for excellence collectively while providing opportunities for growth and change.
“I’m most proud of the training and development programs we have implemented. We have developed a succession plan, and are coaching and developing our managers so they can help our staff reach their highest potential. A part of this includes soft-skills, behavioral assessments and capitalizing on individual strengths, “ said Black. “I also enjoy being able to lead in areas of values, ethics and core beliefs, respecting people and helping people to be the best they can be.”
Black went on to say that people love working at the bank and she has data to back it up. In 2017, the bank rolled out the President’s Circle honoring 15 employees who have been with the bank 20 years or longer. Additionally, approximately 50 percent of the staff has been there more than 10 years.
“Sue Black brings the unique perspective of knowing the bank when we had 12 employees and one office to having over 100 employees and five offices in a much more complex working environment,” said John Babcock. “This perspective has been useful as the bank has changed and adapted to meet the financial needs of the growing communities we serve. We are excited about our future and the leadership Sue continues to bring our organization.”
The Bank of Elk River serves Elk River, Otsego, Zimmerman and the surrounding communities.