-I was as shocked...maybe more so...as anybody when I opened my morning Belleville News-Democrat to find my friend, and business associate, Terry Schaefer smiling back at me from the front page. The headline read:
COMMERCE TO BUY WEST POINTE
I have been working with West Pointe for a number of years now as an advertising consultant and have produced a number of the bank's television and radio commercials. I am proud of what we've done together and hope that somehow this relationship will be able to continue.
There are a number of points to be made about this deal that fall into the realm of speculation. So, being a somewhat prudent business person, I choose to not go down that road yet. So, the following items are what I feel comfortable saying about this deal with what very limited knowledge I have about it.
-I know of noone who saw this coming. Besides being one of our area's finest people Terry Schaefer is as good as anybody I've run across at keeping a secret a secret. Oh, there are always rumors these days about locally owned banks being sold to bigger companies. There have been some rumors about West Pointe going around for several years. But, I have always been assured by the toppers at WP that there was no intention of selling the bank to anyone. But, as we all know, circumstances in business change. Usually a deal of this magnitude doesn't come down without some advance warning. People on the inside of the talks generally let something slip to someone, who lets something slip to someone else...and you know how it goes. But, in this case, I don't think that happened.
-I hope the people who work at West Pointe will be OK after the buyout. From what I've been told, the work force found out about the Commerce deal at a mandatory meeting for all employees at the main branch Thursday evening. I do know this, that West Pointe management has achieved a culture within it's organization of only hiring top flight people, of unchallengeable character. This is no small part of what makes doing business with West Pointe so pleasurable. There are some truly outstanding individuals that toil at all levels. And if it comes to a point of many being let go by the new parent company, it would be very sad for me. Buyouts tend to go that way...but we'll wait to see how it goes.
-With Terry Schaefer staying on as the President and CEO of Commerce Bank's Southern Illinois Division, it appears that Commerce understands his importance in fostering an identity as a community-oriented operation that really cares about it's customers. That has been the hallmark of West Pointe's business model since it opened. Make no mistake. If there is anyone who can pull that off, it's Terry. I'm hoping he makes a commitment to stay around for at least another ten years, or so.
-I'm sure that this deal will allow Harry and Toddy Cruncleton to finally get some down time. Harry is the Chairman at the bank. And Toddy is his thoroughly devoted wife who has also been heavily involved with the bank's advertising and marketing. These two classy people have been going to work nearly every day since the bank opened in 1990 and are undoubtedly looking forward to a real retirement.
-West Pointe is a real stalwart in the business community and has given the Belleville area a bank that local leaders could point to with pride as a monument to local success and stability. It seems it would take a business miracle for that not to be lost.
-It will be difficult, and somewhat painful to me, as someone who did a radio broadcast at West Pointe on it's first day of business, to imagine the West Pointe signs being replaced.
-Just about everything else about the news of this deal, that has caused my stomach to churn all day, will not appear in this space until I get more information. I am counting on a meeting with Mr. Schaefer next week and am hoping that it will bring me a little more peace of mind.