Tom Herbst worked for Carl Pohlad for more than 40 years, retiring in 2005 as CEO of Pohlad’s Marquette Financial Companies. Herbst, who now lives in Florida, continues to serve on the company’s board of directors.
Herbst said he bought more than 100 banks with Pohlad over the years. “We did a lot of acquisitions,” Herbst explained in a telephone interview. “We liked to go out and meet with bankers; oftentimes we did it on Saturday.” Early in his career, they bought banks in Montana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and surrounding states.
“Carl and I would fly off to a town and negotiated a deal when we were there, oftentimes right on a sheet of paper. I can even remember a time where we bought a bank where he wrote the deal on the back of a napkin.
“This was back before due diligence was done as it is today,” Herbst said. “Times have changed. You met with the people in the bank, you talked about recent examinations and how things were going. Carl stuck to his word, and when he had a handshake, that was the deal.”
Pohlad was involved with several businesses in addition to banking, including bottling, transportation and real estate. Herbst explained that Pohlad maintained distinct business lines. “Their accounts weren’t even with our banks,” Herbst said.
Herbst said Pohlad had a good relationship with regulators. “That came about in 1982 when he bought the F&M Savings Bank in Minneapolis,” Herbst elaborated. “Here were multi-billion-dollar banks that were trying to buy it and in the end, our Marquette, which was maybe half-a-billion-dollar bank at the time, and we acquired it. We were a fraction of the size of these others and we are the ones that ultimately got it. I don’t know that the regulators initially wanted us to have it, but in the end we were just tenacious enough. We struck the deal and it worked out well. And it worked out well for the regulators.
“From that point, he built a reputation with the regulators in the different agencies. They called upon Carl quite often on transactions that were of significant size. They respected his ability and how he operated businesses. He was proud of that.”
Herbst said their biggest regret was a deal they were working in 1989 to buy two troubled bank holding companies in Texas: Texas American Bancshares, Inc., Fort Worth and National Bancshares Corp., of San Antonio. Pohlad and Herbst thought they had a deal but things fell through in the end. The acquisition would have added more than $7 billion to the Pohlad organization. “Those two organizations we thought we had bought and we didn’t end up getting them. And it wasn’t for anything we did wrong. That was probably my biggest disappointment,” he said.
“He’ll be missed by a lot of people,” Herbst summarized. “He loved banking and he loved people.”
Pohlad was on the cover of Commercial West, the predecessor to NorthWestern Financial Review, on August 4, 1973. He shared the cover with O. Jay Tomson, who was executive vice president at Marquette. The magazine was covering the opening of a new Marquette office in the brand new IDS Tower in the heart of downtown Minneapolis.
Today, Tomson is chairman of First Citizens National Bank in Mason City, Iowa. He worked with Pohlad for nearly five years.
“He was an extremely fair man to work for,” Tomson said. “He was pretty much laissez faire. He expected you to do your job and to consult with him. If I would come to him with something, he would say, ‘is this a policy question or is this something you should be taking care of?’ You learned very early what not to bother him about.
“If you wanted to see him, the best time to see him was 6:30 in the morning at the Minneapolis Athletic Club before his mind got cluttered with the cares of the day.
“He was a nice man to work for. He was helpful to me, when I left he was supportive of me.”
Pohlad was on the cover of November 20, 1993 edition of NorthWestern Financial Review. I remember visiting with Mr. Pohlad as we shot the photo in his office. He was always very gracious to us. My best memories of him, however, were covering some of the conferences the correspondent department at Marquette use to host for community bankers. At one such conference in the 1980s, Pohlad tossed baseballs out into the audience. One shot took out a few pieces of the glass chandelier in the ballroom. Pohlad laughed it off and everyone had a good time.