Employee profile: Al LiestmanPublished by emzabinski on Wed, 2014-03-05 10:06
Al Liestman knows loans. For most of his 27-year career in the world of finance, Al has been talking about, thinking about and making loans.
“I started my career fresh out of college working for a finance company,” Al explained. “My job was collections: I had to retrieve collateral from our customers, everything from VCRs to waterbeds. It was a humbling job, and not all that much fun, I’ll have to admit. Some people were ready to hand over their possessions; others were hostile. However, I worked my way to being a branch manager in three years.”
Al grew up in Chaska, and at the time it was a small community on the southwest outskirts of the Twin Cities. It had a distinct identity. After graduating from St. John’s University with a degree in psychology and working for the Twin Cities-area finance company, Al accepted a job working for Klein Bank System in Montevideo, a small southwestern Minnesota community. He worked as a consumer and real estate lender for five years there before being recruited to move to Bemidji.
“A headhunter came calling, and Tom Welle of the First National Bank of Bemidji enticed me to move to Bemidji,” said Al. “The job involved more responsibility: I was to be the manager of the retail lending department and junior commercial lender.
“I enjoyed working in Bemidji. It is a great town and the Welles are a wonderful banking family,” Al continued. “Not only that, I met my wife-to-be, Dana, in Bemidji. She was a school counselor in nearby Walker, and it was meant to be.”
Al worked in Bemidji for seven years, but then—within a three-month period—his father and brother died. Al looked for an opportunity to move back to the Twin Cities to be closer to his mother and other siblings. He landed another job with Klein Bank System, this time in Victoria, a community neighboring his old stomping grounds in Chaska.
“I was hired to be a senior vice president at Victoria State Bank, and then promoted into the role of community bank president,” said Al. The Chaska/Chanhassen/Victoria area had grown in the years since Al lived there, and the Klein Banks had grown with that population. Klein now operates more than 20 different banks in the metropolitan Twin Cities.
In 2008 Al fielded a call from GRSB, and the rest is history.
“The opportunity to return to a strong community bank in a small town was very appealing, especially since Dana and I were in the midst of raising a young family,” said Al. “I knew the reputation of Grand Rapids State Bank: they were a family-owned bank. Decision-making was local; there was less bureaucracy. And I knew that a community bank would be fair to its employees and the communities it served.” From Clair to Steve to Noah I felt the strength in family and knew the Wilcox legacy would live on for many years to come.
Al has bolstered his lending credentials with continuing education: the National Commercial Lending School; the Minnesota Commercial Lending School; and the Graduate School of Banking in Madison, Wisconsin. He also served as chair of the Minnesota Bankers Association commercial lending task force.
Beyond the banking, however, Al is a family man. He and Dana have two sons: Avery (10) and Tucker (7); their oldest son, Breck, died unexpectedly in early December 2013. Al was a high school and college basketball player, and he has volunteered as a youth basketball coach in an attempt to pass along some of those skills to his sons.
“I was captain of my high school basketball team in my junior and senior years at Chaska High School, and we were 24-0 both seasons,” said Al. “Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had two Division 1 players on our team back then.”
At St. John’s University (Collegeville, MN), Al played four seasons for Coach Jim Smith, the winningest active collegiate basketball coach on any level in Minnesota. He met several people in the world of college basketball he still keeps in touch with today. His basketball activity now is limited to noon-hour basketball at the Itasca County Family YMCA.
Al’s interests include his family, golf, fishing and all sorts of water activities. He also learned how to become an auctioneer thanks to one of his customers from his Bemidji days. He attended the Worldwide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa, and now enjoys helping local non-profits by volunteering his auctioneering services for various fundraisers. His current community volunteer work includes presidency of the Cap Baker Lions Club.
“We were overjoyed when we had the opportunity to purchase a home on Pokegama Lake,” said Al. “The people here are friendly; we have clean water; lots of lakes; the weather is great—today.”
Al’s extroverted personality suits his job well. “I like to talk to everybody, and considering where my office is located, I’m in a great location in more ways than one.”