On Aug. 15, 1971, new UW–Platteville graduate Bob Just went to work as a teller at Mound City Bank on East Main Street in downtown Platteville.
On Friday, Just will retire after 42 years of working for Mound City Bank, the last 26½ years as its president.
“Everybody could say we run our business like a family, and it’s pretty obvious with being hired as a teller and having an opportunity to become the president,” said Just. “It’s been challenging, but I have to say I’ve enjoyed it.”
A celebration of Just’s career will be held at the bank, now at 25 E. Pine St., Friday from 2 to 5 p.m.
The span of Just’s career has included substantial growth at Mound City. In 1971, the bank had locations in Platteville and Belmont, 15 employees, and $17.5 million in assets. By 1986, when Just became president, the bank grew to 24 employees and $65 million in assets. Today, Mound City has 65 employees and $260 million in assets.
Three of those 15 1971 employees still work for Mound City, and eight of the 24 employees at Mound City when Just became president still work for the bank.
Just has not only worked for the same employer his entire professional career. Unlike many other banks throughout the U.S., Mound City Bank has remained independent since its doors opened in 1915.
“That’s one of the things we’re proud of here, that we’ve managed to remain independent,” he said. “That’s not an easy challenge to remain independent these days.”
Staying independent isn’t easy in an era of stiffening regulatory requirements and increasing costs of technology to keep up with customers’ wishes.
“The cost of operation doesn’t recede; it continues to go up, and it requires some growth,” he said. At the same time, the current low-interest-rate environment is “unprecedented in my lifetime,” putting “real competitive pressure on the lending side. Net interest margin will continue to shrink, so banks need to find new sources of revenue, and new areas of business.”
Just was a UWP political science and history graduate, two majors seemingly unconnected to banking.
“Joanie had been teaching already, and Platteville became home for us,” said Just. “I thought working for a bank wouldn’t look bad on the resume. I would tell within three or six months I really enjoyed working at the bank.
“I think it’s a people business, and it’s important that you have somebody who gets along with others and is inquisitive. The bank has done a great job over the years of training their people and giving them educational opportunities.”
Just’s initial job demonstrates the changing nature of banking over four decades. Just was one of four tellers when he began. The bank expanded to six tellers, but since then has cut back to four with the advent of automated teller machines and online banking.
“We still have a significant demographic that wants to come in and wants to experience the one-on-one touch of commercial banking,” he said.
Just went to Mound City’s trust department two years after he started. He was also in charge of converting the bank from cash accounting to accrual accounting after its assets grew past $35 million.
“I had a lot of opportunities,” he said. “You had an opportunity to grow and learn every operation of the bank, which was a benefit to me.”
Mound City’s largest amount of loan business is in residential real estate, along with business and agricultural lending.
“The business community we’d still have to consider fairly small,” said Just. “We have a significant piece of ag business, but the university because we are in Platteville affords us some diversification. Our bread and butter is one- to four-family” housing.
Mound City partnered with two economic development organizations, the Platteville Area Industrial Development Corp. and the Platteville Business Incubator, both of which have resulted in “some real success stories.”
“To get commercial credit and to get a new business started, there’s going to have to be some underwriting and some standards to get credit,” he said. “But the bank understands that if a business is successful, the community will be.”
Just’s career covered a time of extreme up and downs in the U.S. economy. Inflation in the late 1970s pushed interest rates beyond 20 percent in the early 1980s. The farm crisis of the mid-1980s stressed southwest Wisconsin agriculture. And then came the late 2000s recession.
“When farmers are doing well, so are most of the businesses in the area,” said Just. “They’re not afraid to contribute back to the economic health of the community.
“The ag meltdown in the mid- to late 1980s were the most strenuous times in my career. Today’s farmer is much more of a businessman and has a much better understanding of management needs, and is much more disciplined in that fashion.”
Mound City moved from East Main Street — now the Karrmann Professional Building — to East Pine Street in 1977 to have a drive-up window. In 1995, Mound City opened its Motor Branch across the street in preparation for expanding its offices.
“I’ll never forget the first Friday of seeing four cars in four lanes, and thinking, yep, we did it right,” he said.
Mound City purchased an Anchor Bank branch to move into Cuba City in 1992. In 2007, the bank purchased a facility formerly owned by the State Bank of Cross Plains to move into Mount Horeb. One year later, Mound City opened a Mineral Point office.
“Mount Horeb’s a little stretch from a distance standpoint, but with banking today, so much of the work is handled electronically, so that’s not a problem from a business standpoint,” said Just. “Strategically we felt all along that up and down the [U.S.] 151 corridor would be good from a business standpoint.”
Mound City has expanded beyond geography. The bank started selling annuities in the early 1990s, and now offers a “full range” of investments through its Mound City Investment Services. Just describes it as a “complement, not the opposite of what we’re doing.”
The bank’s parent company has 290 shareholders — none of whom own more than 5 percent of the company stock — in 24 states.
The board “really adds to our ability to remain independent and be able to take a long-term view,” said Just, who added that the company had gotten some preliminary purchase offers, but “we had made it fairly clear that we were not interested and wanted to remain independent.”
Among other things, the board signed off on Just’s becoming president. As he put it, the board took “quite a risk on their part to put a 39-year-old glorified teller in charge of the company. When I think back I had nothing but great opportunities in this company.”
Donna Hoppenjan, who has worked at Mound City for 35 years, starting, as Just did, as a teller, became president earlier this year, and will take over as CEO after Just’s retirement. Eight of Hoppenjan’s top management are internal promotions.
“The bank has been a wonderful opportunity for me, but looking forward, they have a great management team in place,” said Just, “and every opportunity to remain independent.”