Creating A Better Way Of Life

Written by: Brady Drake

Photo by Kayleigh Omang

Everyone knows it takes a team to accomplish something great. However, an individual can make a huge difference for a team’s efforts. Steve Swiontek, Executive Chair and former President and CEO at Gate City Bank, is one person who has helped elevate his team throughout the course of his career.

In Swiontek’s 42 years with the company, Gate City Bank has grown from an operation with 16 locations, 140 team members and $490 million in assets into an organization with 43 locations, 770 team members and $2.4 billion in assets – all while helping improve the quality of life in the community.

We sat down with Swiontek to learn more about his journey to create a better way of life for customers and the communities in which they live and work.

Gate City Bank is the only company you have worked for since leaving college. How quickly did you realize that Gate City Bank was the place for you?
I’m a proud North Dakota native who was born and raised in Edgeley. I later attended NDSU, where I met my wife, Mary Anne. Throughout my life, I was encouraged by my dad’s homegrown philosophy, “Just do your job and things will come along.” I graduated from NDSU in 1978, and at the time, there were many challenges in the banking industry. Applying my dad’s philosophy, I began working for Gate City Bank because it was – even then – locally focused and community-driven. The best part? That hasn’t changed in over 42 years.

Did you ever think you’d become President and CEO of the company?
No, I didn’t aspire to become President and CEO, it just worked out that way. Seriously! At the time when you’re hired and you’re working, only one person can be President and CEO. The way I saw it, those amazing opportunities are limited and only come by working hard. If you leave your career and don’t become President and CEO, but you made a difference in society through being a servant leader, that’s great. I was incredibly lucky to become President and CEO and be able to make a difference at Gate City Bank and in our communities.

What has your time at Gate City Bank meant to you?
At Gate City Bank, “For A Better Way of Life” is both our tagline and part of our mission, and we’ve gone as far as to register it with the federal government for exclusivity. When I leave work every day, I ask myself what I’ve done to create a better way of life for a customer, team member or one of our communities. Sometimes it’s focusing on team member growth, while other days I try to focus on diversity. For example, when I started at Gate City Bank there were very few women in leadership positions. Now, over 70 percent of our leadership positions are held by women, and 50 percent of our Executive Leadership Team positions are held by women. These statistics make us incredibly proud.

Another example of our tagline being integrated into our everyday lives is our commitment to volunteering. Last year, our team members volunteered almost 16,000 hours. We encourage our team members to do that on company time – and for each hour they volunteer beyond ten hours, we gift a donation of approximately $25 per hour to the charity. Encouraging employees to get involved in organizations they’re passionate about is a key part of our mission and culture.

Gate City Bank Giving Hearts Day
Gate City Bank is consistently one of the biggest supporters on Giving Hearts Day.

Speaking of volunteerism, I hear Giving Hearts Day is a pretty big deal around here.
We’ve had a fantastic relationship with Giving Hearts Day. It’s a partnership that has lasted six years and is going strong. Plus, Giving Hearts Day is all over the state of North Dakota and in western Minnesota, which coincides perfectly with our bank locations. Gate City Bank looks forward to making a difference during this time each year. We’ll even have our community members vote on the charities they’d like us to give to. With that feedback, we get to find out what’s important in each community and what organizations make a significant impact on our customers. This Giving Hearts Day, we had the honor of delivering gifts of $2,500 to 30 charitable organizations, and we surprised five charities with boosts that totaled $60,000. We’re very proud to support local communities and organizations.

Steve Swiontek playing a DJ
Steve played a DJ in a video where he surprised team members with an additional four days of PTO in 2020.

How has the company’s culture changed during your time here?
The tagline “For A Better Way of Life” has strengthened our culture by encouraging team members to think about the difference we can make, both daily and long term. The culture has changed in regard to our focus on being servant leaders. It’s not about who gets the recognition, but how we can best help our customers and communities. Our goal is to lead by example and empower people to make a difference through the work they do.

Gate City Bank is a very unique employer in North Dakota and Minnesota, especially when it comes to our robust benefit offerings. In addition to offering great benefits, we like to have fun and stay connected with our team members. We have a coffee machine on the sixth floor that makes 20 different types of coffees, espressos and cappuccinos. It encourages team members to come up to the sixth floor and gets people visiting with one another. It’s so important for our culture to keep teams connected and having fun, wherever they’re working.

Can you tell me how you make work fun?
I like to laugh. I like to joke. Team members know that I am a little mischievous. It’s important to have fun at work. I’m known to wear crazy socks, like the ones I’m wearing today. We’ve also had fun creating videos like “Carpool Karaoke” and “Storytime with Steve,” and we recently filmed a video where I played a DJ and surprised team members with four additional days of PTO in 2020.

Our offices and departments are also empowered to do their own thing and have their own kind of fun through “Weekly Fun Days.” Some have had a masseuse come in to do massages. Others have gone out and ordered cookie dough for everybody. Companywide, we may set something up like a “Summer Attire Day,” encouraging team members to wear their favorite summer attire. We allow every department to have flexibility on how these days look and feel, based on their own ideas.

You seem like you’re really big on empowerment.
Absolutely. It’s so important to empower people. We believe that our team members are the experts in their jobs. What makes them experts is their incredible knowledge, as well as their passion for their work.

How will Gate City Bank continue to forward the mission that you’ve helped develop?
I really have complete confidence in the team and Kevin Hanson, President and CEO. There were non-negotiables that I had when Kevin took over his role. We are not going public, we are going to be committed to the mission of “For a Better Way of Life,” philanthropic giving and volunteerism will remain paramount, we will not lay off team members – regardless of economic standings – and we’re going to be servant leaders and make a difference in society. Now, Kevin and the team might have a different way of doing that and that’s OK. I know the entire team is committed to providing a better way of life for our customers, communities and team members, just as we have for the last 97 years.

Gate City Bank has one of the best employee benefits plans in the state

  • Low-premium health plan with $250 deductible and FREE vision insurance
  • FREE telemedicine program
  • Generous PTO package and bonus gift of four extra days of PTO
  • Fully paid military leave with an additional two weeks of paid leave upon return
  • Fully paid 12 weeks maternity leave
  • Fully paid 4 weeks paternity and adoption leave
  • Fully paid caregiver leave, jury duty, sabbatical and up to 20 days of bereavement leave
  • Team members volunteer an unlimited amount on company-paid time
  • Up to 10 days of paid leave for mission work and up to $500 for related expenses
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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.