It’s not easy being in the financial services industry these days. Scandals and missteps, from around the world and right in our own Minnesota backyard, continue to create an atmosphere of mistrust and skepticism toward once-respected financial institutions.
But even in such a fraught environment, there are always opportunities for hope from “good guys,” who insist on ethics, community-building and giving back.
One of those shining stars is Dan Stoltz, the President and CEO of SPIRE Credit Union, a hometown institution that was founded in 1934 with a $50 loan under the name Twin City Co-ops Credit Union.
Stoltz, a 58-year-old St. Paul native, may be best known for SPIRE’s TV commercials in which he visits Minnesotans while driving around in Archie, a restored 1952 Ford truck, an homage to SPIRE’s humble, hard-working founder, Edgar Archer.
Stoltz’s candor, big grin and white goatee have become hallmarks of SPIRE’s image in more than 50 hometown videos. There’s even an animated version of the iconic Stoltz in SPIRE’s latest marketing campaign.
And the best part?
It’s not a schtick, said Casey Carlson, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Development for SPIRE.
“Whether Dan is on TV, speaking to an audience or just talking one-on-one with people, he is the same great person,” said Carlson, who’s worked with Stoltz for almost 20 years. “Whoever said that nice guys finish last never met Dan Stoltz.”
Leading the way
Stoltz, who describes himself as “a real hometown guy, Minnesotan thick and thin,” works out of a large office — proudly decorated with statewide memorabilia — in SPIRE’s Falcon Heights headquarters.
SPIRE, which will grow to 300 employees this year, operates as a not-for-profit financial cooperative.
Stoltz explains the concept like this: “Large banks are owned by shareholders and community banks are usually owned by family members or investment groups, but credit unions are owned by their customer-members. I always say I have more than 100,000 bosses, because that’s how many customer-members we have.”
In an economic sector in which mergers and acquisitions are happening all the time, SPIRE remains independent, member-owned and driven by Midwestern values.
SPIRE — in addition to winning awards for financial excellence and marketing achievements — is thriving with 18 branches throughout Minnesota, including a new Vadnais Heights location, which opened in December.
“We’ve had significant growth over the last six years,” said Stoltz, who started at the credit union as CFO in 1999.
Last year, SPIRE hit a huge milestone of assets of more than $1 billion.
That’s nearly double what Stoltz found when he became CEO in 2010, during the Great Recession.
Back then, SPIRE was struggling. Under Stoltz’s entrepreneurial leadership, without any layoffs or downsizing, SPIRE has grown to become one of the biggest in terms of brand recognition among 300-plus Minnesota financial institutions.
Starting with a paper route
Stoltz grew up on the East Side of St. Paul and graduated from Johnson High School. Even as a youngster, he exhibited a remarkable work ethic and ability to keep his eyes on the prize. His first job was delivering the Pioneer Press.
“Starting in junior high and continuing through high school, I walked a 60-house morning and an afternoon route,” he said. “On weekdays, I would get up at 4:30 a.m. to deliver the morning papers, then do an afternoon route after school, plus Saturdays and Sundays. Back then, you had to do your own collections, too, so I was handling money and keeping track of it at an early age.”
Stoltz was the first college graduate in his family, earning a degree in accounting and finance from the University of Northwestern in Roseville, then getting his MBA from the University of St. Thomas.
It wasn’t until his last class of grad school that his personal business mantra ended up on paper.
“I was in a ‘life class,’ and they wanted us to write a personal mission statement,” he said. “I really grabbed a hold of that idea and worked so hard on it. It’s something I continue to review regularly, just to make sure I’m being true to myself and staying focused.”
Stoltz’s statement, now more than 20 years old, is: “To live my life with integrity and stewardship toward my faith, family, friendships and the marketplace.”
“I read it each morning,” he said, “And then I’m out the door for another day.”
A reachable role model
According to many of those who know Stoltz best, it’s a mission he’s been successful in carrying out.
Chris Wright, CEO of Minnesota United FC, the professional soccer team based in St. Paul, said when he first met Stoltz, he knew immediately that he wanted him as a friend.
“I knew he could coach me and help me learn how to be a better person, leader and professional. He cares about people, relationships, his business and the community,” Wright said. “He works so incredibly hard at all of these, and he leads with his faith and value system. He is one of the most amazing human beings I have ever met.”
Carlson said Stoltz is a downright inspir-ing leader who believes in encouragement, positivity and using people’s strengths.
“He’s a fantastic role model, showing how a leader should act while keeping the proper perspective and never compromising one’s values,” Carlson said.
Carlson said Stoltz doesn’t shy away from getting to know members. At SPIRE’s annual meeting — attended by thousands of people — he always gives out his direct phone number.
“He believes a good CEO needs to be accessible to our customer-members,” Carlson said, adding that Stoltz isn’t just an outreach superstar. “He’s got really, really great business acumen.”
For example, Stoltz spearheaded the conversion of the credit union into a state charter in 2014, allowing SPIRE to expand (and change the name from SPIRE Federal Credit Union to simply SPIRE Credit Union).
“Dan initiated this to give us more flexibility to activate/grow in other markets,” Carlson said. “In fact, SPIRE has had four mergers in five years.”
All hail, King Boreas
As busy as he is running SPIRE and answering to his 100,000 bosses, Stoltz makes time to give back to the community.
“I believe that we need to be generous with our three Ts — time, talent and treasures,” he said. “For me, life is not defined by what we accumulate, but the difference we have made in the lives of others and in our communities.”
He aims to leave a legacy of being a “net giver,” which he explained this way: “In life, you are either taking or giving, and I want to give all the time.”
Stoltz is currently serving on the boards of the Minnesota Credit Union Network, Alloya Corporate (Chicago), Presbyterian Homes, Regions Hospital Foundation and Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. He’s also the board chair of the University of Northwestern–St. Paul.
One of the highlights in his quest toward net giving was his reign as King Boreas during the 2015 St. Paul Winter Carnival, a yearlong commitment that required making more than 350 public appearances with the Royal Family at festivals, nursing homes, schools and hospitals.
Stoltz — who remembers the “wow and wonder” of the festival during his own childhood — appreciated the magnitude of the role: “It was an honor and a privilege just to be asked.”
His next step was to serve as the 2016–2017 Minneapolis Aquatennial Commodore, which included more than 300 appearances, a move that made him the first person ever to serve in both royalty roles in back-to-back years.
And then, when there was a need for leadership to help build the 2018 Ice Palace for the Saint Paul Winter Carnival in conjunction with the Super Bowl, Stoltz once again stepped up to help lead the drive.
Stoltz recently won the 2018 Community Builder Award from the Boy Scouts of America for community involvement.
SPIRE’s corporate culture, meanwhile, also includes numerous fund-raising activities, including annual Pinktober drives for the American Cancer Society, toy drives, fund-raisers for veterans, community spring clean-up events and financial literacy outreach efforts, to name a few.
SPIRE’s current stated mission? “To improve lives.”
“Dan has made SPIRE’s community involvement and giveback an expectation and priority,” Carlson said. “He wants SPIRE to influence companies and individuals to give back and help their communities whenever possible.”
When it comes to giving out financial advice, Stoltz doesn’t bring up SPIRE’s over-55 dividend-earning checking accounts, but instead comes back yet again to the value of giving back.
“I talk about the 10-10-80 rule,” he said. “For every 100 dollars you earn, take the first 10 dollars and give it back. The next 10 dollars should be invested or saved, whether you’re working with a financial planner or just setting up a basic savings/contingency fund. After that’s done, you can spend the next 80 dollars.”
Although he acknowledged that even the word “budget” can have negative connotations, Stoltz insists finances can be fun. He believes the key is to actively control finances, versus letting them reactively control you.
“We spend more time on Yelp looking up where we’re going to eat out than we do looking at our budgets,” he said, adding that it can be a more intentional process with some care and attention. “You can keep it simple and be successful. And when you are, celebrate your financial successes and the times when you meet key milestones.”
Stoltz and his wife of 34 years, Robin, live in Lino Lakes and have three married children and six grandchildren, all age 4 or younger, plus a seventh due in March.
“All the kids live in town, and we’re within an hour’s drive of everyone, which is great,” Stoltz said.
“I’m not a big fan of the word ‘retirement,’ but I’m thinking more and more about my next chapter,” he said. “I want to remain engaged and do things I love. I still have a lot to give and a lot I want to do, so I hope I can find that sweet spot.”
Although he and Robin hope to do more traveling, he plans to remain firmly rooted in Minnesota.
“I love this state,” he said. “The people are so real — we’re a different breed that way. I like the changes of the seasons and the diversity and the vibrancy here.”
He and Robin have been discussing what’s next.
“We’ve talked about getting in the car — there has been mention of getting a Corvette convertible — and exploring the United States,” he said.
Acknowledging that he does love to plan, Stoltz said he’s given some thought to the details of this spur-of-the moment journey: “The convertible will probably be royal blue, because that’s the color of King Boreas, the Aquatennial Commodore and SPIRE’s logo.”
Want your own Archie figurine?
Send your best personal finance tip for ages 55 and older to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line #archietruck, and we’ll enter you to win a 7-inch-long toy Archie, an early model Ford that serves as SPIRE Credit Union’s official spokes-vehicle. (Five second-place winners will each receive a 3-inch model.)
We’ll also accept entries by mail at Minnesota Good Age
Attn: Archie Giveaway
1115 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403.
In all entries, please include your name, city of residence, a personal finance tip and (optional) your age.
Responses may be used in a future issue of Good Age magazine.
Julie Kendrick is a contributing writer for many local and national publications. She lives in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.