Amazing Outside Directors 2022: Dan Kadrmas

Dan Kadrmas

Leading the prominent North Dakota manufacturing firm TrueNorth Steel is more than a nine-to-five job for Dan Kadrmas. The North Dakota business leader’s day usually starts with check-ins between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m., and doesn’t end until the evening — and sometimes not even then, with emails trickling in late at night, urgent business to which the company president needs to attend.

Even more strikingly, Kadrmas, vice chair of the board at Fargo, N.D.-based Cornerstone Bank, finds time to attend quarterly bank meetings and handle any urgent bank developments as they come up. He’s successfully balanced these responsibilities by following the advice he gives to other outside directors seeking to do the same: “Be all in.” This philosophy, along with Kadrmas’ natural business acumen and empathetic approach to communication, have left lasting impressions on those he serves alongside. 

Kadrmas is being recognized as a BankBeat 2022 “Amazing Outside Director.” 

A CPA by trade, Kadrmas, a 1987 graduate of the University of North Dakota, spent the first part of his career in public accounting. Sparked by a desire to shift from being an outside consultant to working directly within a business, Kadrmas was hired as chief financial officer at TrueNorth Steel in 1999. Six years later, he was promoted to president. In 2006, he was one of six Fargo entrepreneurs who, responding to the plight of customers who felt their bankers were out-of-touch, formed Cornerstone Holding Co., and purchased the $70 million Citizens State Bank in Enderlin, N.D. 

In 2009, as the Great Recession was devastating mortgage portfolios across the nation, Kadrmas was named board president. Real estate constituted one-third of Cornerstone’s portfolio, so a toll was being felt. During the next four years, Kadrmas played a crucial role in leading the bank through the recession by hiring a new bank president and temporarily slowing the pace of the bank’s growth by selling several North Dakota branches. The sale of branches in 2010 allowed Cornerstone to focus on its core market and compensate for lost revenue.

After shifting into the vice chair role in 2013, Kadrmas has presided over the bank’s growth into what is now a $1.1 billion institution. He was one of Cornerstone’s representatives in the initial conversations that led to the bank’s 2014 merger with Lakeside Bank, which added bank branches in Dickinson, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D. His leadership through the process “was really instrumental” in ensuring the merger was successful, both financially and through meeting the bank’s longer-term strategic goals, noted fellow board member Gary Petersen. “He was effective in helping make that decision, how that was going to look, how that was going to work,” Petersen said. Kadrmas also played a role in the bank’s 2019 merger with Lakeside Insurance Agency, Inc.

Today, Kadrmas applies his CPA credentialing to Cornerstone’s audit committee. As a successful businessman, Kadrmas encourages lenders to be engaged with their customers throughout the year so they are aware of when they will be needed. “I have been able to provide the bank a perspective on how to service a customer and what a customer looks for … in a bank,” Kadrmas said. “My experience has developed a new appreciation of operating in a regulated industry and managing through different economic cycles over the past 15 years.” 

This approach is paying dividends at Cornerstone: Today, the bank has 12 locations in nine cities in the Dakotas. The bank has been named by Prairie Business as one of the 50 Best Places to Work in the northern plains region for six straight years. “We provide full-service banking focused on providing superior customer service with local decision-making,” Kadrmas added. “We are focused on understanding our customers, providing straight-forward solutions in an efficient manner.” 

Kadrmas is also presiding over TrueNorth Steel during a time of much growth. The structural steel fabrication company acquired a 300,000-square-foot facility in West Fargo last year, creating 40 new jobs and allowing the business to expand its customer base. TrueNorth also acquired the assets of Lubbock, Texas-based Beck Steel in 2021. 

Kadrmas’ current and former Cornerstone Bank colleagues say the success of both organizations are testaments to his extraordinary personal and strategic leadership skills.

“Dan is simply a remarkable guy,” Petersen added. “He has proven to be an ethical, compassionate person.” 

Petersen is struck by how Kadrmas, even while away at out-of-state conferences or at a construction site as part of his TrueNorth Steel responsibilities, still immediately attends to pressing bank matters. “He still takes the time to thoughtfully address any particular question that I might have or any opportunity that I might have,” Petersen noted. “He’s very versatile, can pivot from addressing small things in his field of business or addressing a conference.”

Jeff Thomas, Cornerstone’s market president in the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo area, sits down for breakfast with Kadrmas before every quarterly board meeting. Their discussions have led to the board adopting a different approach to its meetings, one that emphasizes open communication instead of a more rigid take on current business. This shift has enabled more time for key strategic discussions.

Thomas also knows Kadrmas as someone who ensures the bank meets its five areas of focus, as set by its strategic plan, by asking critical questions on whether immediate plans meet those fundamentals. “Dan is an extremely intelligent individual and can really get to the heart of the issues at hand,” Thomas said. 

Former Cornerstone Bank President and CEO Pete Fullerton, who served with Kadrmas for 10 years before retiring in March 2021, knows Kadrmas as a business leader who is able to understand basic business concepts to strengthen the board. “Dan is one of the most skilled business people I know,” he said.