Iowa brothers receive IBA’s James A. Leach Leadership Award

Neal and Dwight Conover share many life experiences. The brothers, Iowa natives, share a combined 100 years of finance work and decades of leadership experience.

Neal and Dwight Conover share 100 years of experience in the banking industry. Now, the brothers share another honor as recipients of the Iowa Bankers Association’s James A. Leach Leadership Award.

A 53-year banker, Neal is a director of Northwest Financial Corp., bank holding company of the $2.2 billion Northwest Bank, Spencer, Iowa. Dwight chairs the $428 million First National Bank in Creston, Iowa; Northwest Financial Corp.; and is vice chair of Northwest Bank. 

Now, Neal and Dwight share another distinction: Recognition as the recipients of the Iowa Bankers Association’s 2022 James A. Leach Leadership Award. 

‘It was the most difficult time’ 

Neal and Dwight both graduated from Iowa State University — Neal in 1969, Dwight six years later — and joined Iowa-based Brenton Banks.

As their careers progressed, the farm crisis of the early 1980s rocked the industry, leading to many foreclosures and bankruptcies and the end of many family farms that had brought prosperity to rural America. “It was the most difficult time that one could imagine, where friends in the business, customers, friends that we went to church with, just unimaginable hardships that people were going through,” Neal said. 

Through it all, his drive to stay in banking came from his desire to provide for his family and help those he knew. “It can be so rewarding,” he added. 

 In 1984, Dwight bought the First National Bank of Creston, a fledgling institution operating under a cease-and-desist order. The following year, Neal joined Dwight as a partner. “The Conovers put together a team of people to help them turn the Creston Bank around, fondly known as the ‘Dream Team,’ wrote Northwest Financial board members Ann Wagner-Hauser and David Miles in their nomination of the pair. “This practice of bringing bright, talented and motivated individuals into the organization and providing them with training and mentoring has been a hallmark of the Conover’s management.”

In 1988, First National Bank of Creston acquired two failed savings and loan institutions in Spencer, Iowa: Northwest Federal Savings Bank and Home Federal Savings Bank.

Through deals in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, the Conovers have overseen the organization’s growth from one bank with 32 employees and $48 million in assets to nearly two dozen locations, 412 employees and $2.7 billion in assets. Northwest Financial received national honors as a Top Workplace USA this year, and The Des Moines Register named it a Top Workplace in Iowa for seven straight years (2015-21). 

A key reason for that growth has been the brothers’ leadership style, which emphasizes the community aspect of banking and staff development. 

Leadership personified 

The brothers have been involved in speaking engagements, initiatives, committees and leadership positions over the years, both within the bank and for nonprofit and community organizations. Dwight served on the Iowa Department of Rural Economic Development and was a founding member of the Iowa Mediation Board. He sat on the IBA board and was chair in 2002-03. He served on Iowa State University’s board of governor’s extension board and was awarded the Floyd Andres Award from its College of Agriculture in 2021.

Neal is the president of Community Investment Consultants, Inc., and a registered lobbyist on agricultural and banking issues in both the Iowa Legislature and U.S. Congress. An instructor and student adviser for the National Agricultural Bank Management Conference, Neal teaches on ag finance, loan workout and bank management at several schools, conferences and seminars. He is also a member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange advisory board.

Dwight is aware of the visible presence of community banks in rural markets. Because of that, he’s instilled the need for banks to play a role in helping the community to flourish. Dwight, either directly or through his bank, has been involved in the formation of seven nonprofits.

Though his leadership approach has evolved over the years, Neal sees the key fundamentals of good leadership as remaining the same: Setting a good example by being accountable, confident and hard-working.