Brian Wagner marked two major life changes as 2018 turned into 2019: He welcomed his third child in December and began his role as president of Flagship Bank in Wayzata, Minn. Between the two, he hasn’t gotten much sleep lately, but things are already off to a humming start as Wagner settles into the role.
Wagner took the president’s role from Andy Schornack, who remains CEO of the bank. Shornack passed the torch so he could become president of the bank’s sister organization Security Bank & Trust in Glencoe, Minn. Much like the banks themselves, which share certain backend infrastructure and some loan participations, the pair continue to work closely together.
“Brian has an uncanny ability to build trust in a relationship, and he follows through on that,” Schornack said. Wagner’s approach is the same whether it’s aimed externally with customers or internally at coworkers.
Wagner, one of five 2019 Rising Stars in Banking being honored by BankBeat magazine, was the obvious choice to succeed Schornack. The partnership between them goes back more than a decade when both started their banking careers at First Commercial Bank in Bloomington, Minn. During the Great Recession, they wrestled with problem loans at the struggling bank before it failed, and then at Republic Bank once the Louisville institution bought it.
Working through problem loans was extremely difficult but allowed Wagner to build necessary skills, he said, both in terms of handling difficult situations and following a loan from start to finish. “I could watch the full cycle. The big benefit to being there during the whole time was that I could see the front end of the transaction when things were good and it was being underwritten and then I could see all the way through to the very end no matter what that was, whether the client performed, whether they paid us off, whether we foreclosed, whether we had to litigate.”
Initially it seemed like Republic planned to stick around despite not having much of a presence in the Upper Midwest. When the bank decided to pull out of the Twin Cities, however, Wagner reunited with Schornack at Flagship in October 2013 after the latter bought the bank as part of an investors’ group. He came to Flagship without a portfolio, but built it to about $100 million before taking on the president’s role.
Managing the shift in those lending relationships as he takes on more responsibilities as president has meant some adjustments. Wagner also pulls on his “mental filing cabinet” of loan experience in working with younger Flagship lenders. “I always tell the lenders that we don’t know which loans can be bad, and we do these things because various scenarios might happen,” he said. “I can say, ‘Hey, here’s a scenario I had where we had a loan go bad.’ I had no idea it was going to go bad. It wouldn’t have been one that I would have thought would have gone bad, but it went bad.”
That hard-won experience has made Wagner a true resource for the bank, and as president, he brings it to bear across the bank as a whole.
“We have some really good customers who we’ve done business with for a really long time who are very private individuals, and we’ve been able to maintain and grow those relationships,” Schornack said. “I think that’s been through the extra effort that Brian makes to find creative structures that people can make work in a short timeframe.”
Flagship bought Landmark Community Bank in 2016, and while the technical aspects of integration have gone as smoothly as expected, cultural meshing is still ongoing. Now that he’s president, Wagner has stepped up to help ease the last elements of cultural integration. He’s spent at least a week at each branch, getting to know the employees.
“He’s such a solid character,” Schornack said. “He has a very conscious way of building relationships and really treating his customers and internal people respectfully…He talks the way he thinks, and he truly is looking out for the best interest of his customers and the other employees.”