Though a self-described “banker by accident,” Betsy Johnson embodies many of the exemplary traits community banks desire in their leaders — selflessness, a desire to develop staff and tireless commitment to the communities she serves.
Johnson, president and CEO of the Forreston, Ill.,-based Solutions Bank, is being recognized as one of BankBeat magazine’s 2021 “Outstanding Women in Banking.”
Under Johnson’s leadership, the nearly $316 million Solutions Bank acquired Poplar Grove State Bank, Poplar Grove, Ill., in 2020, expanding the bank’s existing market. Solutions Bank is now acquiring the $120 million Durand State Bank, Durand, Ill., a transaction expected to be completed this year. Once complete, the merger will expand Solutions Bank’s branch footprint to Winnebago County by adding two offices. The merger will increase Solutions Bank’s size to approximately $470 million.
Katie Dhamer, director of business development, said Johnson conveys to her employees the perfect blend of inspiration and motivation. It was something Dhamer felt while interviewing for her current position last year: “I was so incredibly energized by our conversation and I left saying prayers that I would get a call back, not just to work for the bank she worked for, but I wanted to work for her.”
Dhamer’s first impression of her new boss was confirmed during that 2020 merger as she watched Johnson undertake the most menial tasks despite her leading role. “She is never afraid to jump in wherever help is needed, whether that’s helping answer phones in our lobbies, helping carry out trash bags to the garbage bins, or even stepping in to help clerk the 4-H fur and feather auction at our local county fair when we were last-minute short-staffed,” Dhamer said.
As a leader, Johnson stresses the importance of understanding and respecting differing opinions and is aware that the culture she fosters is not as evident in other organizations. Her leadership spans both state and national organizations, including as vice chair of the Illinois Bankers Association Executive Committee, and the Graduate School of Banking-Madison’s Bank Advisory Board. She was recently appointed to the FDIC Advisory Committee on Community Banking and is on multiple committees in her local communities.
Johnson’s initial taste for banking came in 1981 as a teenager in her hometown of Elkhorn, Wis. Despite the challenges of the day, Johnson said she enjoyed community banking. Marriage took her to northern Illinois, where she spent the next decade performing general office duties for a manufacturing company. “I loved manufacturing because it was always challenging,” she said. “And that’s the thing about banking today; it’s not boring.”
Johnson’s interest in banking was rekindled in 1996 when she saw an open proof operator position at Forreston State Bank. The position exposed her to human resources, payroll, regulation reporting and audit processing. She also answered the phone, which gave her a deep understanding of how crucial a receptionist is to the success of a bank. “They are the voice of the company,” she noted.
A top priority for Johnson, who was named president and CEO in December 2018, is community involvement, work she finds personally and professionally rewarding. She has also relished the opportunity to become a mentor.
Her leadership goals include watching people develop in their careers, watching the banks grow and come together through the merger, and “to be able to continue to support our communities and keep up to date with the services that our customers are demanding,” she said.
Johnson has embarked on her impressive career while raising her two now grown children — Morgan and Michael — with her husband Tom. Though work responsibilities can sometimes feel more pressing than family time, she said her family has respect for and supports her career. “I can handle whatever comes my way.”