Trailblazer for women in ag receives IBA’s Leach Award

Leslie Miller

Leslie Miller, vice president at Iowa State Savings Bank, Knoxville, received the Iowa Bankers Association’s James A. Leach Leadership Award Sept. 18. The announcement came during the IBA’s annual convention held Sept 16-18 in Des Moines.

The Leach Award, the highest honor bestowed by the IBA, recognizes a distinguished Iowa banker who has significantly impacted how Iowa banks serve their communities.

“Leslie Miller has been an industry leader in the development of farm financial standards and more broadly, in financing agriculture in Iowa,” said IBA President and CEO John Sorensen. Through her service to customers and participation in national and state agricultural and lending organizations, “she has worked tirelessly throughout her career to do all she can to help farmers succeed,” Sorensen said.

Miller started her lending career in Davis County, Iowa, in the 1970s, and has been in Knoxville since 1989. As part of a farm family, she has watched farm sizes grow while the number of farms shrink, both in Iowa and across the nation. “I had a chance to view the 1980s from a lender’s desk, as well as see what the impacts were on local farmers,” Miller said in an interview with Iowa Public Television.

Working in the industry for more than 40 years, Miller has a long history of service to ag banking. She’s been the agricultural banker’s division manager for the American Bankers Association, a member of the USDA’s extension service national review team on agricultural finance, a board member and treasurer of the Iowa Ag Finance Corporation, and, appointed by former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, served on the board of the Iowa Ag Development.

Additionally, Miller was a co-founder and the first woman on the original Farm Financial Standards Council, held a chair on the IBA Ag Committee and was a member of the IBA Ag Credit Task Force, and served on the Chicago Federal Reserve Advisory Board.

Miller distinguishes herself through extensive industry involvement and leadership in agriculture, her banking focus, said Stu Job, CEO of Iowa State Savings Bank. Along with her vast involvement in banking and the ag industry, Miller demonstrates “remarkable commitment to continually learn, coupled with a commitment to teach and share her knowledge,” Job said.

And Miller has been a teacher and proponent for agricultural finance both in and outside the classroom, qualified broadly by her experience. A frequent guest lecturer in classes at Iowa State University in ag finance, beef production and farm management courses, Miller “never turns down a request,” said William Edwards, professor emeritus of economics at Iowa State University, Ames.

Miller was part of the team that developed the Women in Agriculture educational program, and served on the design team for Texas A&M financial analysis. She has presented at the Women in Agriculture Program, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association winter seminar, and the ISU Extension’s Women Managing Cattle program.

Miller has been on the advisory committee for the ISU Extension farm and agribusiness management team, and discussed the current financial situation in Iowa Agriculture on panels, Edwards said. As a presenter at the IBA Agricultural Credit School, Miller teaches ag lenders about farm loan analysis and how to finance lines of credit.

Having been the national coordinator for the Farm Financial Task Force for three years, Miller speaks, “with a level of credibility that an ‘academic’ speaker could not achieve,” Edwards said.

In the community, Miller has volunteered for the Marion County Cattlemen’s Association and the Knoxville FFA Advisory Board, which is a leadership development organization for students of agricultural education. Miller also formed her own private consulting business called Ag Bankers Advisory Service. The service assists banks, associations and financial service providers with risk management and credit analysis.

Ultimately, Miller sets herself apart, “through a true partnership-approach with her customers to help them be more productive and more profitable.” Job said.

Casey Gerhardt, a colleague at Iowa State Savings Bank, called Miller  a lender with a deep-rooted passion for agriculture. “It’s always easy to lend more money when the borrowers are financially sound, but when the going gets tough, Leslie isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and work longer hours to dig for a solution.”

Miller is a shining representation of the impact an Iowa community banker can make for their community, their industry and all the people with whom they interact, said Dave Nelson, West Bank, West Des Moines, a member of the Leach Leadership Award nomination committee.

“Leslie has been a strong community leader, industry advocate and mentor for decades,” Nelson said. “She is an example of how just one Iowa banker can make a huge contribution to our state and our industry through advocacy and leadership.”