Over 14 years in commercial lending, five and a half of them with Northwest Bank, Kelly Grefe has distinguished himself in all the ways that bankers are typically measured. But what sets him apart is the genuine, transparent way he relates to his clients, skills learned during his time in small-town Nebraska.
“How you treat people matters, it really does,” he said. “If I walk out into the branch and bite somebody’s head off, everybody’s going to know about it. That’s the bad part of a small town, right, everybody knows everybody’s business. But everybody cares here, too.
“I’ve read over and over about slogans that ‘Your opinion matters,’ and ‘People Are Our Best Resources.’ That actually means something here.”
A Career by Chance
Grefe, now vice president of business banking, is the first to admit that his path to banking was hardly a well-defined one. As his career at Hastings College was winding down, the Arlington native was at a loss for what the next step in life held for him.
“When I was in Hastings, I thought I was going to live in that town forever,” he said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do, that’s just where all my football buddies and college buddies were. One option was to move back to Arlington, Fremont or Omaha and try to get a job with Union Pacific like my dad, who’d worked there his whole life. But I really had no idea what I wanted to do.
“A friend of mine who worked at a local bank at the time said, ‘If you want to stay in Hastings, go talk to our president and see if they want to hire you.’ I went into the bank and three days later I called home and told Mom and Dad I got a job.”
Corporate culture was important to him, Grefe said, and after several years, he finally found what he wanted in Northwest Bank in 2016. The institution embodied his philosophy of maintaining client relationships as key to customer service and loyalty.
“There’s no greater need for transparency than when you’re talking about people’s financial lives,” he said. “I can’t do every deal for everybody the way that they want it. That’s just the way, shape and form of it. But there needs to be a give and take on both sides and I think that mentality allows you to sometimes tell an applicant no. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m right or they’re wrong. In this industry, being able to tell somebody no but still having their respect is very valuable. In fact, you have to have it to be successful.”
Community Service Matters
Grefe also finds it essential to stay involved in community service work. Heartland Financial Services, Ways to Work Program, Victory Boxing Club and Omaha Home for Boys have all benefited from his skilled, enthusiastic input.
“[The bank] doesn’t tell us to go be on boards. I’ve been part of that culture before and you find yourself in places that you don’t really care about,” he said. “I participate in things that I really have an interest in, because people know if you’re giving a half-hearted effort.
“What keeps me involved with the community is I’m very fortunate to be where I’m at. I’m very humbled to be where I’m at. I have a job at an institution that lets me go out and do those things that I really care about. I can’t see doing it any other way.”