When other institutions reached far beyond their means during the mortgage-led boom, Harris Bank retained a moderate credit risk profile. And now Harris is the one in the driver's seat, making footprint-increasing acquisitions and talent-boosting hires while other banks lick their wounds.

The long-time Chicago bank has CEO Ellen Costello and her careful approach to risk to thank for its favorable position. "Having a similar risk philosophy is important for both a hire and a merger partner," says Costello. We didn't take on the risk profile that other banks did. And that's positioned us to do the things that we were doing all along."

In the first seven months of 2008, Harris hired about 40 business bankers and added more new clients than in the entire previous year. The bank also added a team of private bank representatives that work across geographies to identify wealth opportunities and increased its licensed personal bankers in select branches to provide investment alternatives to customers with investment needs up to $100,000.

And the $44.3 billion-asset subsidiary of BMO Financial Group has been a busy shopper over the past two years, purchasing Ozaukee Bank and MMBC in Wisconsin and First National Bank & Trust in Indiana. The purchases have contributed $13.7 million in revenue in 2007 and $28.2 million in 2008.

"She's the kind of leader that recognizes the importance of culture and cultural change. And that's critical in terms of acquisitions and the integration stage," says Justine Fedak, svp of marketing and head of customer strategy for Harris in Chicago. "She approaches the employees that are acquired and gets them to recognize that the new environment will be one of picking the best of what each side has to contribute and making the most of that."

Achieving steady growth in a tough environment has also been part of Costello's success at Harris. Under Costello's guidance, Harris Bank's revenue grew 16.9 percent between November 2007 and April 2008, or about $56 million.

And net income increased $6 million, or 12 percent. And during full year 2007, loans increased $1.7 billion, or 11 percent, and deposits increased $600 million, or 4.3 percent-not counting that year's purchase of First National Bank & Trust.

Return to the 2008 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking

(c) 2008 U.S. Banker and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.americanbanker.com/usb.html/ http://www.sourcemedia.com/ >

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.