In this hometown of S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., the Johnson Wax company, the controlling family is known primarily as one of the largest employers and landowners-not as bankers.
That low financial profile is changing.
Johnson International, the family's bank holding company, announced last week that it had changed its subsidiaries' names to Johnson Banks. The $1.3 billion-asset holding company owns the former Heritage Bank and Trust of Racine and Biltmore Investors Bank in Lake Forest, Ill., and Phoenix.
Johnson International even persuaded media-shy Samuel C. Johnson, the 69-year-old grandson of the company's founder, to announce the name change himself.
Mr. Johnson said his family, which made its fortune manufacturing cleaning products, "doesn't need (its) name on anything else in this world." But it wanted to unite the two banks under a single identity and to send a message to customers that the Johnson family is in banking for the long haul.
"There are very few banks left with a family name and a family associated with it," Mr. Johnson said, adding that he is sad that a venerable banking surname-Barnett-recently disappeared when NationsBank Corp. bought the Jacksonville, Fla., banking company.
The Johnsons' decision to emphasize family heritage in an era of megamergers is a twist, especially since banking has never been the family's forte. Mr. Johnson founded Heritage Bank and Trust in 1970 simply to replace an unsightly saloon and gas station on a prime piece of Lake Michigan property.
"My father gave me the assignment to figure out what to do with that land. He said, 'Put something there that makes money.'"
The family scion said he kept the Johnson label off the bank because he feared getting embroiled in customer disputes.
"I worried I would get calls from little old ladies on Saturday morning saying I screwed up their accounts," he said.
The banks' performance was nothing to boast about in the mid-1990s.
Biltmore Investors Bank in Illinois posted a $527,000 loss in 1995. After stronger returns in the early 1990s, Heritage reported a 0.66% return on assets for 1995.
For the quarter ended Sept. 30, however, Heritage posted a respectable 1.04% ROA and a 14.66% return on equity, and Biltmore is back in the black.
In March 1995, the Federal Reserve rejected Johnson International's attempt to buy Stuart (Fla.) Savings Bank because of misreported Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data and Truth-in-Lending Act violations.
Mr. Johnson said he has gained confidence in banking since hiring Richard A. Hansen two years ago to be Johnson International's president and chief executive officer. Mr. Hansen, a former president and CEO of Firstar Bank of Madison, Wis., is focused on customer service, internal growth, and technology investments.
Adopting the Johnson name "is the culmination of my comfort level with what's going on at the bank," Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Hansen described working for the Johnsons as "a grand experience." The stockholders request 20-year strategic plans instead of the more typical five-year outlooks, he said.
Since joining Johnson, Mr. Hansen has been hiring experienced bankers from other, larger institutions-many of them considered takeover candidates. He opened a branch in Madison, his old stomping ground, and helped Heritage be the first in its market to launch computer banking.
Wayne Bopp, a bank analyst at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee, said the Johnson Banks' name change is another smart move.
"In the short run, some people will walk in the bank and say, 'Did the bank sell out?'" Mr. Bopp said. "But it's beneficial for marketing if you have a common name."
By bringing "Johnson" to the forefront, the banking company may strike a chord with some of its most prized customers-those who share the Johnsons' high-income status and discreetly take advantage of the holding company's financial service subsidiaries in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, Mr. Bopp said.
Mr. Hansen stressed that Johnson International will continue a cautious philosophy in which longevity and family legacy outweigh quarter-to-quarter results.
"We're not looking at maximizing short-term investments, and we're not going to grow for the sake of growth," he said.
"We are long-term people in our family," Mr. Johnson added. "We run it for the next generation."