For several years, employees at State Bank of Cokato in Minnesota have called chief executive Bruce Peterson their "Fearless Leader."

They still call him that, but now it's no joke.

During a bank robbery the morning of Aug. 16, Mr. Peterson traded places with an elderly female customer who had been taken hostage. He then escaped from the getaway vehicle - his own car.

"He deserves an award," said Wright County Sheriff Don Hozempa. "He was more concerned about the safety of his own customers and employees than he was for himself."

For Mr. Peterson, the drama began at 9:30 a.m., as he entered his bank to spend a day coping with state examiners.

From the rear of the bank, he heard a commotion in the lobby and saw a man holding a knife to the throat of a customer, 74-year-old Marie Lundeen. The robber had several sacks of money and was demanding a car be brought to the front door.

"The security training I had received locked in," Mr. Peterson said. "The first thing they teach you in a situation like this is get the guy away from your employees and out of the bank."

Mr. Peterson ran out of the bank and jumped into his 1990 station wagon, which was parked nearby. At the front door, he persuaded the robber to let Ms. Lundeen go. The robber then jumped into the back seat.

"Drive!" the robber said. A few blocks later, Mr. Peterson stopped at a traffic light. As the robber was busy counting the money in back, the banker shut off the engine, grabbed the keys, and opened the door to make a run for it. A brief struggle ensued, and Mr. Peterson was cut below his chin before getting away.

Though in his 60s - and with bad toes, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis - he hoofed it to a local service station and called 911. "I haven't run in 45 years," he said.

The robber ran the opposite direction. A young man matching his description was arrested Friday in San Antonio.


On a morning last December, the staff at the Yuba City, Calif., supermarket branch of Tri Counties Bank closed the office blinds to the shoppers outside.

Inside, the branch manager was dancing on her desk and the assistant branch manager was getting his head shaved.

That was the deal the two struck with each other if the branch won a coveted bank award for exceeding performance goals. She promised to dance on her desk; he pledged to let her shave his head.

The branch manager, Karen Fields, said the stunt was just part of how she makes her job fun.

"I always try to find the positive in everything," said Ms. Fields, who was recently named in-store banker of the year by National Commerce Bank Services, a Memphis supermarket branch consultancy.

Ms. Fields won the award for her unique sales techniques, among them using 66 lemons in a basket to show how many hours a week her branch is open, and decorating the branch like a car to hawk auto loans.

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