As chairman and CEO of Northwest Indiana Bancorp and Peoples Bank, David A. Bochnowski carries on the lessons taught by his grandfather and father and their legacy of customer service and giving back.
“Our philosophy is to treat customers with respect as individuals, build rapport with our customers and reinvest in the Northwest Indiana communities where our customers and employees work and live,” says Bochnowski, a third-generation banker, husband, father of four and a Munster resident.
“Fair and honest dealings are critical to the success of any enterprise, but especially critical in banking,” he says. “These are not just words. They’re a way of life.”
And being a banker means being in public service, Bochnowski says. His involvement in local, state and national issues is extensive.
A community activist, Bochnowski serves as treasurer for the Munster Community Hospital and on the board of the Community Health Care System. He is former chairman and current board member of the Legacy Foundation of Lake County; a director of the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council; a trustee of the Purdue University Technology Center and a trustee of Calumet College of St. Joseph.
Gov. Frank O’Bannon appointed Bochnowski to a four-term term as chairman of the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions and in 2001, the governor named Bochnowski a “Sagamore of the Wabash,” Indiana’s highest award for humanity, loyalty, wisdom and inspiration in leadership.
As chairman of the American Bankers Association Government Relations Council, Bochnowski is a national advocate for change in the banking industry. He calls for bankers to work with state and federal legislators so they can make informed decisions about regulations and laws that have a far-reaching effect on consumers and communities.
But Bochnowski didn’t originally plan to become a banker.
“I always joke that I came up in banking the hard way. I had a great deal of exposure to the bank, and I remember the days of posting ledgers by hand, back when digitalizing was a revolutionary concept,” he says. “But as much as I enjoyed the banking environment, my family encouraged me to explore the world beyond.”
Bochnowski whet his appetite for foreign service by spending the summer of 1967 in Lesotho, Africa, with a faith-based group called Crossroads Africa. He and other workers built a maternity clinic from the ground up in the Drakensberg mountain range.
“It was a rewarding experience,” he says. “I enrolled in Howard University for a master’s degree in African studies.”
In 1970, Bochnowski volunteered to go overseas as a military advisor during the Vietnam War. In country, the U.S. Army lieutenant’s assignment was to put Vietnamese forces into place to fight the war independently of the U.S.
“It was a challenging assignment and helped me learn the importance of priorities,” he says. “Even though we all had different ranks, we also formed a team. In a true team situation, rank does not make a difference. Everyone has a job to do.”
Bochnowski has brought that experience to every phase of his life. He earned a law degree from Georgetown University and worked as a special assistant to Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Indiana) in Washington, D.C.
Returning to Indiana, Bochnowski set up a private law practice and in 1977 became legal counsel for Peoples Bank.
“When the opportunity arose for me to join the bank’s management team, my father did not encourage me to do it,” Bochnowski recalls. “But, once I made my decision to join the bank, my father fully supported me.” Bochnowski took over as chairman and CEO of Peoples Bank in 1981 and was promoted to chairman of the Northwest Indiana Bancorp holding company in 1995.
Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, Peoples Bank continues to grow under Bochnowski’s leadership. Today, Peoples Bank has 11 banking centers in Lake and Porter counties. A groundbreaking will be held in the spring for a 12th banking center in St. John, and bank officials are also looking to open other banking centers in Valparaiso and Chesterton.
Peoples Bank also supports a wide range of community activities through Bochnowski’s leadership. Over the past 25 years, the bank has donated some $4 million in charitable contributions and community support.
Bochnowski has built a team of leaders who are homegrown and active in their communities. Peoples Bank employees volunteer and serve on various boards.
“When hiring, we look for people who like to deal with people, who like to engage our customers in conversation and who take responsibility for finding solutions for our customers’ needs,” Bochnowski says.
“We’ve changed tires in the parking lot for our customers. If you need to talk to the CEO, you get to talk to me. If you call to ask a question, you get an answer without delay because decisions are made locally and not at corporate headquarters somewhere on the east or west coasts,” he says.