David A. Bochnowski, the newest board member of BusINess magazine, didn’t originally plan to be 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,” says the chairman and CEO of Northwest Indiana Bancorp and Peoples Bank, an institution started by Bochnowski’s grandfather in East Chicago.
“But as much as I enjoyed the banking environment, my family encouraged me to explore the world beyond. I credit my parents for piquing my interest in other cultures and specialties.” Bochnowski explored his interest in foreign service by spending the summer of 1967 in Lesotho, Africa, with a faith-based group called Crossroads Africa.
“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 adviser during the Vietnam War. Bochnowski learned the Vietnamese language quickly. 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 ability to meet challenges to other endeavors. 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.
“Banking was going through dramatic changes, and Dad thought I should pursue other opportunities that were on the table,” Bochnowski says. “But, once I made my decision to join the bank, my father fully supported me”
Bochnowski, a Munster resident and father of four, 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. Under his leadership, the now century-old bank has continued to grow with 11 banking centers in Lake and Porter counties. Construction on a 12th banking center in St. John is planned this year.
“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.”
Peoples Bank calls its commitment to customers “You First Banking.” This way of doing business is driven by relationships, not just transactions, Bochnowski says.
Because Peoples is a locally owned and managed community bank, “we can respond quickly and effectively with the service and solutions you need to meet your financial goals,” he says.
And Peoples Bank has been recognized nationally for its commitment to customers. In 2007, 2008, and 2009 US Banker magazine listed Peoples among the top 200 community banks in America based upon a key banking industry performance indicator.
Being a banker means making a commitment to public service at every level, Bochnowski says. He serves as treasurer for the Munster Community Hospital and on the board of the Community Healthcare System. He is also 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. 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.
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. In 2009, for example, Peoples provided in-kind contributions and financial assistance to more than 230 community projects.