EP Award Promo

He was a banker and so much more


.floatimg-left-hort { float:left; } .floatimg-left-caption-hort { float:left; margin-bottom:10px; width:300px; margin-right:10px; clear:left;} .floatimg-left-vert { float:left; margin-top:10px; margin-right:15px; width:200px;} .floatimg-left-caption-vert { float:left; margin-right:10px; margin-bottom:10px; font-size: 12px; width:200px;} .floatimg-right-hort { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 300px;} .floatimg-right-caption-hort { float:left; margin-right:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 300px; font-size: 12px; } .floatimg-right-vert { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 200px;} .floatimg-right-caption-vert { float:left; margin-right:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 200px; font-size: 12px; } .floatimgright-sidebar { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 200px; border-top-style: double; border-top-color: black; border-bottom-style: double; border-bottom-color: black;} .floatimgright-sidebar p { line-height: 115%; text-indent: 10px; } .floatimgright-sidebar h4 { font-variant:small-caps; } .pullquote { float:right; margin-top:10px; margin-left:10px; margin-bottom:10px; width: 150px; background: url(http://www.dmbusinessdaily.com/DAILY/editorial/extras/closequote.gif) no-repeat bottom right !important ; line-height: 150%; font-size: 125%; border-top: 1px solid; border-bottom: 1px solid;} .floatvidleft { float:left; margin-bottom:10px; width:325px; margin-right:10px; clear:left;} .floatvidright { float:right; margin-bottom:10px; width:325px; margin-right:10px; clear:left;}
Holmes Foster – banker, regulator, volunteer, community activist, political operative, mentor, sage and friend – died on Aug. 12, and his passing marked the end of an era.

If you knew Holmes, you loved him. Accordingly, over the past couple of weeks, he has been eulogized a multitude of times by a multitude of people.

Physically, Holmes was a small man. He dressed in a suit almost every day, his appearance always impeccable. He was soft-spoken and well-spoken. When talking politics or business or giving you advice, his voice would crescendo to make a point, then soften again. He enjoyed a good teasing. When he was Iowa superintendent of banking, the staff bought him a sweater for Christmas, poking fun at his penchant for suits over business casual. He wore it once on a Friday. My husband, who worked at the Iowa Banking Division with Holmes, suspected that he changed into his suit for the drive home.

Holmes was the first banker to sit down with community groups and actually talk to them. He brushed away the rhetoric and posturing to find common ground at a time when most bankers wanted to dismiss groups such as Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) and ACORN as the lunatic fringe. He started working with CCI in 1987. Others followed, but Holmes was first.

Holmes also was the best kind of source a reporter could have: Besides being absolutely honest sans any spin, he was smart, knowledgeable, quotable and available.

If he didn’t know about an issue, he knew someone who did. You could usually count on Holmes for the back story about a topic – what really happened, the motivations of the parties involved. He not only knew where the bodies were buried; he could tell you who else knew. He wasn’t just institutional memory; he was an institution. You often saw him quoted in the papers, but what will really be missed is how he helped with the articles in which he wasn’t quoted.

When reporters wanted to skewer banks over their handling of the dealings of the late Ed Boesen and Jamie Myers, Holmes added perspective. “There was more competition than ever with small banks moving into Des Moines because they saw greener pastures,” he pointed out. “In Iowa, most bankers don’t think the guy sitting across the table is a crook.”

The first article I ever wrote quoting Holmes was for this paper nearly 24 years ago. At the time, he was CEO of Banks of Iowa Inc., the most profitable Iowa-based bank holding company. Banking was an exciting beat in the mid-1980s, in some ways similar to today. The farm crisis was in full swing, banks were failing and the sky was falling, economically speaking. On the advice of the then-president of Bankers Trust, John Chrystal, I went to see Holmes Foster.

“These days you ought to have a healthy skepticism for the things most bankers say,” Chrystal said with his homespun candor, “but not Holmes. You can believe him.”

I expected a big guy with dark hair and a booming voice. I was stunned when a doppelganger for George Burns greeted me.

That afternoon, Holmes spent two hours with me as I laid out a stack of tables I had compiled detailing all of the Des Moines banks and their statistics for return on assets, return on equity, loan-loss allowance, nonperforming loans and so forth. He explained how you had to look at the returns on assets and equity to judge performance, the difference between the provision and the allowance, the red flags on the balance sheet, what questions to ask. This is stuff reporters continued to learn from Holmes until his illness in July.

When my articles started getting picked up in the American Banker, a daily financial newspaper, Holmes told me he had created a monster. I retorted, “so have I,” taking credit for the fact that national reporters were now calling him.

Holmes eventually negotiated the sale of Banks of Iowa to Firstar Corp., which is now U.S. Bancorp. He sat on the board of directors of West Bank, and then returned to the Banking Division as the superintendent. Although Holmes retired several times – twice from Banks of Iowa – he never stopped working, never stopped wearing a suit, never stopped caring. He was always ready and willing to take on an assignment or a project, particularly those that others wouldn’t. He helped an immigrant group try to start a bank; he cleaned up the mess left by the Wolford Group; he helped sell a bank or two. He had a hard time saying no.

Long after I stopped being a reporter and he stopped being a banker, we stayed in touch. I often called him to bounce ideas, pick his brain or get his help. His flair for analysis and critical thinking never wavered or dulled. I would tell reporters to call him if they didn’t know him, and he always called to thank me, noting that at some point someone else should fill this role.

He didn’t e-mail or talk on a cell phone, but he would meet you for breakfast at the Renaissance Savery Hotel, or lunch at Centro or the Embassy Club. If you were one of his favorites, he would meet for drinks at the Club Car.

In today’s economic volatility and financial uncertainty, Holmes continued to be a seasoned voice of reason.

He will be missed.

Jamie Buelt is the president of en Q strategies, a Des Moines-based public relations firm.

fhbl brd 080123 300x250