The admiration community leaders have for Richard Solberg, Bell Bank board chairman and former CEO, was evident as hundreds gathered to watch him receive his Legacy Leader Award from the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, October 18.
Both before and after the presentation, Richard was surrounded by family, friends, current and past employees, community leaders and others who lined up to greet and congratulate him on a well-deserved award.
Former Fargo mayor and past Bell Bank board member Bruce Furness, who received the Legacy Leader Award in 2012, described Richard as a “leader’s leader.”
“He has foresight,” Bruce remarked. “He cares about employees, knows and assists them. He listens to their views and values their thoughts. He strives for consensus. He has vision. He preaches commitment. He manages by wandering around. He demonstrates patience. These are all characteristics of strong leadership.”
As Richard approached the stage to accept his award, which recognizes “the important role and contributions of long-time local leaders in both shaping and serving the metropolitan community and greater region,” the crowd rose in a standing ovation.
“I’m very humbled by this honor – especially when you look at the list of past recipients,” Richard remarked, adding it’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since he and his family moved from Finley, N.D., to Fargo when he became president, CEO and a major shareholder in what was then State Bank of Fargo. At the time, the bank had one location at the Northport Shopping Center and has since grown to be one of the largest privately owned banks in the nation, with assets of more than $11 billion.
“I can assure you, there was no plan at that time for State Bank of Fargo to expand to what Bell Bank has become today. I sometimes get asked about how this happened, and I give one answer: I don’t know,” Richard quipped. “What I do know is that banking is a people business and a service business. Our past and current employees deserve much of the credit for how we make customers happy each and every day and how we’ve become a very successful family- and employee-owned company.”
Shawn Dobberstein of Hector International Airport, and the chamber’s immediate past board chairman, said while Richard is so deserving of the award, he isn’t someone who takes or needs credit for his contributions. Instead, he will always elevate the work of others on his team.
“Richard is thoughtful, passionate, caring and leads by example,” Shawn commented. “He is always willing to serve and provide guidance for causes that will benefit the community.”
In presenting the award – a 3-dimensional sculpture custom-made by Fargo artist Brad Bachmeier – Shannon Full, the chamber’s president and CEO, said “Richard Solberg truly has made a tremendous impact.”
Recipients are chosen by a nomination committee, and fewer than 20 people have received the prestigious award. Past recipients have included Ronald D. Offutt of R.D. Offutt Co. and RDO Equipment Co., Margie Bailly, retired longtime Fargo Theatre executive director and Fargo Film Festival co-founder, and Steve D. and Frederick B. Scheel of SCHEELS sporting goods stores.
In a video tribute to Richard and his legacy, Jim Wieland of Goldmark and a Bell board member, shared how Richard lent him money for his business when no one else would. Steve D. Scheel, also a former board member, noted that when other bankers were out golfing or doing something other than banking, Richard would be cold-calling on their customers. And Margie Bailey commented on how Richard made people feel valued.
Michael Solberg, Bell’s president and CEO, said his father has been the best boss he could have had.
“In the banking business, there’s such a focus on numbers and truly, our company’s been successful because of his leadership and how he thinks about treating everyone,” Michael remarked. “From tellers to senior vice presidents, you’re important to the chairman, and he makes sure you know you’re important to the success of the company.”
In addition to his business achievements, Richard was also celebrated for his community involvement, including with Hope Lutheran Church, Red Willow Bible Camp, Fargo Kawanis Club, the Fargo Theatre and Fargo Film Festival, the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., and Concordia College.
“When he first came to Fargo, nobody had seen a banker quite like him,” the video proclaimed. “He is a leader as unique as the lessons that are his legacy.”