Not everyone is lucky enough to figure out what they want to do for a career while still in high school. However, Rock Messerschmidt remembers writing about banking for a career paper his senior year. More than 45 years later, he’s working as senior vice president and market development director for Bell Bank.
Rock’s mother had worked in banking, so he had some exposure to the industry, but more than that, he’s always appreciated how much relationship-building is involved.
“I love selling, getting to know people and seeing them be successful,” Rock remarks. “That’s the thrill of the game for me. There are always surprises, but I’ve been very fortunate not to have many loan losses over the years. I’m a blue collar guy from Dilworth, Minn., and I’ve worked in construction, so I can relate to a contractor or construction worker as well as other business owners.”
Even now, a big part of Rock’s role is cultivating connections with commercial clients in the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo areas. Additionally, Rock helps Bell’s bank presidents in the lakes area with business development, and he refers many clients to our wealth management, investments, retirement and private banking teams.
In fact, it was in referring others to our wealth management team that Rock and his wife, Brenda, decided to set up a revocable trust (where earned income is distributed to the trust holder until after that person’s death, when the property is allocated to the beneficiaries).
“With 5 grown kids, we wanted to make sure we did things right,” Rock remarks. “Bell Bank Wealth Management does an excellent job explaining the process and the best options for our specific circumstances.”
They do such an excellent job, Rock says, that when it comes to talking about wealth services to commercial clients, he focuses mainly on the people involved.
“Bell has a great reputation and so much respect in the community because the company is so focused on people,” Rock explains. “Our leadership really looks out for our clients – and employees. The way this company treats people is outstanding.”
In fact, when he was looking for a job after college, one of the first places Rock dropped off a résumé was Bell (then State Bank of Fargo). Growing up in Dilworth, Rock attended Concordia College in Moorhead, where he earned his degree in business administration/ accounting. When there was nothing available locally, Rock started working as an internal examiner with Bremer Service Corp. in the Twin Cities.
He was on the road constantly for his job, traveling within 3 states to every Bremer Bank location. After 2 years he decided to take a job at a small bank in Ada, Minn., where he did everything from working the teller line to running the proof machine to handling small agricultural, commercial and consumer loans. While there, he was also the Ada-Borup High School assistant football coach for 4 years.
When the bank changed hands a few years later, Rock started looking for something else and landed at Fargo National Bank (which later became First Interstate Bank of Fargo, Community First Bank and now Bank of the West), where he worked for 15 years. Then, in 2000, Rock was hired to work at Bell, where’s he’s been ever since.
“Bell, which was State Bank at the time, had a great community image, people talked highly of the bank, and they were taking commercial business from all the other banks in town,” Rock recalls. “When people talked about good, solid banks, the first one off their lips was State Bank. If I was going to leave, I wanted to go somewhere in town where I knew I could be successful, and I knew I could be successful here.”
“Bell is a great company,” Rock affirms. “Family owned with a family atmosphere, there are no profit pressures, and relationships are always kept at the forefront. That’s extremely important in commercial lending.”
While Rock has seen a lot of changes in commercial lending over the years, the biggest have been in underwriting. When he started in commercial lending in the mid-1980s, Rock said loan files often contained a few sentences in the file comments without much financial information. Today, the credit process is much more refined.
He’s also seen a lot of changes at Bell. When he started, the bank had around $500 million in assets. Now, Bell’s assets are well over $8 billion.
“In some ways, that amount of growth over the past 20 years shocks me, but knowing our leaders, Bell’s ethics and the way the bank operates – that amount of growth doesn’t surprise me at all,” Rock comments.
In addition to being part of Bell’s incredible growth, Rock has also had a hand in the community’s development over the years. Focusing mainly on commercial lending in the Fargo-Moorhead area throughout his career, Rock can drive around and point out many businesses he’s worked with or buildings he’s helped finance.
“When you’re starting out, you’re just kind of grasping for straws and hoping you’re heading in the right direction,” Rock notes. “It’s fun to go out and find the grand-slam deals, but it’s also rewarding to work with smaller companies that need help and watch them grow and become top businesses in town. I’ve worked on a number of those.”
Watching companies grow is one of the things Rock has liked most about his career.
“That's why I got into commercial lending,” he remarks. “I take personal pride when a company is successful. I have always said I have done my job when a company doesn't need to borrow money anymore. In the beginning, most companies have numerous lending needs and obstacles to overcome. The successful companies work through those obstacles and appreciate that you worked hard for them.”
If he had one piece of advice to offer a new commercial lender, it would be, “Don’t burn bridges.” “You never know when you might have an opportunity to work with someone again,” he explains. “Even if they work with another bank, they could always come back to you as long as you leave things on friendly terms.”
Outside of work, Rock has served on various committees – including United Way of Cass-Clay’s board of trustees and YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties’ financing committee. He’s also volunteered for a number of organizations and spent more than 35 years refereeing college and high school basketball and high school football.
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