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Marc Langland

Iconic Alaskan Marc Langland is Chairman and CEO of Northrim BanCorp, Inc.

Iconic Alaskan Marc Langland is Chairman and CEO of Northrim BanCorp, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Northrim

Marc Langland does not remember the motto of the first bank where he worked. But the 1964 calendar from Tri-County State Bank in Zearing, Iowa, promises customers that their bank is “Strong Enough to Protect You . . . Large Enough to Serve You . . . Small Enough To Know You.”

Langland, chairman and CEO of Northrim BanCorp, Inc., which owns Northrim Bank, found a career in banking by way of a gas station job. One summer day when Langland was seventeen and working at a Zearing gas station, the Tri-County State Bank’s president stopped for gas and casually asked him if he wanted to work in his bank. Langland accepted the offer, although the paycheck wasn’t much more than the gas station’s forty dollars a week. “I had little idea of my future career except that I would go to college and get a business degree, but I knew a bank job was better than greasing cars.” He worked there through high school and college summer breaks, and learned the basics of banking.

With a population of five hundred, Zearing, Iowa, is the kind of place where everyone knows and watches out for each other. “People in Midwestern small towns live with basic values: Be straightforward, honest, and be involved,” Langland says. Those values were to guide his banking career of more than fifty years and shape his life. Langland, now seventy-two, is semi-retired but still involved in both his bank and his community.

Like many Alaskans, Langland came to Alaska intending to stay a few years. He had heard a lot about Alaska from his wife’s aunt who lived here, which made him want to work here temporarily. After graduating from the University of Iowa, he spent one year at a Denver bank, and while there he began applying for jobs in Alaska. In 1965, National Bank of Alaska (NBA) hired Langland, the start of nearly twelve years of working for NBA in Anchorage, Wrangell, and Fairbanks. He credits NBA’s chairman Elmer Rasmuson for his success. “I learned a lot from Elmer Rasmuson—the basic principles of being a good conservative banker and how to manage banks in the Alaska environment.”

 

Northrim Bank opened in a trailer in Midtown Anchorage in 1990.

Photo courtesy of Northrim

Into the Bank Business

In 1977 Langland left NBA to join his friend Arne Espe in forming a holding company that owned two banks, later bought by Key Bank in the mid-1980s. After the sale Espe and Langland worked for Key Bank for three years, but left in 1988 just as the Alaska recession was tapering off.

During that 1980s recession thirteen Alaska financial institutions failed, the housing market collapsed, and about twenty thousand people left the state. By 1990 the remaining banks had consolidated, and Langland and Espe decided the time was right to create a new bank. At the time the move took nerve. “We felt there wasn’t enough competition and businesses needed more choices, so we formed a public company to raise new capital,” Langland says.

With $9 million in capital, Northrim Bank began operations in December 1990 in a trailer in midtown Anchorage. The money came from a diverse group of investors from both Alaska and the Lower 48 and included two Alaska Native Corporations, Natives of Kodiak, Inc., and Klukwan, Inc. Shareholders of both corporations serve on the bank’s board. Irene Rowan, former president and chairman of Klukwan, and Tony Drabek, former president and CEO of Natives of Kodiak, were appointed to the board in 1991 and continue to serve today.

There is no doubt that Northrim is successful. The bank now has $1.1 billion in assets, ten branches in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Eagle River, and Wasilla, and 260 employees. The small-town qualities that shaped Langland are evident in Northrim’s success and its position as a leader in community service.

But Langland worries about the threat to Northrim and other community banks from credit unions. “Alaska is one of the few states where credit unions have such a dominant position in the market,” he says.

Credit unions now offer their services to more people, not just select members as they formerly did. Unlike banks, they pay no income tax, and credit unions don’t have the same regulatory oversight that banks do, Langland says. “It should be a level playing field and, just as banks do, credit unions should also pay income taxes.”

 

Customer Service Priority

Perhaps, even more than banking, it is Langland’s commitment to community and customer service that earns him accolades from many. As a local bank, Northrim takes pride in how it treats its customers, both large and small. Its larger clients include Native corporations that have become some of the bank’s most valued customers, Rowan says. “Marc understands the importance of Alaska Native corporations to Alaska’s future. Northrim developed a close relationship with Native corporations under him,” Rowan adds.

Even in semi-retirement, Langland continues to be active. He holds, or has held, positions on several boards. He was on the board of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation from 1987 to 1991, as chair in his last year. He still serves on the boards of Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, and Usibelli Coal Mine. He is past chairman of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Fairbanks Chamber, and Commonwealth North.

Despite the public presence, Langland has managed to maintain a low profile in the forty-eight years he has lived and worked in Alaska. Modest is perhaps the right word to define him.

Former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles says he knows Langland well “as a fishing buddy, banker, and community leader—and I admire his talent in all. Marc has always flown below the radar screen because he doesn’t look for any kind of public recognition.”

 

Marc Langland at an early Northrim Bank event.

Photo courtesy of Northrim

Working with People

One of Langland’s strengths is his ability to work with people, says Steve Lindbeck, general manager, Alaska Public Media. Lindbeck worked with Langland on the “Principles and Interests” project, which examined the future of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Langland not only “raised a substantial amount of money but was also was engaged in its intellectual design,” Lindbeck says. He also lauds Langland’s ability to gather “people who are intelligent and eager to contribute, and he does not let his personal ideology define who he is going to work with.”

As a community leader, Langland has dedicated himself to a combination of financial stability for the community and the state, and “he puts his money where his mouth is,” Knowles says, referring to Northrim’s continuing financial support of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER).

Scott Goldsmith, ISER’s former director, knows about Langland’s commitment to ISER’s work on analyzing the state’s fiscal policy. “The state is not willing to spend money on that kind of analysis, but Marc is committed to making Alaska’s economy as healthy as possible to ensure long-term prosperity.” In April this year, Northrim gave ISER an additional $100,000 to continue the research, bringing its total funding to $1 million.

The project at ISER, “Investing for Alaska’s Future,” began in 2000 and is Langland’s personal initiative, Goldsmith says. “He is eternally optimistic and gets upset when policy goes in the wrong direction. He wants continued work on the issues in an optimistic way and believes if we work hard enough and get the information and facts out people will make the right decisions.”

One of Langland’s strong beliefs is that Alaskans must encourage the oil industry to continue to invest because it is the “core main industry that funds our state government and is the foundation of our economy.” He fears that Alaska’s taxes and regulations will drive the industry out, spelling disaster. “We don’t have a big enough citizens’ base that we could tax to support government.”

He took action when he and Jim Jansen, of Lynden Transport, formed the “Make Alaska Competitive” group, or MAC, to educate Alaskans and to lobby the Legislature for passage of oil tax reform legislation.

 

Community Investments

In Zearing everyone pulled together to make that small town work, and in a similar way the employees of Northrim also pull together to help their communities.

“We gather deposits in our community and then we lend out into the community. But our involvement doesn’t stop there,” says Jay Blury, the bank’s marketing and communications director. “Marc believes our people are our strength and that is the foundation of our success. The bank has invested time to instill the value of community in all of us.”

Employees are encouraged to be active in the community and hold positions on many boards, and the bank also contributes more than $500,000 annually to various civic organizations such as the School Business Partnership. In 2012, employees raised a record $122,000 for United Way with 100 percent participation at several branches. The bank also financed and invested in the $16 million Coronado Park Senior Village in Eagle River, a Cook Inlet Housing Authority senior rental housing project. The bank took its involvement further by becoming an investor in the project by purchasing approximately $10 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Blury says.

 

Keen Interest in Alaskans

Langland is not as involved in the bank’s daily affairs today, but he continues his keen interest in issues that concern all Alaskans. He will work actively to urge voters to not repeal SB21, the Legislature’s bill reforming oil taxes, at the polls next year. A referendum repealing the bill promoted by opponents to tax reform may appear on the August 2104 primary election ballot. He worries about the state’s future because it is his home and he wants a state where his young grandchildren can thrive.

Scott Goldsmith best summed up Langland’s contributions to Alaska: “We could use a lot more Marc Langlands in this state. He understands how the economy works and what drives the state. He is a committed Alaskan who is willing to work to make it a better place.”

Shehla Anjum writes from Anchorage.

This first appeared in the October 2013 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.

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