First Interstate selects next CEO

2011-10-19T11:31:00Z 2014-08-25T09:50:33Z First Interstate selects next CEOBy JAN FALSTAD Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
October 19, 2011 11:31 am  • 

The next leader of Montana's largest native bank is no carpetbagger.

On Wednesday, the 16-member board of Billings-based First Interstate BancSystem Inc., unanimously chose Edward Garding, a 40-year employee, as its next president and chief executive. He will take over the top job on April 1, 2012, when Lyle R. Knight retires after 14 years.

In 1971, Garding was just graduating from Eastern College, now Montana State University Billings, when he asked for an interview with First Interstate's president.

"I knew I wanted a job in the banking business and I wanted this bank," he said.

After the interview, the president thanked him, but said he had absolutely no job openings.

Undeterred, Garding said, "This is the only suit that I own and I'm going to put it on every Friday and come and see you until you hire me."

Five Fridays later, the president introduced him to Homer Scott Sr., the bank's founder, and Garding soon was hired as the bank's first management trainee.

"Now it's 40 years later, and I'm still in the training program," Garding joked.

Only now he'll continue his studies in his office at the top of Montana's tallest building.

"Ed brings wisdom and trust plus the ability to invigorate in a time of change," board vice chairman Jim Scott said.

The first challenge is to reassure everyone that management of the bank with 71 offices and 1,700 employees in Montana, Wyoming and western South Dakota is stable, Garding said.

"There are no plans to change the culture or the values of our company in any way," he said.

The effects of the prolonged recession hit this region lighter than other areas of the U.S. and the worst of the economic doldrums have passed, Garding said.

"But, that said, we certainly aren't immune. Our loan portfolio doesn't have the same quality that it had four years ago," he said, especially in the Flathead Valley.

As chief executive he has to answer to five sets of bosses: employees, customers, stockholders, the board of directors and bank regulators.

First Interstate has many good leaders and Garding's choice was part of a long-range succession plan, Jim Scott said.

"As a family company with a great history, strong succession is critical for driving and sustaining long-term value," board chairman Tom Scott said.

The Scott family started the bank in Sheridan, Wyo., 43 years ago, and sold public stock for the first time last year at an opening price of $14.50 per share. The stock closed at $11.56 per share Wednesday.

As of June, First Interstate had $7.2 billion in assets and has been profitable for 23 consecutive years.

Garding has been the chief operating officer since August 2010 and has worked with Knight for 14 years.

On Monday, the bank will deliver its quarterly financial report.

And soon, Garding will don the barrister costume he bought, complete with the blond wig, to pick the best-carved pumpkin in an employee competition.

"Halloween is my favorite holiday. You better address me, 'My Lord,'" he joked, with Jim Scott, who was on a conference call from New York City.

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