What If ?

Big decisions are made after long deliberation and the mental gymnastics that take us from weighing all the positives against all the negatives we can imagine.

After days of full-fledged self confidence wrestles with more days of doubt and the opinions we may or may not seek from friends and business peers we sit up, wide awake at two o’clock in the morning, and declare that, “Yes, this is a good idea and I have the talent and resources to make it happen. Besides, I have a good friend as a partner who really knows what he’s doing. I can lean on him when I’m not sure if I’m seeing the picture as clearly as I should.”

Mike and Ken knew one another through their mutual employment with Western Bank. Mike Sickles was Executive Vice President and CFO until the acquisition by Washington Mutual Savings Bank in 1996. Ken Trautman had been a  regional manager and  Senior Vice President of Western Bank. An announcement in 1996 of a major restructuring of Western Bank and the elimination of 800 jobs led to an opportunity for these two talented bankers to map out their futures in the banking industry.

The savings and loan crisis of the 1980’s and 1990’s was  a tremendous learning experience for everyone in the banking industry. Mergers and acquisitions seemed to be happening every week around the country. Customers were confused and often became wary of big banks and the mystery of the way they were run.

It was in 1996 that Ken and Mike started talking. “What if we started a bank?” On March 2, 1998 People’s Bank of Commerce opened it’s doors.

Ken says that waking up at two in the morning thinking about the bank and all that needed to be done ended when they opened the doors for business. It was the declaration that they were indeed, a legitimate and well organized bank ready to serve the community. No more

New Headquarters Ribbon Cutting

meeting at Shari’s every morning to discuss everything from the requirements of the state Division of Finance and

Corporate Securities to the number of loan officers they needed to hire and how many parking spaces were needed.

The regulators wouldn’t let them name the bank “Community Bank of Commerce” the way they wanted, because it was too similar to other banks. But, People’s Bank is certainly a community bank.

Mike Sickles started his banking career in 1962 as a teller, spending over 30 years learning the ins and outs of business, banking, and how to treat customers. He hated service charges and over-draft fees because he thought they had a negative impact on customers. Mike didn’t want to run into customers outside the bank and feel embarrassed for the way the customer was treated at the bank.

His ethics showed in the way stocks were sold when he and Ken first went into business. While their greatest fear at the time was that they wouldn’t be able to sell the 400,000 shares necessary to gain approval to open People’s Bank, Mike talked potential share holders out of buying stock when he believed the long-term invest- ment wouldn’t realize enough profit soon enough for them because of their advanced years. The shares were sold in sixteen days, anyway. In 2006, he was inducted into the Oregon Banker’s Association Hall of Fame.

Mike Sickles passed away on June 7, 2016 after an aggressive form of cancer couldn’t be cured. He was 72.

For five years Ken Trautman and Mike Sickles had offices next door to one another when they worked at Western Bank. They met for two years at Shari’s during the time they were planning futures at People’s Bank while investing energy and personal savings and receiving no pay for more than a year.

People’s Bank is the only locally-owned community bank exclusively serving southern Oregon where decisions are made by people who understand the culture and values of their customers.

After twenty years of operations People’s Bank continues a strong and steady growth with over $300 million in assets.

When Ken Trautman was in high school he was a pitcher on the baseball team. His junior year he went 11-1, throwing three pitches; a curve ball, a drop ball, and his fast ball. A torn rotator cuff in his pitching arm forced him to adjust his college dream of athletic scholarship, so he adjusted.

Learning to adjust is critical to successful business manage- ment. Ken learned it well while spending many years with big banks. Little did he know that he was learning to be a better community banker. What he and Mike Sickles created over coffee in a restaurant booth is a testament to caring and intelligent leadership. It is southern Oregon’s good fortune they decided to start here when People’s Bank was opened twenty years ago.

Greg Henderson

Southern Oregon Business Journal


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