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CEO Success: Bill Cooper At TCF Bank

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – They have $18 billion in assets and 430 branches. Most in the Twin Cities know what used to be called Twin Cities Financial.

TCF Bank is headquartered in Wayzata and does business in 50 states. For nearly 30 years, the same man has been in the top office at TCF.

“As far as I’m concerned business is a game and money is how you keep score,” CEO Bill Cooper said.

Cooper grew up in Detroit and said he never imagined he’d be a CEO with an office overlooking Lake Minnetonka.

“My father passed away when I was 14, my mother worked at New York Central Railroad as a clerk. I was kind of the man of the family at an early age,” Cooper said.

Cooper was named chief executive officer of Twin Cities Federal Savings and Loan in 1985. The company’s approach to totally-free checking revolutionized the business.

“Overwhelmingly successful business people are in a business that’s already been invented. They may invent better ways to do it,” Cooper said.

A few examples of that for TCF include having branches in grocery stores and avoiding risky home loans in favor of small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“The one thing is optimism. They think they can make something work and they do, very often. If you don’t have that attitude, you just can’t get it started,” Cooper said. “It is the most common attribute of successful businesspeople. Optimism, I can figure out a way to get this done.”

About 8,000 thousand employees work for TCF, with a couple hundred at the Wayzata headquarters.

“The most successful are the people who get things done. They do what they say and they get it done. And they get it done well. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, you don’t have to go to Harvard,” Cooper said. Very often if you hire someone from Stanford, they want to know where their corner office is and their good-looking secretary. You hire someone from North Dakota they want to know where to start working.”

TCF Bank won the naming rights for the University of Minnesota football stadium for $35 million in 2005. But Cooper said the corporate commitment to charter schools will have a longer lasting impact.

“There’s 10,000 kids getting a really good education they might not have gotten otherwise,” he said.

And in terms of day-to-day work, Cooper said being a CEO isn’t as much work as many people expect.

“I’m not making really important decisions day in and day out. I’m gathering in formation to make those decisions,” Cooper said.

Cooper said being CEO is about making 10 really important decisions a year; and 100 kind of important things a year. The rest of the time is spent getting information to make those 10 big decisions.

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