A change of pace
New Commerce State Bank exec brings big-city experience

By Laurie Arendt - News Graphic Correspondent

June 23, 2015

 Jon Willems started his banking career in the major markets of Kansas City and Chicago. He’s happy to be back in Wisconsin as the market president for Commerce State Bank in Cedarburg.
  Photo by Mark Justesen

CEDARBURG - It wasn’t that many years ago when Jon Willems looked out his office windows to view a big-city skyline, whether it was Chicago or Kansas City.

Now, when he looks out the windows in his corner office at Commerce State Bank in Cedarburg, his view is just a bit different: A corner plaza full of people eating custard during the summer.

“I love the change of scenery,” he said. “Cedarburg reminds me of growing up in Whitefish Bay.”

That change of pace is something that Willems, now market president for Commerce State Bank, enjoys. It also symbolizes the change he’s made professionally from big-city banking to community banking.

After following in the footsteps of his older brother and sister in attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison (and double majoring in finance and real estate), Willems spent the first 12 years of his career in commercial lending, the majority of it in the two large Midwestern cities.

“The plan all along with my wife was to return home to Wisconsin when we were ready to start a family, but I always wanted to work in Chicago,” he said. “It’s a great place when you have no kids. But when getting to Target to buy diapers is a four-hour ordeal, you start to realize that maybe it’s time to move on.”

Enter Joe Fazio, chairman and CEO, and one of the three founders of Commerce State Bank.  After meeting with Fazio in a Chicago coffee shop and learning more about Commerce State Bank, Willems realized he’d found his next opportunity.

“There were a number of things that really appealed to me,” he said. “First of all, I liked that the bank was only 10 years old. It was also started by entrepreneurs, who still thought like entrepreneurs, and who actually worked with entrepreneurs and small businesses. I thought that those elements really made the bank somewhat unique.”

He was also intrigued that the bank was founded just before a down economy, and managed to not just survive, but thrive. It also fulfilled the goal that he and his wife had to eventually move back to Wisconsin.

“The other banks that I knew of that were established during that time either aren’t around anymore or they don’t have the same management team in place,” he said. “I really thought it showed that the bank was nimble enough to deal with the recession.”

Willems started out as vice president of Commercial Lending for the bank, which is based in West Bend, and is now the “chief decision maker” at the Cedarburg office in addition to being market president.

“I really think we have the right mix of people at the bank, and we have a very well-defined client that we usually work with - we’re not everything to everybody,” he said. “That’s a huge selling point to businesses and they want to work with us because of it. These are businesses who want a relationship with their bank.”

He characterizes the typical Commerce State Bank customer as a small-to-medium sized business, with annual revenues of somewhere between $1 million and $30 million. While much of Commerce State Bank’s business is located in the area, Willems said he works with companies all over southeast Wisconsin.

His new role, and the relationship he has with his customers, is a bit different than he had working for the big banks.

“They have my cell phone number and they can just call me 24 hours a day,” he said. “But we also have the same services that the larger banks have, like online banking and remote deposit capture. Those barriers that used to separate big banks from community banks have been broken down.”

When he’s not on the road serving clients, both Willems and his wife try to be as active as possible in the community. They now live in Cedarburg with their two daughters, and Willems is involved with the Cedarburg Chamber of Commerce.  He also volunteers with Cedarburg Festivals.

In his free time, Willems enjoys competing in triathlons.

“I’m a goal guy,” he said of his triathlon activities. “I need something to work toward. I’m looking forward to my first half Ironman this year.”

He remains pleased with the decision he made to leave big cities and big banks behind, and Cedarburg has been a good fit for him and his family.

“It’s really neat to be able to live and work in the same place, which is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “This really feels like home to me now.”