This story and image was originally published in the August 2019 issue of Highland Park Neighbors. It has been republished with permission.
As we go to press with an article on Jon Levey, President of Highland Park Bank & Trust, it was announced that Paul McCartney has written a musical adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life that is set to debut on Broadway in 2020. While it’s only a coincidence, it is interesting to note the similarities Levey shares with the character of George Bailey, made famous by Jimmy Stewart in the 1946 film.
The movie has become such a staple of our holiday zeitgeist, with its celebration of the everyman, who sets aside his dream of colossus building on the world stage, to take up a small-town life of helping the Average Joe get the two bedrooms and a bath his family deserves. What is often overlooked, however, is that the underlying theme of this movie is the role of the local bank in creating the fabric of a community, as well as that of the banking system’s ability to foster growth and protect against calamity. But, at the very heart of the argument between hero George and villain Potter is people versus profits.
So, while it’s true that Levey is friendly, caring, and a pillar in the community, just like George Bailey, he is also savvy enough to have flipped the script of the movie in his personal and professional life, growing up in a city (St. Louis), getting an MBA (Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management), plotting a career path and rising quickly in the banking ranks, but also launching his own businesses (real estate and investments), and then leaving the bright lights and big city of Chicago for the small town he came to love close to 20 years ago, when he moved here with his family including his son, Sam a 2018 graduate of HPHS and current sophomore at the University of Colorado at Boulder and his daughter, Lauren, an HPHS Junior.
When you have an appointment to meet Jon, he is waiting for you to come in, and while he sits in “the big chair,” and could maintain a larger office in the back of the bank, he purposely chose a modest office right off the lobby of the bank so he could see the lobby and watch for people coming in. While he is extremely erudite, he is also very down to earth, so talking with him is both easy and enjoyable. “Everything comes down to relationships,” he says. “I am a bit of an old-school banker in that I believe in the model where a good banker has to be a finder, minder and a grinder. As a local banker, we have a responsibility to the community to minimize the role of the transaction and instead maximize the role of relationship. In doing our job well, we have to be accessible to the clientele and we have to want to make their lives easier and want to be there, with them, and for them, from start to finish.”
According to Peggy Anton of Anton’s Fruit Ranch in Highland Park, “Jon is an asset to the business and the banking community in Highland Park. The Anton family finds him very helpful, because we believe he takes a personal interest in how to best serve our needs. He always goes the extra mile.”
As an example, Peggy relayed how Jon recommended her business to a local club that was looking for a caterer for a meeting it was going to hold. “But that’s not all,” she said. “I had just closed the store and was in the parking lot, getting ready to go home, but I hadn’t gotten into my car yet and Jon saw me as he was driving up Skokie Blvd. He turned his car around to stop and tell me he that he had gotten great feedback on the catering we did for that organization. That’s the personal touch Jon has with his customers. That is the Highland Park thing, everyone is somehow connected and he is a great facilitator of the relationship of the residents, the community and the businesses in Highland Park. I do think he’s the face of our local Wintrust Community Bank and one of the faces of Highland Park.”
Levey is able to facilitate and develop synergistic relationships throughout the community because he is great at networking. Not in the digital sense of the activity, where he could have 1,000 connections on Linkedin or 1,000 followers on Instagram, none of which he has ever met in person, but by networking in its truest sense, using his time and talent to join and actively participate in civic, business and philanthropic organizations that promote community development.
Highland Park Bank & Trust is the largest corporate sponsor of the Park District of Highland Park. Chris Maliszewski is the Recreation Manager who oversees Sponsorship and Advertising Programs for the Park District and he and Jon have worked together for three years now.
“Highland Park Bank & Trust is a Park Partner,” Maliszewski said, “so they provide a sponsorship level which covers several events throughout the year, including the 4th of July festivities. Because Jon and I have such a great relationship, we have been able to work together on new opportunities that benefit the community. He recognizes the value we provide and we work together to determine what makes the most sense. He has a soft spot in his heart for the Park District and often reminisces about how big a role the Park District played in his own children’s lives, so he remains sensitive to providing opportunities for other children.”
Levey actively serves in Highland Park as a board member for the Highland Park Community Foundation, an Advisory Board member for Community Partners for Affordable Housing, a board member, Treasurer, and Chair of the Charities Committee for the Rotary Club of Highland Park/Highwood, a member of the Community Advisory Board for the North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic and he is an active member of the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce and downtown Property Owners Association. Levey also volunteers time as a mentor for the City of Highland Park’s Career Exploration Program and is a member of the HP150 Steering Committee. And, his service doesn’t stop at the Highland Park border – he is also a board member of the Anti-Defamation League for the Greater Chicago/Upper Midwest region and is a member of the Board of Directors and current President of The Standard Club in Chicago. The raison d’etre for all of these endeavors is best expressed by The Standard Club’s founders whose vision was “to create a membership of leaders who shared a common bond of charitable, social and civic responsibility.”
“Each one of these groups does something I am passionate about,” Levey says, “and there is somebody, or groups of somebodies in each organization, that I have a relationships with and trust.” It was through one of those relationships that Levey was first approached with the idea of joining Wintrust and Highland Park Bank & Trust four years ago, and why he has no intention of ever leaving!
Terri Olian, Executive Director of the Highland Park Community Foundation shared her experience working withJon. “The first time we worked together was when Jon came on board in 2017 and he was on the development committee where we worked together on the development of a donor recognition program. We didn’t have a plan for recognizing individual and corporate contributions, because we had never had an event before. Jon knew how to make it a win/win for everyone. We also worked together on our investment policy along with Peter Flanzer. He was very helpful in sharing his experience and did a tremendous job in helping us to formalize our processes. Generally, he is so connected to our community and he is such a giving and caring individual. Now, our second Gather for Good event is coming up on September 20th and we are very excited about it.”
At the close of It’s a Wonderful Life, one can say Potter acknowledges defeat as he begrudgingly tosses a contribution into the punch bowl to bail out George Bailey, but the future of banking is left largely to the imagination. Levey finds himself on the fine line between old-school best practices and cutting edge, hi-tech change that keeps coming at a rapid rate.
In a recent Forbes article, Alan McIntyre wrote, “As banking becomes more about the digital customer experience, those that can invest and deliver in a differentiated manner are beginning to win big, and we are seeing that dynamic play out on both sides of the balance sheet.”
Helping Levey successfully navigate through this current of change is the diversity of his skillset and the breadth and depth of his experience. He is a sought-after thought leader within the business community and has spoken on the topics of green/sustainable business, social enterprise, green building/ valuation, entrepreneurship and small business finance. He is also a Leadership in Energy & Environment Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP) and an Illinois Managing Broker. In addition, if you follow this magazine, you will also know that Levey is a frequent guest speaker and mentor for Highland Park High School’s business and entrepreneurship classes.
“I’ve been my client,” Levey says, “I have had to raise capital for a business, make payroll, deal with adversity, guarantee bank loans and suffer business set-backs. So, in sharing the experiences of an entrepreneur and borrower, I think have a unique perspective that allows me to identify and work well with our clientele. As you know, things don’t always go according to plan, so that’s why I think communication is so critical. We have a tremendous team here at the bank and when we all do our jobs well, we grow both sides of our balance sheet. When our local residents choose to entrust us with their deposits, we honor their commitment by leveraging those deposits and making loans that feed the local community. It’s just as George Bailey describes in the movie… And, while Highland Park is not Bedford Falls, it is our little slice of Mayberry and we take great pride in the trust our residents place in us to be good corporate stewards. In addition to investing in the community via commercial and consumer lending, we take our community stewardship to heart and invest funds and our time with dozens of area nonprofits, because we fervently believe that if the community doesn’t meet its needs, businesses suffer and then people leave and the community declines. So, despite consolidation in the banking industry and the conveniences that technology can offer that might lead some to discount the importance of a local community bank, our clients and our employees know that the local bank still has a vital and active role to play in the life of the community.”
Joslynn Richardson, an Underwriter at Highland Park Bank & Trust, not only believes in Jon’s leadership, but she thinks he’s a fun guy too. “I’ve worked with Jon since he came on board at Highland Park, and since I’m the underwriter, he has been a mentor to me. He is very knowledgeable on many different aspects and industries – knowing how a company works and operates. It’s amazing the broad knowledge he has on generally everything. He’s very energetic and conversation doesn’t get boring with him. There’s always a story and something to be heard. It’s like an experience. I’ve enjoyed it. There are not a lot of people that can actually be open, but when you sit with him you know who he is. I grew up in Highwood, but Jon attends so many events in Highwood that he lets me know where I should go, what I should eat and who I should see.”
For readers who would also like to get to know Jon without joining a board, you can drop by Highland Park Bank & Trust’s main location at 1949 St. John’s Avenue and if he’s not out meeting with clients or serving our community he will be glad to sit and chat and most certainly will introduce you to the banking team he is so proud to call his peers. And, if you stop by this month, be sure to wish him a Happy 50th Birthday!