Anyone who has been around Katie Lorenson for any length of time becomes affected by her enthusiasm.
The person leaves feeling a little better about the world, knowing it still has remarkable leaders who possess genuine interest in people and improvement.
In her new role with Alerus Financial Corp., she will have the opportunity to continue to influence others and effect change.
Lorenson, the company’s current executive vice president and chief financial officer, recently was named president and chief executive officer, effective Jan. 1. She will take the place currently held by Randy Newman, who will become executive chairman of the board of directors to help with the transition.
“Katie is a proven leader and seasoned executive with a deep understanding and passion for our business,” Newman said in a statement. “Since Katie joined Alerus in 2017, she has been an indispensable strategic partner to me, our leadership team, and the board of directors.”
Newman said Lorenson has a proven track record of leadership and brings “relentless focus to executing our strategic plan and building our business, by attracting, retaining, and developing employees and growing the company. ... The company is well-positioned for continued success, and I have full confidence that Katie will continue to advance our company.”
In an interview with Prairie Business, Lorenson said things important to her are the well-being and professionalism of her employees, maintaining and deepening relationships in the community, and providing top service to the company’s clients and customers. She also expressed her views of women in leadership, diversity at the company, and her own journey to Alerus.
“I think about the future and I think about what's on the goal list,” she said. “It is continuing to execute our strategy, growing our company, and really living our mission, which every day is impacting our clients positively through holistic advice and service, and engaging technology. I'm really looking forward to sustaining that and growing our company into the future.”
Lorenson grew up in the small town of Oklee, Minn., which impressed upon her mind at an early age the importance of the community bank. She said she saw its influence and impact firsthand.
“Where I grew up, the community bank was involved in everything, and certainly was the backbone to supporting the local businesses,” she said.
While a teenager she even landed a job as a teller at the community bank. Later, she studied accounting at Minnesota State University Moorhead and landed jobs with financial institutions of “various and different sizes,” she said. “During my interviews I specifically said that I wanted to work in the financial institution sector.”
The doors that opened for her gave her good experience for when Alerus came calling, which it did in 2017. She joined as the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. Previously, she worked as CFO for both publicly traded and privately held financial institutions in the region.
At Alerus she has led its business segments, including banking, retirement and benefit services, wealth management, and mortgage. She also spearheaded the company’s initial public offering in 2019 and has played an integral role in its achieving consistently strong financial results since it began trading on the NASDAQ in September of 2019.
“Having grown up in the area, I had long admired Alerus’ reputation in the community. And having been in the CFO role, part of that job is to understand other financial institutions and their performance,” she said. “Alerus had long been at the top of the list in terms of consistent high performance; and there’s the diversified business model that drives that deep purpose to provide value to clients. Those things combined are what really sets Alerus apart and gives us an opportunity to continue far into the future.”
Lorenson said the financial arena remains heavily male-dominated, but there are improvements, especially at Alerus, whose board is nearly evenly split between male and female leadership. Continuing that balance is important to her, as are other types of diversity.
“I go back to our fundamental belief and our approach internally and externally is, we do the right thing, we cherish people and respect everyone, and we absolutely believe we can better serve our clients and our communities – and bring more value to our employees and our shareholders – by incorporating diverse perspectives,” Lorenson said. “Having said that, it's an ongoing topic of conversation for us. It's an issue throughout the entire financial industry. No one has the answers, but we are focused on finding ways that we can make sustainable and impactful changes.”
Her early journey into and around the financial arena was only one path; there are others that people with the same interests can take. As a female leader in a male-dominated profession, she shares this perspective:
“I think the challenge is balancing both personal and professional. Balance doesn't really exist, and so I believe it's working hard and doing the right thing, but also giving yourself grace. Some days you've got to go all in professionally, and some days you've got to go all in personally. ... I continue to believe that’s a challenge for all professionals. Women have definitely been confronted with that challenge in this industry, and so have others.”
Lorenson is primed to continue to give it her all, and recognizes the legacy work of her predecessor.
Newman, who will transition to his new role, started with the company in 1981 when it was still known as First National Bank North Dakota and has made his own mark at Alerus. He became president in 1987 and chief executive officer in 1995. Under his leadership, Alerus successfully navigated the flood of 1997 in Grand Forks, the Great Recession in 2008, and, more recently, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
He expanded the company outside of North Dakota and entered into new business lines of retirement, benefits and payroll services, which resulted in a long-term expansion that includes 24 acquisitions and the evolution of Alerus into a diversified financial services company. Among other awards during his career, Newman was a 2020 Prairie Business Leaders & Legacies recipient.
With Lorenson at the helm come January, however, Alerus will remain in good hands – in part because of her infectious personality and thoughtful ambitions, but also because of her proven track record of successful leadership.
She said she looks forward to her new role. Likewise, she is excited to be part of an organization that is bigger than herself and, as a vehicle to affect change, makes a difference in the communities it serves.
“I am truly humbled to have this opportunity to lead our team,” she said. “I spent my entire career in this male-dominated industry and it's an honor to serve as an example for the younger women out there, just to show that if you do the right thing and work hard, anything is possible.”