U.S. Bank executive makes a splash for the ripple effect

March 18, 2019 | GET MORE : Ethics

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Mark Runkel is experiencing firsthand the long-term impact of Special Olympics and its Polar Plunge.

The pain is temporary. 

That’s what the professional risk manager in Mark Runkel tells him as he plunges into a freezing cold lake on a winter day. But of course, there’s more to Runkel than his role as chief credit officer at U.S. Bank. As the board chair of Special Olympics Minnesota and the father of one of its athletes, he knows it’s for a great cause. 

“[The Polar Plunge] is the least I can do,” he said. “By driving an inclusive environment into middle- and high-school settings, Special Olympics will have a long-term impact on how people view disabilities in the workforce.”

Runkel, who started volunteering shortly after his now-11-year-old son Tanner was born with Down Syndrome, has experienced that impact firsthand.

“With Special Olympics, you learn to see people for their strengths,” he said. “At U.S. Bank, that has meant becoming more intentional about inclusive leadership and creating an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.”

Fittingly, he was accompanied at the Plunge by dozens of fellow U.S. Bankers, from commercial lenders to executives to a contingent from its Spectrum business resource group for LGBTQ employees and allies.

Growing through the financial crisis

As chief credit officer, Runkel oversees 700 employees responsible for setting and maintaining lending standards across the company. At 42 years old, the former Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal “Forty Under 40” honoree is also the youngest member of its 13-person executive management team. Having joined the company in 2002, though, he’s able to draw from vast experiences managing credit in the run-up to the financial crisis, during the recession and now in recovery and expansion.

“There was a tremendous amount of fear in the overall marketplace [during the crisis],” said Runkel. “The thing we did well beforehand was being very disciplined and always trying to do the right thing for our customers – such as making sure we were giving people mortgages that they could actually repay.”

As a result of that discliplined approach, U.S. Bank remained financially strong and was able to expand while many competitors retooled. The company, for example, acquired several banks, launched a large corporate banking division and invested in its brand.

Today, U.S. Bank maintains its discipline while also focusing on creating faster, digital tools that customers are increasingly looking for in today’s age. To support this customer experience, Runkel serves as an executive sponsor of the bank’s annual Dynamic Dozen millennial think tank and leadership development program.

“Our core philosophy on risk and credit has remained consistent – so what we’re asking now is about how we can produce the same quality, but faster,” he said, pointing to a new small business digital lending tool that can approve and fund loans in a matter of minutes.

Making it home for family dinner

Maintaining consistency has been core to both work and home life for Runkel. He’s married to his high school sweetheart, Suzy, and together they have three children: Tanner (11), Ava (10), Jacob (6). Regardless of workload, making it home for family dinner is non-negotiable. 

“The biggest challenge of my job is maintaining work-life balance,” he said. “It’s about priorities, such as making sure we always eat as a family – even if that means working until 9 or 10 p.m. after the kids go to sleep.”

Naturally, given the family-first philosophy, he also went along with the plan when his daughter Ava announced that the family would be “going as fruit” to this year’s Polar Plunge. 

According to Special Olympics Minnesota President and CEO Dave Dorn, plunging into frigid water dressed as a banana, pineapple and grapes is “the tip of the iceberg” for how the family supports the organization.

“It doesn’t get any better,” said Dorn. “As a business leader as well as a parent of a Special Olympics athlete, Mark’s perspective and his overall involvement have been invaluable.”

Developing as an inclusive leader

Runkel knows that time spent in the community and with family has helped him grow into an executive at U.S. Bank. As such, he leads with the philosophy that every person is important and recognizes that when you are surrounded by good people, you do your job better.

“I have a lot of great people on my team and they all have unique perspectives,” he said. “To me, drawing out those perspectives, utilizing diversity and working together to accomplish goals is how we’ll be at our strongest as a team.”

Written by Pat Swanson of U.S. Bank. Photos taken by Tom Strand. Learn more about careers at U.S. Bank, which has a disability-focused business resource group to drive inclusion.