Obituary: Lynn Nagorske, TCF Bank CEO

If you have ever wandered the Science Museum on a snowy day or cheered on the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium, you have crossed paths, in a sense, with Lynn Nagorske.

Nagorske was a force in bringing both the museum and football stadium to life, and they were a big source of pride, say friends and colleagues. Nagorske applied the same passion he harnessed as a CEO at TCF Financial Corp. to volunteering on the boards of organizations ranging from the University of Minnesota Foundation and the Carlson School of Management Board of Overseers to the Science Museum of Minnesota and Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, the family church in Plymouth.

“With Lynn in the room, you were always confident that the right things were being considered, and the right decisions were being made,” Steven Goldstein, retired president and CEO of the University of Minnesota Foundation, said in a statement.

Nagorske died May 8 at his Orono home of cancer. He was 56.

Nagorske grew up on a farm outside Windom, Minn., and once told a reporter that he couldn’t go into farming because he was allergic to everything. He went to Minnesota State University, Mankato (then Mankato State) and became an accountant.

He was prone to using farm analogies to frame complicated business matters, recalled Mark Jeter, TCF’s managing director of branch banking. Jeter described his former mentor as “reserved but powerful,” a man with a strong work ethic who was devoted to family and highly effective at getting things done.

“Once he set the compass he wanted to make sure he saw it to completion,” said Jeter.

The best advice Nagorske ever gave him? “Know your numbers.”

Nagorske was working at KPMG Peat Marwick when he was recruited to TCF in 1986 as a senior vice president and controller. The bank’s current leader, William Cooper, had come on board a year earlier. Cooper and Nagorske were part of the executive team brought in to help fix the bank, then a broken thrift paying out high rates to depositors but not taking in enough on the mortgages on its books to support the rates. Both men were accountants — Nagorske as reserved and meticulous as Cooper is thundering.

As part of the turnaround, TCF pioneered its strategy of placing bank branches in supermarkets as it courted blue-collar “Joe Lunchbox” customers. Nagorske set about creating the bank’s profit center reporting model that enables managers to see exactly where money is being made or lost. The bank is still using it.

“Lynn was an absolute rocket scientist,” said Greg Pulles, the bank’s former general counsel.

Nagorske was eventually promoted to president, a position he held for 12 years. Under his leadership the bank focused on expanding its retail power and getting into the leasing and equipment finance business. Assets more than tripled and its branch count soared. Nagorske served as CEO from 2006 until he retired in 2008.

Cooper issued a statement praising Nagorske’s enduring contributions to the company. “Lynn Nagorske was behind every TCF success for over 22 years,” Cooper said.

“While Lynn had a tremendous work ethic, he didn’t mind partaking in a cold beer after work and sharing stories about his daughters whom he treasured beyond words,” Cooper said in an internal memo to TCF employees.

Nagorske is survived by his wife of 35 years, Pam, whom he met in high school in Windom; his daughters Becca and Megan, and granddaughter Abigail. His funeral was held Tuesday at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church.

 

Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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