Many people called Ben Crabtree the dean of banking analysts. During introductions, Craig Mueller, senior vice president at Minneapolis-based Oak Ridge Financial Services where Crabtree last worked, called him “the godfather of bank analysts.”
The modest Crabtree didn’t like hearing such accolades, once telling Mueller: “You’ve got to stop doing that.”
Crabtree had a deep knowledge of banking, and was willing to share his insights. He is quoted in more than 370 Star Tribune articles and informed countless people through his writings or consultations.
Crabtree, 72, died at his Edina home on Sept. 28, after a long bout with cancer. He was born in Ellendale, N.D., where his family owned the local community bank. From those family roots, Crabtree found his calling.
A graduate of Ellendale High School, Crabtree attended Harvard University for two years, then transferred to the University of North Dakota.
After graduating in 1965, he married Susan Larson of Rugby, N.D., and they moved to Edina, where they raised three sons.
Crabtree started his career in the money management business of what was then First Bank System. He later joined the Minneapolis-based regional brokerage firm Dain Bosworth, which later became RBC Capital Markets, as a research analyst for more than 20 years. After Dain/RBC, he worked at George K. Baum Co., Advantus Capital Management, Piper Jaffray and Stifel Nicolaus.
When Crabtree retired from Stifel, Mueller persuaded him to join Oak Ridge Financial to work more closely with his roots in community banking. Crabtree worked part time for the past several years and wrote the monthly Community Banking Monitor.
As recently as three weeks before his death, he dialed into a conference call with Mueller.
Mueller said community bank leaders often have reservations about Wall Street types who have the reputation of being dismissive. “Ben never, ever talked down to people,” Mueller said.
David Welch, a principal with River Oaks Capital in Wayzata, worked with Crabtree at Dain Bosworth/RBC through the 1990s.
“What people loved about Ben is that he refused to put spin on anything,” Welch said.
“If he liked the idea, that was because he really liked it, if he didn’t like it he wouldn’t tell you that he did. It was simply a no-spin world.”
In the more than 10 years they worked together, “I never heard him swear,” Welch said. “I never heard him get angry over anything.”
Bob Rinek is a managing director of the merchant banking group at Piper Jaffray. From the late 1980s until December 2007, Rinek headed Piper’s financial institutions group, where he was a competitor of Crabtree. Later the two became colleagues.
“I got to see him from afar from another firm and appreciate what people thought of him as a person,” Rinek said. “For the last few years of my stint … I had Ben as my analyst, which was a treat because he was such a great guy.”
Crabtree enjoyed photography, hunting and fishing, cooking and travel and was an avid guitar player and collector. He shared his love of music at Edina Community Lutheran Church, where he played during services and for the children’s Sunday school singalongs. He enjoyed spending time with his family, especially his four grandchildren.
“He was very well thought of in his business career, but was a great family man and gave back to his community and his church,” Rinek said. “What a great epitaph that is.”
Crabtree also is survived by his wife, Sue, and sons Mike, Jon and Pete, and his sister Susan. Services have been held.