John Kemper, President and CEO, Commerce Bank
By RITA DUCKWORTH
On Aug. 1, John Kemper became president and CEO of Commerce Bank. His father David Kemper held the position since 1988 and remains executive chairman. Commerce Bank is a public company but is family-led. John Kemper represents the sixth generation of his family to be at the helm.
After attending college and graduate school, Kemper’s early career was with a consulting firm in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. He served a variety of companies in the financial industry, focusing on strategy and operations.
“Consulting engagements are great,” says Kemper. “You gain a lot of experience. But I wanted to be on the team, not just helping it. I wanted to carry the answers to problems through to their execution.”
In 2007, an opportunity came up in his hometown of St. Louis in the form of a strategy study for Commerce Bank. He worked as a consultant during the study, and after eight months became a member of the bank’s staff.
“Working with other banks and financial services companies,” explains Kemper, “I had some context for comparison, and I liked what I saw.”
He was impressed by Commerce’s business model and track record serving
“There’s no better place to work than a bank to see how a community works,” he says.
Commerce Bank has been in business for 153 years. Headquartered jointly in St. Louis and Kansas City, its footprint reaches throughout the Midwest. It ranks as the 26th largest bank based on market value.
“We’re a ‘super-community’ bank,” says Kemper. “We offer the products, scale, and sophistication that you might find at a big bank, but we deliver it like a small community bank.”
Kemper feels strongly that Commerce Bank’s most important asset doesn’t show up on its balance sheet.
“Our people are our biggest asset and our culture set us apart. We have deep roots in the community and our people are empowered to take care of their customers on the front lines.”
Kemper started at Commerce Bank during the height of the financial crisis.
“Part of staying in business for 153 years is the ability to anticipate and prepare for the next challenge.”
Planning and preparing for the unexpected allowed Commerce Bank to come through the recession quickly and effectively. It was one of the few banks that did not need to take TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds to stay afloat. While other banks were struggling, it was able to take care of its customers and invest in areas where other banks couldn’t. As a result, it has experienced huge growth since the economy’s recovery.
Kemper is optimistic about the bank’s future.
“One-hundred-fifty-three years is fine, but we’re just getting started,” he said.