As of Jan. 1, Twin Harbors native Denise Sexton Portmann is the new CEO and President of Bank of the Pacific, the first woman in the post. And at 40, Portmann is also among the bank’s youngest executives.
She’s so new in her job she has to crack open a pristine box of business cards during an interview at the bank’s headquarters in the SouthShore Mall. The heating is on the fritz, so she wears a black raincoat over a suit. “Come in the office, it’s a little warmer in here, thanks to a space heater,” she said Monday.
The Professional, from CPA to CEO
Portmann has 18 years of experience in banking and public accounting. For the moment, she is still in offices she occupied as Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, a title she had held since 2004. She will continue to do that job until her replacement is found in the next 30 to 45 days. Then she will move to an office next to the one she has now.
As CEO and president of the bank, Portmann takes over her new title from Dennis Long, who remains as CEO and president of Pacific Financial Corp., the bank’s holding company.
As CFO, she has been responsible for all accounting and financial functions of the bank and managed a $100 million investment portfolio. She has been involved in all aspects of strategic planning and operations of the bank.
“After working side-by-side with Denise over the last twelve years, we know that her broad experience and proven leadership in the financial services industry will make her an exceptional CEO,” said Long “We have every confidence that she will continue to make a significant contribution to the success we have already achieved over the last few years.”
“The change in leadership at the Bank is part of a well-planned corporate transition plan, which is critical to providing the incoming CEO with a solid platform from which to move the Bank forward,” said Gary Forcum, Chairman of the Board. “A smooth transition is also essential to maintain the confidence of investors, business partners, customers and our employees. We have already begun a broad-based search for a new Chief Financial Officer.”
Portmann enjoys “getting out of the weeds” of accounting to engage with people. “From what I have been told I have more of a personality” than accountants are thought to possess. She has a list of principles guiding professional behavior at the bank posted in eye line of her computer screen and promises “I am going to be a good corporate citizen.”Bank of the Pacific caters to small and medium sized businesses “It’s what we do well,” she said. Bank of the Pacific just landed the City of Aberdeen’s business and acquired three branches from Sterling Bank.
Portmann approves of the bank’s mission statements which puts being the best bank possible for employees, customers, shareholders and the community, in that order. Because employees are put first, excellent work radiates out from there, she says.As of Sept. 30, 2013, Bank of the Pacific had total assets of $715.7 million and operates 16 branches in Grays Harbor, Pacific, Whatcom, Skagit, and Wahkiakum Counties and three in Clatsop County in Oregon. They just opened two loan production offices in Vancouver and Dupont, joining another in Burlington.
Employees are encouraged to work in community service and she will continue to serve on the board of trustees for Grays Harbor College.How does the new CEO view the ravaged economy on the Harbor? “The economy is getting better, slowly.” The housing market is rebounding, she said. The Port of Grays Harbor has enjoyed increased economic activity and she is optimistic. Challenges include increasing loan demand, which will only grow when there is true growth in the economy, she said. Portmann does not think interest rates will be raised until 2016 by the Federal Reserve Bank, now chaired by Janet Yellen, the first woman to do so in its history.
Her desk sparkles with glitter from a congratulatory bouquet, now perched on a cabinet nearby. Personal touches are woven into standard office fare.
A colorfully painted, wooden armadillo, a gift from her 9-year-old daughter, Raegan, bobs its tiny head. Her 7-year-old son, Tyson, who will eventually get another office treasure, a Chicago Bears football helmet signed by number 40, Gale Sayers, that she won in a business card raffle. The football giant’s autobiography bears an inscription to her husband. “Great conversation starters,” she says.
A football with one flat side is at the ready for tossing against the wall. “It’s a great stress reliever,” she demonstrates, thumping it against the wall.
Raymond born and raised, Portmann graduated from Willapa Valley High School in 1991. She is married to Class of 1992 Willapa graduate, Andy Portmann, who owns and operates Portmann Dairy farm with his parents. The Portmanns live on the farm, about 12 miles from Raymond near Lebam, where 175 cows of a herd of 300 Holsteins are milked each day.
She graduated from Central Washington University in 1995 with a degree in accounting. As a CPA, she worked for a public accounting firm in Tacoma where the Bank of Pacific was one of the clients she audited. She came to work for Bank of the Pacific as Treasurer in 2001.
Being a mom to her two children is her main focus outside of work. She could not have achieved such success without a legion of grandparents, she said. “I could not do this without the support of family. It’s pretty important having family in a small town.”
Portmann and her husband, who is also a huge football fan, married in 1999. They share Seahawks season tickets with another couple and play golf, though she confesses neither of them is very good. They like to travel and recently celebrated her 40th birthday by ziplining and playing golf on Kauai.Portmann loves to read and read “Killing Kennedy” and “Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard in 2013. Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise,” is on the list for 2014.
She confesses to a guilty pleasure of mint chocolate chip ice cream and enjoys spending time with “my network of girlfriends” whom she consults on mom and other issues. Every woman needs girlfriends, she says. Some have been her friends since high school; some, who live farther away, since college.
As for being the first female head of Bank of the Pacific? “I’ve never been treated differently because I am female, but I do recognize it is an achievement” in a profession dominated by males.
“She is the smartest person I know,” Sandra Clark, Assistant Vice-President of Administration, tells a reporter on the way out. Portmann smiles and gets back to work.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, email@example.com. Twitter: @DW_Erin