When a company provides employees with support and flexibility, it creates a work environment that allows individuals to grow. Ensuring employee needs are being cared for is imperative to job satisfaction, whether working remotely or in the office. When West Gate Bank recognized its potential for growth, the business knew success was dependent upon extending the values created in Lincoln into the Omaha market. No matter an individual’s position or location, West Gate Bank ensures every employee feels valued, creating a culture built on trust, comradeship, and a passion to help its community.
The family-feel culture goes beyond employee gratification and positive team spirit. Established in 1968, West Gate Bank was purchased in 1980 by President and CEO Carl Sjulin and his family. With over 200 employees and 11 branches between Lincoln and Omaha, the family-owned bank serves its community in ways other than simply lending money and specializing in mortgage. To emphasize where its values lie, West Gate Bank rebranded its tagline—“our interest is you”—to place focus on the customer rather than the bank’s services.
Trust, equality, and respect pave the way that West Gate Bank builds relationships with employees and customers. Kristi Thornton is the Senior Vice President, Retail Market Manager of Omaha and leads the bank’s retail team with 11 years of experience. Jon Dittenber is the Senior Vice President, Chief Lending Officer of Omaha and oversees the bank’s commercial lending side. Dittenber spent 27 years in banking and began his career with West Gate Bank nearly 12 years ago. Both Thornton and Dittenber relocated to Omaha when market locations were acquired in 2018. As the bank continues to grow in Omaha and prepares for the opening of its upcoming location on 177th and Maple, the two exemplify their leadership through a matched mentality that collaboration and teamwork will make the strongest culture between all locations.
Migrating from a large business to a small one can offer challenges surrounding company culture, but West Gate Bank triumphs these. Because many employees came from different banks, West Gate Bank uses their versatile backgrounds by encouraging them to voice their ideas. Creating more efficiency among team members, Dittenber said having a mix of people with different experiences only makes West Gate Bank stronger.
As a locally-owned business, West Gate Bank offers everything a national bank provides with a personal touch—a devotion to its community through direct communication and a willingness to help everyone. Whether it’s walk-in traffic or a phone call to the bank, West Gate Bank ensures every customer knows exactly with whom they’re working. Customers will always talk to a banker within their city who knows the marketplace and can better understand their needs. “You’re not going to call our phone number and get someone out of state who can’t relate to you or understand what challenges you might be going through,” Thornton said. She recalled a previous experience at a larger bank where tellers were not allowed to answer the phones due to a lack of trust. Regardless of someone’s position, the teams at West Gate Bank synergize their goals to benefit all branches—not just their own.
Through its invigorating culture, the bank often encourages employees to make their own decisions when uncertainty arises. Thornton said this incentive drives employees to trust their judgement. “We tell people to do what they feel is right for the bank,” she added. “We empower them to make that decision—from a teller to a banker to a manager.” The bank’s team mentality carries through to how they communicate with customers. Many employees handle calls together, allowing customers to meet multiple team members within the bank. Dittenber said this shows the dependability West Gate Bank provides, which he hopes instills in peoples’ minds that they are more than “just a customer;” rather, they are a part of the bank.
The employee and customer camaraderie that carries through West Gate Bank ties back to the Sjulin family’s values. Dittenber said it’s “very rare” to meet all owners of a business, but the Sjulin family takes time to introduce themselves to every employee. Thornton said that Carl Sjulin often sparks conversations with employees about his family but also recognizes staff for any efforts and achievements. When Sjulin was out of town, he asked Thornton to take his place at the Capitol and present an education bill to senators and legislature. After Thornton’s presentation, Sjulin publicly commended her efforts. Additionally, he travels to branches to recognize employees celebrating company milestones and offers a gift to thank them for being with West Gate Bank.
Any bank can lend a dollar, withdraw, or deposit money, but it takes a bank that cultivates connections to set a high standard. No matter the location, the togetherness that unites the West Gate Bank team radiates through the relationships formed with customers. A bank that refuses to let distance become a disadvantage is one that carries perseverance and a commitment to help its community. As Dittenber said, “We’re not team Omaha or team Lincoln—we’re team West Gate Bank.”