Ron Johnson says he isn’t really a banker — and he certainly doesn’t dress like one.
Johnson, the CEO of Central Bancorp, owns several companies, all under the company’s Central Bancorp and Corundum Group.
And after years of successfully navigating banking regulations, the mortgage industry and the world of insurance, Johnson says he’s earned the right to dress as he chooses — and that never includes a suit and tie.
Instead, he prefers khakis and sneakers, but his dressed-down approach doesn’t apply to his business acumen. Johnson oversees a successful company that thrived during the banking crisis and continues to provide advice to local business customers.
Tell us about your business.
Central Bancorp started in 2006, a combination of different businesses. We came together with the founding of the Corundum Group that included some other businesses. In 2006, we matched up with folks from Classic Homes who wanted to create a local banking business. We already had a title company and a mortgage company and we had designs on a local bank as well. So we got together and created one.
Classic owners had to exit the business during the financial crisis — they had to focus on their core business. So they are no longer part of the operations.
Along the way, we purchased the Van Gilder Insurance Agency, which is now CB Insurance, and two others — a bank in Clayton, N.M., called Farmers and Stockman Bank, and a trust company in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Central Bancorp now has 103 employees. Our holding company is 10 years old, but some of our other businesses have a long history in the area. Van Gilder has been in the area since 1890. The mortgage company is 20 years old. We’re a new company with some older parts.
What sets you apart from other banks?
Our focus is to be a bank to business, business owners and people of means. We focus on higher net-worth customers. We don’t try to compete with the retail platforms of the really large banks like Wells Fargo or U.S. Bank.
It’s like putting an eight-cylinder engine in a car — our business unit helps us with the others that might be under some pressure. We’re fortunate that we were just getting started during the downturn. We didn’t have any bad loans, because we didn’t have any loans.
“We don’t want to get bigger just for the sake of getting bigger.”
How has banking changed in the past 10 years?
It’s changed, without a doubt. There have been dramatic changes in capital requirements from before the crisis. We now have to maintain higher amounts of capital. There are regulations of all kinds now and we have to use a dramatic amount of our time and resources to keep up with them all.
Still, the economics make it more difficult. I’m not sure we’d start a bank under today’s regulations. It’s a more difficult time to be a small bank.
How did you get to Colorado Springs?
I am originally from Minnesota. I’ve been here since 1992. I grew up in the securities brokerage business and had a lot of respect for its corollary to banking. So I came here in 1992 to start the facing office, the Corundum Group. I was recruited to start that business.
Tell us about your family and hobbies.
I married my high school sweetheart. We have three kids who are grown and scattered, so we are empty nesters.
I am an audiophile, but my No. 1 passion is that I make cars. I make them in my garage. You can actually build a street-legal car in your garage. I helped start Johnny Martin’s [Car Central]; we wanted to make something different from anything else in Colorado Springs. It’s locally owned and all the cars there are locally owned. It’s something unusual in Colorado Springs, but it is on par with other national car museums.
What are your plans for the next 10 years?
We’re going to do more of the same. We’re going to build our core business by sticking to things that got us to where we are. We’re going to be agile and react to needs quickly and effectively. Our goal is to be driven by our customers’ needs. We don’t want to get bigger just for the sake of getting bigger.
What was the last book you read?
The last book I read was about the history of building the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m reading now about the monetary and banking system in China. I think they’ll be joining the basket of currencies in the International Monetary Fund in October. Their economy is so huge. We need to understand the issues and the opportunities. It seems a long way from Colorado Springs, but there are a lot of investment opportunities.
What do you think about Colorado Springs? What needs improving?
I think that it could use just a bit more of a diverse base of industry and commerce. It’s a bit narrowly footed. What I like about it is that it’s great for families. It has better-than-average weather, the scenery can’t be beat, and it’s well located for commerce. It’s a good place to put down roots.