Centier President, CEO and Chairman of the Board Michael E. Schrage views his role at the bank as an organizational head coach.
“I am very competitive, as I was all through my school years, in athletics and the desire for coaching,” Schrage says. “What motivates me is the thrill of competing in the financial arena. I see my role as president/CEO as the head coach of the Centier organization. I am deeply involved in the talent that we develop and recruit here - calling the plays, setting the strategy, envisioning the future. That strategizing and envisioning really excites me and makes me want to continue to grow and perpetuate the uniqueness of the Centier organization and team.”
Schrage grew up in Whiting and Robertsdale, graduated from Culver Military Academy, which had 810 students, and from Denison University in Ohio, which had 2400 students.
“I have a lot of smallness in my background,” Schrage says. “I really have a background of wanting a familiarity in environs that I operate in and work in.”
In 1972, Schrage, the fourth-generation of his family at the bank, joined First Bank of Whiting which was founded by his great grandfather Henry Schrage in 1895. The bank’s name was changed to Centier in 1991. Schrage, who took over the bank from his father Walter E. Schrage Jr. in 1977, has successfully sustained a business legacy that includes a “Not for Sale” promise to remain independently owned and operated for generations to come. Centier has grown from 40 employees in 1971 to 750.
“Part of the goal was to take something small and develop it into something that is more dynamic,” Schrage says. “I started in 1972 right out of graduate school. I went to the University of Colorado for my MBA and it wasn’t until I went there that I really had an interest in banking. About midway through college I started taking courses to pursue a career in athletic coaching. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to go away to Boulder and the University of Colorado to get a more defined finance/marketing type degree that I really started enjoying finance.”
Schrage is proud of his staff.
“It is a smiling, happy energetic atmosphere that everybody feels good about working together,” Schrage says. “There is a chemistry we have developed that is a little magical like Disney World. Our clients are treated as guests and they repeatedly tell me how enjoyable it is to interact with the Centier people.”
Under Schrage’s leadership, the past nine years Centier has been voted one of the best places to work in Indiana, ranking in the top ten each year, one year finishing first.
Schrage's proudest accomplishment and legacy is the culture that he has developed at Centier with the help of others and the sustainability of that culture for future generations.
“My mission is to preserve the independent community bank for future generations,” Schrage says. “We are seeing the merger acquisition of many of the small banks in communities that find it hard to compete in today’s marketplace. I had a goal many years ago to make sure the bank was positioned to compete in the 21st Century. I felt in order to do that we needed to be at least a billion dollars in size.”
Schrage, who reads 50 to 75 books on business management and leadership each year, says it is important to have the budget to stay abreast of technological advancements like mobile banking and smart video ATM’s.
“One needs to make a rather significant investment in today’s competitive market place to technology as well as to personal talent,” Schrage says.
The past two years Centier has been named one of the best banks in the country to work for by American Banker, a national banking publication, Schrage says.
Terry McMahon, President and CEO of McMahon & Associates CPA’s, has known Schrage personally and professionally for 35 years.
“He is very dedicated to his family, his employees and the communities in which the bank has a presence,” McMahon says. “He works hard with every individual who works with the bank to impress on them the importance of good service. That distinguishes him in my opinion.”
McMahon says Schrage took over the reign at Centier at a very early age.
“The bank was small at that time,” McMahon, who served on the bank’s board of directors for 30 years, says. “He was given the reigns at a pretty young age at a time when the economy in the early 80’s was challenging to say the least.”
McMahon says Schrage turned Centier into the largest privately owned bank in Indiana.
“The reason for the success is his vision,” McMahon says. “He truly is the kind of person who looks down the road. It has been impressive what he has achieved.”
Schrage said he has had many mentors in his life including his mother Doris Schrage, coach Colin Stetson, and Centier executive Herman Stauffer. Schrage explains that his mother was a very stringent, extremely competitive person who was always pushing and challenging him to do better.
“My Culver High school coach had me go above and beyond where I thought was within me to do,” Schrage says.
Stauffer helped Schrage during his first five years at the bank while he was going through the acclamation process and learning community banking. Schrage says Stauffer influenced both his thinking and actions.
Schrage has been involved with many local organizations during his 42-year career.
“I have looked for organizations I could take to the next level and break out of the pattern they are in that they can only do so much and affect so many people,” Schrage says. “I try and take them to the next level.”
Schrage has served on the American Red Cross, the Northwest Indiana Symphony, the Calumet Council of Boy Scouts and St. Jude House boards.
“Back in the 80’s I met with Dean White to allow the Northwest Indiana Symphony to use the Star Plaza as their venue, taking them from the high school auditorium stage to a more regional type of venue,” Schrage says.
Schrage chaired the Juvenile Diabetes Walk for several years and has been deeply involved for the past six years with the American Heart Association taking the annual gala from “just another banquet to what I consider one of the premiere events in Northwest Indiana.”
Schrage has served on the board of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce the past five years and is a board director of Culver Academy.
“I am honored by the nomination appointment to the Hall of Fame which is most appropriate as it coincides with the bank’s 120th anniversary,” Schrage says.
“It is certainly a milestone and celebration for us and I consider it an honor to join the other Business Hall of Fame members,” Schrage says.