No two days ever seem the same for Heather Parker Plumski ’05, but the one constant ever since she graduated from the College of Saint Benedict is the organization for which she works: Stearns Bank, N.A.
“I like a challenge,” Plumski said. “I like change. A lot of people say that, but I’ve really, really lived it. Stearns Bank is an ever-evolving institution. I don’t come to work and go off the same checklist and that’s been true for the last 16 years.”
And in that relatively short time, she’s risen from credit analyst all the way to executive vice-president, chief financial and strategy officer for an organization of more than 400 employees with assets of more than $2.3 billion.
Originally from Long Prairie, only a short drive northwest of the CSB campus, she started out pursuing a forensic science degree as pre-law study at a private university in St. Paul. After deciding against a path that would have meant at least six years of higher ed, and finding she longed for the peace she knew outside of the metro, she came to Saint Ben’s as a sophomore and completed her accounting degree in two years. While here, she said, CSB fostered her ability to think critically and ask deep questions.
“I really enjoyed the diversity in what I studied,” Plumski said. “I appreciated the expansiveness of the education. Theology and science really challenged me – especially the courses in theology, where one person can read a verse and take a different approach to it or interpret it differently than I might. It’s that type of thinking that is really important. You can communicate with others, knowing their perspective about the same thing can be very different. That type of thinking carries through everything.”
After working for a local bank during her senior year at Saint Ben’s, Plumski started out at Stearns Bank as a credit analyst, and quickly branched out into other roles.
When the Great Recession hit, she began to focus on due diligence, reviewing credit for failed banks that Stearns had acquired or was looking to acquire. She went on to manage all the credit analysts from 2011-13 and was a senior credit risk manager from 2013-17. She also collaborated with a software developer to create Stearns’ own stress-testing system
“We’d bought something off the shelf but, with the complexity of our portfolio, it didn’t work,” Plumski said. “After that, I oversaw the technology area from 2017-19.”
She has been integral to Stearns Bank’s many acquisitions as well as initiatives to set up a small-ticket Small Business Administration loan program and operational efficiencies at the equipment finance division.
“The same organization has employed me, and we still have the heart of our culture, but it’s almost like taking a new job every so often,” she said. “If you look at what I do today, it’s actually very similar to forensic science. I try to find the connections for efficiency and bottom-line impact. I try to challenge the norm and the way things have always been done so we can continue to do our best and be the best.”
Women comprise more than 65% of Stearns Bank staff, with a similar ratio in senior leadership and management. Like most employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Plumski continues to do much of her work remotely. That meshes nicely with the needs of her family. She and her husband, Jamie, have four children ranging in age from 4 to 15.
On a recent day when they were at school, she was able to focus on Stearns Bank’s business – which stretches almost coast to coast – while the wind gently swayed the trees outside the window of her home office.
“Everything goes back to your strengths and beliefs,” Plumski said. “Where is your foundation? For me, I could be in the middle of nowhere in Montana and have just as much foundation as I do here. I don’t have that same foundation in a big city because I find it claustrophobic and loud. But I’ve found where I can spread my wings most comfortably.”
And her hopes soar for tomorrow.
“I want to continue to be a part of growing the bottom line for Stearns,” Plumski said. “That means doing what I do today better. It’s not like you get to this position and you’ve learned it all. There’s a lot to do yet.”