I’ve always loved history. U.S. history in particular, and Minnesota history especially. The story of our great state is fascinating, whether of its Native American heritage, industrial development, urbanization, arts and culture, wilderness preservation, sports, or politics. I truly enjoy discovering, exploring and experiencing it. As some proof of my passion, my wedding ceremony was held in the atrium of the beautiful Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. And now I find myself living a historical moment with the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new challenge exploding as I write in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis—certainly not the history I would have wished for.
Having worked in Minnesota’s legal and corporate community since 1989, I’m also a student of the state’s business history. From our early beginnings in agriculture, milling, railroads and medicine, we evolved to engineering, computing, banking, food, retail, healthcare and technology. Our roster of famous inventions is impressive (among them Spam, the snowblower, the pacemaker, the supercomputer, and Post-it Notes), and our list of notable corporations is extensive, including 16 in the current Fortune 500.
Many of our early companies were founded with a strong organizational purpose and a mission larger than simply products and services. This sense of service and public spirit came to define our most iconic companies, as they emphasized not just the bottom line but also the common good. A nice example of this is the Five Percent Club begun in the mid-1970s to promote corporate philanthropy; now known as the Keystone Club, the coalition of companies donating a percentage of profits to charity is still going strong and symbolizes generosity and civic purpose.
I believe that this purpose-driven approach will serve our Minnesota companies well during the pandemic. Under extremely difficult operating conditions, they can use their higher calling to anchor themselves and inspire their stakeholders while also attending to new urgencies and business problems. This is what we are striving to do at U.S. Bank, where our purpose is to “invest our hearts and minds to power human potential.”
The public health crisis quickly became an economic crisis too, and banking has been deemed an essential service because people still need to conduct their financial lives even during a pandemic. In response, we’ve modified branch operations, enhanced digital banking capabilities, adjusted money movement services, employed consumer relief programs, and offered funding through CARES Act initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program. U.S. Bank also committed $30 million to COVID-19 relief efforts in the places where we live and work. In these ways, we’re fulfilling our purpose and carrying forward banks’ historic legacy of serving as corner-stones of the communities they serve.
The U.S. Bank Law Division too has stayed focused on its purpose of guiding our clients to remarkable results with expert counsel. Our lawyers have risen to the occasion by not only continuing to meet the everyday legal needs of the company, but by tackling various new pandemic-specific challenges. These have included addressing employee health and safety, implementing the emergency government funding programs, advising on consumer forbearance measures, assisting newly distressed commercial borrowers, reinforcing the importance of ethical conduct, and supporting our board of directors in meeting its oversight responsibilities. Fortunately, we corporate lawyers are good at creative problem-solving—exactly what’s needed right now.
The pandemic has brought change not only in the legal work we do, but to where and how we do it. We’re adapting to working from home and to engaging virtually without any in-person contact. It’s been an adjustment, but we’re managing well as most lawyers can operate from pretty much anywhere armed with only a phone and a computer.
We’re also emphasizing our Law Division programs focused on lawyer well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, and pro bono. The physical and mental well-being of our lawyers is paramount, so they can perform optimally despite long hours, new stresses and feelings of isolation. To this end, we’re leveraging our newer well-being pro-gram, launched following the American Bar Association’s recent call to action to address mental health and well-being in the broader legal profession.
Diversity remains critical; we need diversity of perspective within our own ranks and in our outside law firms to ensure we’re bringing the best intelligences to our work. The pandemic has dramatically in-creased the need for pro bono legal services in our communities, and our lawyers have been volunteering virtually with legal clinics and other aid organizations.
Amid the uncertainty, all of us in the Law Division are needing to show strength not only as managers but also as leaders. Managers handle workflow and find solutions, while leaders think ahead to what’s next. We must be and do both, no matter our position, to allow us to learn our way forward under the difficult circumstances and with no road map.
At U.S. Bank, we’ll continue to rely on our fundamental purpose to guide our actions during these challenging times. This purpose-driven approach and sense of community has served great Minnesota companies well over time and through all kinds of business conditions. I believe that such history will repeat itself as we face this moment. Jim Chosy