Over a more than 50-year history, Bell Bank has developed from a single Fargo location to a powerhouse of independent banking, doing business in every state.

The company is now the largest independently owned bank in the upper Midwest.

Richrd Solberg, president of Bell Bank, presented on October 24th as part of 1 Million Cups Fargo’s second annual Living Legends week. Solberg has held his position since 1982, and he credits the bank’s private ownership and focus on fostering a positive company culture as contributors to the company’s success.

Before becoming Bell Bank, the company went through several names as it expanded. It was chartered as State Bank of Fargo in 1966. Later it became State Bank and Trust. The company bought Bell Mortgage in Minneapolis and became Bell State Bank and Trust before finally shortening to Bell Bank in 2016.

“We’ve had a lot of name changes along the way,” Solberg said, but he noted the bank’s ownership has not changed.

Maintaining independence has allowed Bell Bank to keep a slightly less hawk-like watch on its near-term profit margin than larger banks have to, per Solberg.

“I think the fact that we’re privately owned has been a big help to us,” Solberg said. “We’ve always been able to invest in the future.”

Another element that defines Bell Bank is its mission statement, “Happy Employees! Happy Customers!”

Solberg said the bank for a long time didn’t have a mission statement, but once one was established, it felt like one employees had already been working under.

Solberg attributed the heart of this mission statement to Thomas “Mickey” Snortland, son of founder Thomas “Buck ” Snortland, who Solberg quotes saying,  “All we care about are happy employees, happy customers, and make a little profit along the way.”

“It works for us,” Solberg said.

In keeping with its employee-friendly culture, Bell Bank recently became an ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plan company.

As far as challenges Bell has faced during his tenure, Solberg mentioned the recession of the late aughts as a trying period.

“That was a challenge for our whole industry,” Solberg said.

He noted that the recent growth of the entrepreneurship community in Fargo-Moorhead has come around to benefit Bell Bank too.

“Some of our growth has been as a result of the growth of those communities,” Solberg said.

For more information on Bell Bank, visit bellbanks.com. 1 Million Cups Fargo takes place each Wednesday from 9:15-10:15 a.m. at The Stage at Island Park.

Austin Gerth