Don’t let his consummate professionalism and buttoned-up exterior fool you. Ed Garding is a character.
The former First Interstate CEO and current Corporate and Government Relations Officer for the Bank has served in a variety of roles during his 40-plus-year career at First Interstate—management trainee, branch manager, regional president, chief risk officer, and CEO to name a few. He also served as Sheridan’s bank president from 1988-1996.
In addition to these many roles, Ed’s colleagues and teammates also know him as: “Nurse Goodbody,” “Eeyore,” “Merlin,” “Winnie the Pooh,” and countless other Halloween characters.
“Halloween has always been special because the kid in me has never grown up,” Ed said.
According to Jim Scott, son of First Interstate founder Homer Scott, Sr. and former First Interstate BancSystem Chairman of the Board, Ed was “the living spirit of Halloween.”
But that shouldn’t detract from the serious and positive impact Ed had on the Bank during his career, Jim said. The two men worked alongside each other for decades, and as the bank president in Colstrip, Mont., Ed also has the unique perspective of serving as Jim’s first boss.
“Ed was serious and diligent, and I tried my best to make a good impression,” Jim said. “Then, at the end of October, I saw Ed for the first time at Halloween where he transformed into a costumed goofball who would make Halloween so much fun for the next four decades.”
Young at heart and quick to crack a joke—and a smile—Ed anchors his approach to doing business by meeting clients where they are. Sometimes this means picking up the phone to make a call; other times, it’s a face-to-face interaction, or a video chat.
“The past 40 years, I’ve seen our delivery channels change and evolve according to our clients’ unique needs,” Ed said. “But despite these changes, certain aspects have also stayed the same—like our dedication to service and principles of leadership.”
Long before email and Zoom calls, Ed and his teams corresponded with clients predominantly by mail.
“We would type a letter, send it to the client, and not expect a response for two weeks,” Ed said. “Technology has changed the way we’re able to interact with clients and has shortened the timeframe with which we’re able to conduct business.”
Ed said a good portion of his business early on was specializing in Singer sewing machine loans. Sewing machines were an essential appliance in the ’70s, and door-to-door salesmen would partner with Ed to generate these loans.
“There was really no such thing as a credit card back then,” Ed said. “People worked with bankers to book loans for essentials like sewing machines and furniture.”
To this day, one of Ed’s favorite things about being a banker is helping people get what they need—whether it’s a sewing machine, a new house, a new car, or plan for retirement.
“We’ve come to learn and appreciate that clients want all six forms of interaction available to them—face-to-face, telephone, email, mobile, ATM, and mail,” Ed said. “The key is having all channels available where and when the client needs them, and First Interstate continues to excel in that space.”
Responding to clients’ unique needs and educating them on new financial tools and channels is something Ed has been doing since the beginning of his career.
As the manager of First Interstate’s downtown Billings drive-up location—the first of its kind for the Bank back in 1973—Ed remembers making calls to clients getting them comfortable with the idea of banking from the car via drive-up.
“At the time, the idea was foreign—they’d ask, ‘Why wouldn’t I just come inside to do my banking?’ or they’d comment that the new setup seemed far-fetched,” Ed said. “And now, clients can simply pull out their phone and do their banking anywhere. We’ve come a long way.”
Ed always knew he wanted to pursue a career in banking. His passion (and persistence) soon paid off when he approached Homer Scott, Sr. for a position at Security Trust and Savings Bank—which would later become First Interstate Bank.
“I requested a meeting with Mr. Scott, and he shared the Bank had no openings at the time,” Ed said. “I told him that was fine—that I only had one suit, one place I wanted to work, and I’d be back to inquire every Friday until he hired me.”
Four Fridays went by—then five, with Ed showing up to the Bank, requesting audience with Homer Scott. Each week, Ed received the same response.
“Thank you, but still no openings.”
On the sixth Friday, Homer and the Billings Market President decided the young banker deserved a shot and hired Ed as the Bank’s first management trainee.
“From the beginning I knew working for First Interstate was something special,” Ed said. “Led by strong family values and a commitment to giving back, I’m so proud to say I grew up in and with this Company.”
About a month after Ed started with First Interstate, the Bank celebrated cresting $100 million in asset size; today, the Bank’s asset size is $18.4 billion and growing.
“Something that marks my time at the Bank is knowing one of my first loans was for a Singer sewing machine, and my last loan was for a Boeing 747,” Ed said. “The complexity and amount of business might have increased through the years, but every client and transaction was equally meaningful.”
In 2015, Ed celebrated his retirement as the Bank’s CEO, but was hired back part-time in 2016 as First Interstate’s Corporate Government Relations Officer.
“Aside from being a dynamic leader and professional, Ed developed invaluable relationships with clients and key contacts in government through the years,” said Kevin Riley, President and CEO of First Interstate BancSystem, Inc. “Because of Ed’s strong ties to the congressional delegation in Washington as well as various banking organizations, this new role was the perfect fit for Ed and for First Interstate.”
In addition to a variety of board positions and volunteer work with the Montana Bankers Association, Wyoming Bankers Association, Pacific Coast Banking School, Special Olympics, and YMCA, Ed is also a long-time board member and past chair of the MSU Billings College of Business Advisory Board.
In 2018, the college approached Ed to see if he’d be interested in serving as Interim Dean from 2018-2019. Because his responsibilities as Government Relations Officer were only part-time, Ed had the capacity and desire to assume both roles.
“The one constant in my professional career has been that I enjoy learning and reinventing,” Ed said.
Once MSUB completed its extended search for a permanent candidate, Ed wrapped up his work at the college—or so he thought.
Just Down the Street
After dedicating more than 40 years to First Interstate, Ed recently opted to hang up his spurs and “re-retire” from the Bank at the end of April—but not before the team at MSUB approached him with a familiar opportunity.
Starting July 1, 2021, Ed will once again serve a year-long term as interim dean of the College of Business at MSUB.
“I will miss the Bank dearly, but I also know I won’t be far away—just down the street,” Ed said.
The lessons, laughter, and legacy Ed leaves behind are considerable, and his First Interstate family wishes him well in this next chapter of his life.
“So much of who we are as a Company and who we’ve grown to become can be attributed to Ed’s leadership and successes through the years,” Kevin Riley said. “He had a hand in our beginning, helped us thrive through our teen years, and successfully passed the torch into a new era of banking and financial services. On behalf of the Executive Team, the Board, and our entire First Interstate family, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Ed for his service.”
Teaching, guiding, and coaching—all these qualities hallmark Ed’s approach to leadership, which is why his passion for education is no surprise. Something Ed enjoys most about his role at the College of Business is chatting with budding bankers looking to make a difference in their communities.
To these individuals, Ed offers these words of wisdom:
“Being a successful community banker means you have to care about your clients—you have to know when they are born and care when they die,” Ed said. “Watching your community grow and thrive because of the work the Bank is doing will be one of the most rewarding aspects of your job.”
And don’t lose your humanity or sense of humor, Ed stressed.
“Work can sometimes be stressful, but it should always be fun,” Ed said. “If you love what you’re doing, you never have to call it work.”
It’s a rare find to uncover and celebrate someone who’s worked for the same Company his entire life, but Ed says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
With a heartfelt, wry smile, Ed shares, “This is the best bank I have ever worked for.”
Please join us in wishing Ed Garding well in this next chapter of his life and thanking him for his many years of dedicated service. Thank you, Ed!