Executive Profile: Jim Hartlieb, Senior VP, First Business Bank

The year was 1992. The place: Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes. The game: Wisconsin at Iowa. Fourth quarter, 55 seconds remaining. Iowa's quarterback, senior Jim Hartlieb, throws a four-yard touchdown pass followed by a two-point conversion to defeat the Badgers, 23-22. The stadium erupts.

It was one of Hartlieb's most memorable moments, and continued a home winning streak over the Badgers that had lasted nearly two decades, despite the Hawkeye's lowly 2-4 record at the time.

Six years later, in 1998, Hartlieb and his wife moved to the dairy state, home to the nemesis Badgers, when he accepted the position of Market President for AMCORE Bank in Madison. Prior to the move, his knowledge of Madison had been limited to the the inside of Camp Randall, though he did know two people living here: An attorney, and Barry Alvarez.

"Barry recruited me to be quarterback for Notre Dame while he was there," he said. "Right after that, he came to Wisconsin. (Notre Dame coach) Lou Holtz came to my high school. I was extremely flattered," he said. But at the time, Hartlieb's older brother Chuck (who went on to play in the NFL) was playing for the Hawkeyes, so when time came to decide on his future, Hartlieb said Iowa just felt right.

"I never looked back — except the first year when Notre Dame went on to win the National championship!" (While at Iowa, Hartlieb's roommate was Bret Bielema, now UW's football coach).

Hartlieb graduated from Iowa with a degree in finance. A native of Woodstock, Ill., (and still a fan of the Bears and Cubs) he started as an intern while in school, became a "number-crunching" credit analyst for NBD Bank in Chicago, and later a commercial banker for American National Bank. The Wisconsin AMCORE opportunity was one he couldn't pass up, and four years later, he was named AMCORE's regional president.

Last September, Hartlieb, 40, accepted the position of senior vice president for First Business Bank in Madison. He said he had known First Business Bank's Mark Meloy for 10 years, and was ready for a change. "I was traveling a lot with AMCORE," he said, and was looking to carve out more time for his three children, ages 11, 9, and 6. "It was just one of those things," he said. "I returned a call from Mark, we got to talking and I decided it was time for a new challenge." Now his focus is on Dane County, and he enjoys more family time, including coaching the kids' various sports teams. "For me, [this position] is the perfect combination of number-crunching, financial analysis, and relationship-building," Hartlieb said, skills that are particularly critical in this economy. "Our performance is a mirror image of our customers'," he explained. "We've all been affected by the economy, but we're also always working to grow the bank."

Ironically, Hartlieb said there's very little emphasis or value placed on growth these days. "There isn't that gun to your head mentality that you have to grow 10 to 20% anymore. It's more about quality, and that's going to make this recovery very slow.

"There's a lot of stress out there. For 2010, the hope is that the revenues will stay flat with '09 and hopefully increase so [companies] can grow their employment base back to where they were. But with the amount of money the government has flooded the market with, it's hard to know what's real and what's being propped up by those dollars. Somehow we went from millions to billions to trillions, and nobody seems to blink an eye."

As a youngster, Hartlieb said he remembers wanting to be a pro football player, not aspiring to be CEO of a bank. But what's most important, he insists, is being a valued member of the community, and being a good person.

Sign up for the free IB Update — your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices and the names you need to know. Click here.