When Ken Poteet entered the banking business in the 1980s, there were 18,000 financial institutions in the United States, he recalls. Today, due to consolidations, sales and bank failures, there are about 6,900. “Three to five years from now, if projections hold true, that number will drop to 5,500,” he says.

But Sterling Bank is still going strong, notes its chairman and CEO. “There’s no magic formula for a successful business—all banks follow the same playbook,” Poteet says. “What sets us apart is our culture: our enduring commitment to excellence, our outstanding service, and the innovative ways we contribute to the community. Banking isn’t about numbers; it’s about people.”

This personal approach has been part of Sterling’s culture from the very beginning. Founded in 2004 in Poplar Bluff, Mo., the bank turned a profit in its very first quarter, Poteet notes. Within three years, the business reached $100 million in assets and expanded to Van Buren, Mo., followed in 2012 and 2013 by full-service facilities in Clayton and Chesterfield. “We’ve far surpassed the performance of other banks our size locally, regionally and nationally,” he says. “We’re now recognized as one of the most successful banks in a five-state region, one of the top five banks in our asset class in the state, and one of the top 10 in the nation. We rank high in every category, including earnings, credit quality and safety.”

Despite a still-challenging economy, Sterling continues to grow, with more than $500 million in total assets and $520 million in loans under management, Poteet adds. “When you offer the best financial services in the marketplace, combined with an unparalleled culture and personal service, you can’t help but succeed,” he says. “Business owners, high-wealth individuals and investors appreciate being assisted by our talented staff, who are the very best at what they do. Everyone we hire reflects our philosophy of excellence. This isn’t just a job to them; it’s a career.”

In addition to impressive performance and service, Poteet attributes the bank’s success to community involvement. “We’re always looking for ways to invest in the communities we serve,” he says. “It’s a great way to get to know our neighbors.” Sterling’s Business After Hours concerts, a series of free networking events for the business community, are popular in Clayton and Chesterfield. The bank, known for its striking, award-winning architecture and innovative art displays, supports Chesterfield Arts and has donated more than $100,000 to the Saint Louis Art Fair, the single largest gift in the fair’s history. And last year, the bank contributed $30,000 to Kids Rock Cancer, including $10,000 from the auction of two classic cars.

“We don’t measure our success by transactions; we measure our success by relationships,” Poteet says. “We believe in building our business one good decision at a time, one person at a time. Yes, our numbers are impressive. But nothing is more gratifying than knowing we’ve helped so many businesses succeed and helped so many of our neighbors buy their dream home.”

Photo by Bill Barrett
Pictured: Ken Poteet

[Sterling Bank now has two full-service locations in St. Louis: 50 S. Bemiston Ave. in Clayton, 314.571.5610; and 16100 Swingley Ridge Road in Chesterfield, 636. 681.1144.]