Bill Cooper passes and inspires

As chairman and chief executive officer of TCF Financial Corporation (as it became), Bill Cooper rescued the Minnesota-based bank holding company essentially from insolvency and built it into to a regional powerhouse. I had the great good fortune to work for Bill and TCF general counsel Greg Pulles in the TCF legal department for 12 years. Bill died yesterday at the age of 73. I want to add a personal note to the obituaries posted by the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.

Bill was one of my heroes. In addition to his outspoken leadership in the financial services industry, Bill worked as a conservative activist, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party for one critical term, and committed philanthropic supporter of charter schools for disadvantaged kids. He generously gave of both his time and money to the cause of charter schools. He was one of the most charitable men I have ever met.

Bill put himself through college while working as a beat cop in Detroit. He was an extraordinarily blunt and plainspoken business leader. He did not take kindly to the government’s impositions on TCF during the banking crisis, of which I believe TCF was if anything an innocent victim. Bill commented: “I certainly don’t need some clown in Washington telling me what to do.” I believe he added: “It’s not time to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”

The Star Tribune quotes Greg Pulles, who worked closely with Bill for some 30 years and knows whereof he speaks: “He was the most demanding guy as well as the most courageous guy I ever met.”

The detestable former Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman devoted a January 2005 column to trying to get me fired by TCF when Power Line was named blog of the year by Time. Coleman implied that readers should close their TCF accounts because of my employment by the bank. Coincidentally, Bill had just met with the publisher of the Star Tribune and consented to a substantial bank advertising campaign in the paper after a long hiatus.

Bill called me the day after Coleman’s column appeared to assure me that my job was not in jeopardy. He also read me the letter that he was about to send to the publisher of the Star Tribune:

While I have disagreed with the Star Tribune on many issues, I respect with all my heart your right of freedom of the press and free speech. Apparently Nick Coleman does not share these values.

To suggest that customers of TCF Bank should move their money because of a TCF employee’s blogging activities (an exercise of free speech) is just wrong. To suggest that an employer of an individual who exercises free speech rights should be punished is, I am sure, a violation of journalistic ethics and perhaps a legal issue.

Just for the record, the first time I ever heard of Power Line (which I have never read) was when I read about it in Time Magazine. To suggest that TCF or I am somehow the creator or supporter of Power Line is simply not true. Incidentally, Mr. Coleman never contacted me to ask if I was behind it (another example of great journalism!).

One thing I can assure you of is that if your columnists can suggest that people stop banking at TCF because of the political activities of one of its employees, TCF will never spend another dollar on advertising in the Star Tribune as long as I am Chairman.

Unfortunately, while it observes his passing, the Star Tribune won’t be recalling this defense of an employee by Bill or this manifestation of his character.

May Bill’s memory serve as an inspiration for as long as absence will be felt. RIP.

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