Making the Transition:

Michigan Banker to Great Lakes Banker

By Charles M. Cooper


Grow or Die. That is one of the great truths of life in a dynamic world. If you don't grow and adapt to new challenges and situations, then you eventually find yourself going the way of the dinosaurs. There is nothing new in this. In fact, most companies and organizations find themselves asking what they need to do to meet evolving situations and operational environments. That evolution can be driven by changes in the customer base, the competition, opportunity, regulation, the economy, business trends, the political landscape, and so on. It can be driven by almost anything, but the one certainty is that something, somewhere, will force change. The only real questions are: What changes would you implement? How would your organization evolve?


In the headline above, you can see how Michigan Banker is evolving. We are changing our name, and with it our focus, to Great Lakes Banker. Why? We recognize both the challenges associated with focusing solely on the ever-shrinking banking industry in Michigan, as well as the opportunity to cover the entire region, renew old associations with banks and bank suppliers throughout the region, and bring you the regional news that effects your business here in Michigan. It's a win for you, our subscribers and advertisers; and a win for us as well.


Funny thing is, this is not the first time your independent banking magazine has done something like this. No, it has happened before.


Michigan Tradesman Becomes Michigan Banking and Business News

Some of you might recall when, in January of 1973, Jerry O'Neil, Publisher of Michigan Tradesman and father of Michigan Banker Publisher Greg O'Neil, changed the name of that ninety-year old business publication to Michigan Banking and Business News. Over the years, Michigan Tradesman had spent more time focusing on banking issues, so it only made sense to Jerry O'Neil to change the magazine's name to reflect this. “Beginning in January, the Michigan Tradesman will become Michigan Banking and Business News to give it a clearer identity,” he wrote in a September, 1972 letter to Michigan’s bankers, adding that in 1973, “we will continue to expand our coverage of banking activities in Michigan.” He also reassured his readers that the new publication would continue to cover both the MBA annual convention in June as well as the November ABA annual convention. Always good to his word, Jerry O'Neil covered Michigan’s banking industry in the pages of Michigan Banking and Business News with love and care, making friends in the industry by spreading the good news about Michigan banking.

Michigan Banking and Business News Becomes Michigan Banker

Michigan Banking and Business News ran from 1973 to 1988, when Jerry O'Neil once again decided that the focus of the magazine could be further refined. While Michigan Banking and Business News did cover Michigan’s banking community more than anything else, the new Michigan Banker would exclusively cover Michigan’s banks and bank suppliers. Convention issues expanded and for the first time Michigan had a truly independent banking magazine. Moreover, during the nineties, O'Neil added Ohio Banker and Wisconsin Banker to the line-up as well, but Michigan Banker remained central to O'Neil's plans and continued to thrive after the other magazines folded. In fact, Michigan Banker was the only banking magazine in Michigan until 2007, when the MBA launched its own members-only magazine, MBA Banking.


Up to that point, Michigan Banker had enjoyed, as O'Neil put it, “a cordial, productive, and mutually beneficial relationship with the MBA.” With the launch of the new magazine under Dennis Koons, that relationship became more adversarial as Koons worked to redefine Michigan Banker as a “vendor” rather than “press.” This began a long period of negotiation and brinkmanship on both sides. Michigan Banker wanted to preserve the “mutually beneficial relationship” that benefited the MBA through coverage and advertising far more than it helped Michigan Banker. Jerry O'Neil also cited the fact that Michigan Banker was, and had always been, a member of the independent news media with certain constitutional rights that were well worth defending. Since then, while still cordial, the relationship between the MBA and Michigan Banker has been fairly cool. Koons might have thought he could take Michigan Banker's readers and advertisers. If he thought that, he was mistaken. Even with a dwindling population of banks in Michigan, Michigan Banker's subscriptions and ad revenues only grew, and with it, our reach. Through it all, however, we always recognized that a good relationship with the MBA would be useful to all concerned. So, to that end, we have never stopped trying to warm things up with the MBA.


Of course, while all of this was going on, Michigan Banker maintained an excellent relationship with the Community Bankers of Michigan (CBM). Formerly the MACB, the CBM also published their own in-house magazine, and yet there was no conflict between the organization and Michigan Banker. What did this teach us? That there is room in the marketplace for multiple publications and that, when all are willing, there can be harmony as everyone works together for the greater good of Michigan banking.



Making the Move to Great Lakes Banker

The original Michigan Banking and Business News covered more than just banking in the State of Michigan, and starting in 2013, Michigan Banker began to return to that wider coverage. The magazine began to feature more national and international banking-related news, and more useful articles with ideas and techniques our readers can put into action; all while retaining Michigan’s banking community – the people, places, names, and faces – as its primary focus. We can trace much of our success in the last couple of years to this expansion in our coverage.


However, growth under current circumstances is not infinite, and even with the increases we have seen in the last few years it is inevitable that as the number of banks in Michigan continues to dwindle, those subscription and advertising numbers will go flat, and then eventually sink. These considerations, as well as inspiration from the previous Ohio Banker and Wisconsin Banker,  eventually led to the decision to expand into Great Lakes Banker, the one independent news outlet for banks in the Great Lakes region. We have shown that Michigan Banker could successfully grow as a truly independent magazine, and we know that we can repeat that success with Great Lakes Banker. The question, however, is how will our readers and advertisers benefit from the new regional format. Here is how:


  • Readers. More coverage means you can get a better picture of your competition, seeing what banks in the region are doing right, and what they are doing wrong. You can also see how trends in regulation and other areas of the banking business are working, either for or against banks, in other states. This will help you prepare as similar changes and challenges come to Michigan.

  • Advertisers. With well over a thousand banks in the region, Great Lakes Banker will enjoy a truly unrivaled distribution every month that reaches the key decision makers region’s banking community, as well as the next generation coming up. Like Michigan Banker is today, Great Lakes Banker will be the place to be seen – both in print and online – and getting there is both easier and cheaper than you think!


That is the story, going from Michigan Tradesman to Michigan Banking and Business News, from that to Michigan Banker, and now stepping onto the regional stage as Great Lakes Banker. It has been an exciting journey that has stretched from the 19th Century into the 21st and shows no sign of slowing down. We want to extend a special invitation to each and every one of you – banker, bank supplier, association, regulator, anyone concerned with the regional banking industry – to join us on this next leg of the trip. We promise you, it will be a great ride!


Great Lakes Banker is published by Michigan Banker LLC © 2016