Stories of Local Impact: Wintrust Corporation — Giving back and helping local economies thrive

Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact is an ongoing series brought to you in partnership with the Daily Herald and DuPage Foundation. It highlights the inspiring stories of local individuals, families, and businesses who have made or are making a lasting impact for our community through their generosity and leadership.

The series continues with a story of a bank with heart, making a difference in its communities.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to have created something special at Wintrust — a true community bank, which has flourished due to our relentless focus on serving our customers and our communities.”

~ Ed Wehmer, founder and executive chairman of the Board, Wintrust Financial Corporation in Northwest Indiana Business Magazine (Feb. 2, 2023)

Nearly 35 years ago, Wintrust Financial Corporation founder Ed Wehmer decided to start his own bank. His vision? A belief that there could be an alternative to the “big bank” experience — one that could provide not only more personal, high-touch customer service, but also be a strong ally and trusted partner within the community.

In 1991, the first location opened in Lake Forest with 11 employees. And the source of the name “Wintrust”? A dart thrown onto the page of a book of English company names, where it landed on Wintrust.

Wintrust has come a long way since those inspired beginnings. Through strategic acquisitions, it has grown into a financial powerhouse with more than $50 billion in assets across 175 community banks in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Wintrust is a significant presence in DuPage County and includes Wheaton Bank & Trust, which oversees bank charters in Wheaton, Naperville, Glen Ellyn, and Lombard.

Bob Hutchinson, Wheaton Bank & Trust’s CEO and lifelong Wheaton resident. Courtesy of Wintrust

Wheaton Bank & Trust CEO Bob Hutchinson is a proud lifelong resident of Wheaton. He believes that these roots provided him with a special sense of connectivity and perspective, coupled with a deep desire to see the local economies thrive.

Wheaton Bank & Trust became part of the Wintrust family in 2004, with the additional charters joining later via acquisition. For Hutchinson and colleagues, a prominent factor in Wintrust’s success is its business structure and operations: one holding company that owns a large family of banks — each carries a separate name and identity, a local leadership team, autonomy in decision-making, and dedicated community involvement.

“The autonomous charter system envisioned by Ed Wehmer has allowed us to simply go and grow,” Hutchinson said. “It’s been a game-changer. We’re able to be entrepreneurial — to really listen and to understand our customers’ needs, and then be the best advocate for them.”

At the same time, the parent company and its respected brand are also front and center. Wintrust’s overall strength and size, along with a keen understanding of clients’ growing needs, and of providing services to accommodate them, means that each charter can cater to clients both small and large. Additionally, it allows them to retain a local feel and relationship with their clients.

“Clients don’t outgrow us,” Hutchinson said. “By being part of the Wintrust family, our banks have the resources to meet the needs of all of our clients — including the more complex or sophisticated ones.”

The importance of building trusted relationships within the communities served — with individuals, businesses, schools, places of worship, and not-for-profits — is a hands-on responsibility: “Wintrust is, and works hard to be, the best economic anchor for thriving towns,” Hutchinson said. “Knowing our customers, providing them excellent service and solutions, and being involved in the community are priorities for Wintrust’s leadership and employees.”

James Clark III, managing partner of EnTrust Realty Advisors, has been a member of Wheaton Bank & Trust’s board of directors since 2018. He is also an ordained minister at St. John AME Church in Aurora and serves on the board of Jackson Park Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago.

“Wintrust’s combination of scale, community attentiveness, and empowered leadership makes it different among banks,” Clark said. “At all levels, they are client-driven and focused. People deal with people. It’s outstanding. And this isn’t just client-facing; it’s the same inside (of the bank) and out.”

Pam Sharar-Stoppel, executive vice president and regional market head of Wintrust Financial Corporation, readily agrees. “A definite key to Wintrust’s success is its charters,” Sharar-Stoppel said. “Having senior leadership that is local means that they’re making timely decisions, can participate in the community by sitting on boards, and really get to know the customers. It all started with Ed Wehmer, who saw the larger banks lose an important core value: connectivity with their customers.”

Her own personal involvement includes the Wheaton Lions Club, The People’s Resource Center, DuPage Pads, and Metropolitan Family Services DuPage.

Charles B. “Charlie” McKenna, a retired senior partner with Crowe Horwath LLP and emeritus trustee of DuPage Foundation, is a longtime Wheaton Bank & Trust board member.

“No bank walks the walk or acts like Wintrust does,” McKenna said. “Their bankers are smart; they know how to serve clients. As a corporate citizen, Wintrust is involved in everything from the Downtown Wheaton Reindeer Run, and purchasing tables at DuPage Foundation’s annual benefit, to Metropolitan Family Services DuPage, and golf outings. They make contributions in line with who they are.”

A culture of involvement

Another prominent factor in Wintrust’s success is its employees, who are encouraged and supported in their commitments not only to career, family, and non-work life, but in the causes they care about.

Tom Miers, market president of Naperville Bank & Trust since 2010, has long been an active participant and advocate for local not-for-profits including the Fry Family YMCA of Naperville, KidsMatter, the Naperville Park District, and North Central College, where he serves as a trustee.

“It’s all about the people, and it’s a part of the company’s DNA to mentor employees to harness their purpose and passion — to join organizations that you want to help,” Miers said. “It’s good personally, and it’s also good for business.”

As a leader, Miers feels it is imperative to lead by example: “By walking the walk and talking the talk, we nurture a culture of involvement.”

Wintrust staff members, including Tom Miers, volunteer for Feed My Starving Children. Courtesy of Wintrust

Adam Fuchs agrees. He joined Wintrust 18 years ago, right out of college, and is now president of Wheaton Bank & Trust. Like his fellow Wintrust leaders, he encourages his team to find their passions.

“We don’t want our bank associates to simply check the box,” Fuchs said. “We want them to participate; to be actively involved and proud of their contributions toward bettering life and circumstances for others.”

One organization he is particularly proud of as a board member and volunteer is Loaves & Fishes Community Services.

“It’s one of the largest food pantries in Illinois, and at the highest point we’ve served 9,000 to 10,000 customers per week — supporting our neighbors going through tough times. It’s a great feeling,” Fuchs said.

Evelyn Rodriguez oversees two active branches in Glen Ellyn and Lombard as a vice president and manager.

“To be able to be involved and influential in the community is amazing,” Rodriguez said. “There is great support for local not-for-profits such as the Glen Ellyn Children’s Resource Center, and World Relief of DuPage. Also, Wintrust-sponsored programs such as the IDA (Individual Development Account) program, which helps lower-income households achieve homeownership through a combination of a savings plan and financial literacy courses, capped off by Wintrust’s generous dollar match up to $4,000 for participants who complete the program. It’s exciting because we’re breaking down barriers and making the dream of homeownership possible. It’s the right thing to do.”

Wintrust team members proudly represent the organization at the Lombard Lilac Parade, with Evelyn Rodriguez. Courtesy of Wintrust.

CEO Bob Hutchinson is also involved in the local community, serving on Choose DuPage’s board of directors, as a trustee of The Conservation Foundation for the past 29 years, and as a member of DuPage Foundation’s marketing committee.

“While the organization’s reach into the communities continues to grow, earlier in my bank career, I called on all the not-for-profits in the area such as DuPagePads and People’s Resource Center,” Hutchinson said. “There was an acute need. You learned what the needs were and figured out how to help. The bank wasn’t always able to donate money back then, but we supported them in other ways. Those organizations began to bank with us. It was a ‘grass roots’ development. They got to know the bank, and we grew together. And became successful together.”

Mary Ann Bobosky, a longtime Naperville resident and president of Advocates Building Communities, has served on the Wheaton Bank & Trust Board for more than five years. She’s also an active member on several boards and committees including the President’s Advisory Council at Benedictine University, the Rotary of Club of Naperville-Sunrise, Naperville Responds For Veterans, Naperville Century Walk, the Illinois Arts Academy, and HURRAH (Happy Upbeat Recycled Retirees Actively Helping), of which she is a founder.

“Wintrust encourages every member of the team to find a cause, to join in, and to give back,” Bobosky said. “The bank supports these efforts, not just financially but in overall spirit. It’s not just about banking. They truly care about the communities.”

James Clark enthusiastically adds, “Wintrust has the highest respect for diversity, recognizes the need for a strong and positive culture, and continually provides opportunities for advancement in and across its charters. This extends to community service — helping those in need and giving of time and expertise for the benefit of others.”

A proven partner

COVID-19 and its lengthy course of twists, turns, and periods of mandated lockdowns caused concern and uncertainty on a global basis. The unknowns and consequences of a new virus were a potentially catastrophic threat for humans and businesses alike.

When the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was rolled out as part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020, Wintrust and its banks assisted not only their own customers, but non-customers in dire need of help.

“During this extremely difficult time, I think that Wintrust employees really stepped up and demonstrated how much they care about our customers and helping them throughout,” Hutchinson said. “Phone calls were always answered. Unlike some of our competitors, there was no hierarchy. Employees in non-client facing roles, such as operations or without a lending background pitched in — taking shifts, working nonstop and on weekends. Everyone became a PPP processor. Centers of influence such as attorneys and accountants would refer their clients to us. The entire staff was fully engaged and wanted to help. Business and not-for-profit clients of all sizes were taken care of. It demonstrated not only who we are, but that we’re committed.”

Charlie McKenna agrees. “Wintrust employees’ energy level and dedication were unprecedented. They worked night and day. No one performed like Wintrust did then.”

Thanks to these extraordinary efforts, businesses and organizations, including DuPage Foundation, were able to continue operations to pay their employees, and to meet their own customer needs.

Matt Gambs, Chief Community Impact Officer for Wintrust Financial Corporation, said, “Our people showed up. In a crisis, we get flat in a hurry.”

Improving people’s lives

At Wintrust, delivering quality service and deriving meaningful impact are on equal footing.

In his role, Gambs reports directly to Wintrust’s CEO, Tim Crane. Gambs and his direct reports oversee corporate responsibility, DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Ability) and ESG (Environmental, Social, Governmental) initiatives, ensuring that Wintrust’s social purpose aligns with its mission and values across all departments. This includes championing internal and external community initiatives and tracking overall performance against Wintrust’s corporate goals.

“It’s important to empower people,” Gambs said. “Ed Wehmer has often said that it’s not a handout, but a hand up. We believe that, too. It’s the Wintrust way.”

One aspect is the review and evaluation of community involvement (board placements and volunteerism), which also requires managing shareholder expectations. While Wintrust is a good-sized institution ($50 plus billion in assets), it doesn’t maintain a separate foundation to fund community investments and charitable efforts.

“We are a celebrator of the work that we do — giving advice and guidance and bringing the power of Wintrust into all that we do,” Gambs said. “We’re also careful to keep the charters’ identity. After all, it’s about the underlying causes and our stakeholders. It’s truly about them.”

Elizabeth Okey is Vice President, Community Impact for Wintrust and a key member of Matt Gambs’ team. She has brought significant knowledge and prior experience from the not-for-profit, education, and public policy sectors into her current role and acknowledges that while the team is looking at the big picture, “we are more nuanced; we recognize the gaps that need to be filled to improve lives.”

That includes the Building of Sustainable Communities and sponsoring programs such as THRIVE, which promotes and provides a pathway to homeownership. “It’s a lot of moving parts, but we think of homeownership as a place where we shine and truly want to engage in,” Gambs said.

Wintrust also sponsors free programs around financial wellness, both virtually and in-person. Employees take the lead as instructors, teaching fundamentals and smart money habits at all levels.

Wintrust team members volunteer their time helping build communities with Habitat for Humanity. Courtesy of Wintrust

Board member Mary Ann Bobosky summed it up well: “When you hear the name Wintrust, you think ‘integrity.’ Their professionalism and wide variety of services extends to everyone. Most of all, they genuinely care about improving peoples’ lives. That makes them special.”

The Leaders & Legacies series is brought to you by the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation. Suggestions for future stories can be sent to Robin Carroll, director of marketing & communications, at

Interested in learning more about how you can make an impact or create a legacy for your community and favorite causes? Learn more at or call (630) 665-5556.

DuPage Foundation is located at 3000 Woodcreek Drive, Suite 310, in Downers Grove, IL 60515.

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