If you doubt whether quintessential “old fashioned” Midwestern values still work to achieve success in our increasingly complex world, please get to know Peter McNitt. He embodies those values — including a good attitude and gratitude for family, friends, community, and the opportunity to serve.
As an entry level employee at Harris Bank who rose to become vice chairman of the far larger institution now called BMO Harris Bank — while twice fighting cancer and being a very hands-on parent to his three kids — McNitt epitomizes success.
Those values and this success recently led to his induction into New Trier’s Alumni Hall of Honor (watch his speech here) and to our breakfast interview at Winnetka’s Café Buongiorno. Over a low-carbohydrate, “good” cholesterol-rich breakfast, McNitt repeatedly deflected praise and credited others for his success — starting with four generations of his family (grandparents, parents, brothers, wife and children) and the influence of New Trier’s motto, “To commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion and lives to the service of humanity.”
“Everything starts with values and attitude — work, fighting cancer, life,” he declares, then grins. “I still keep the short essay ‘Attitude’ by Charles Swindoll that my father gave to me when I was in my early 20s in my top desk drawer. It’s my favorite quote.” (Please see a copy at the end of the article.) He recites it by heart.
Not surprisingly, McNitt was an Eagle Scout and star athlete at New Trier. He still plays competitive paddle tennis, which he once played at a national level, with his brother, Jim, a former professional baseball player. But that’s not what he most values from his youth; rather, it’s the values embedded in his high school’s culture because of that New Trier motto, in particular the culture of serving others that it promotes.
McNitt didn’t intend to spend his entire career at Harris when he joined the bank’s training program soon after his graduation from Amherst College. “I just wanted to go into business and believed that because banking is at the epicenter of business, it would be a good place to get trained.” He continues, “What I loved about Harris was its reputation for honesty and fair dealing.”
No surprise there! Nor is it surprising that despite an increasingly transient environment for most millennials, the bank is still known for world class training and employee development, in addition to such a strong commitment to community service that serving others is as much a part of the bank’s DNA as it is at New Trier.
McNitt explains, “Our people are our greatest asset — our employees, our customers, our communities.”
His favorite activity in work and life are the same —“figuring out how to help others succeed.” To do so starts with listening, then building “knowledge based” solutions based on strong economic development and commerce. It’s impossible to serve others with the help they need and develop a sustainable future for any organization without that financial underpinning.
BMO Harris Bank is celebrating 200 years serving Chicago this year with activities that include donating $11,200,000 to Chicago area nonprofits in 2017 as well as granting wishes through its BMO200 Fountain program.
McNitt enumerates the major categories that the bank likes to support:
- Health & Human Services
- Civic Public Private Partnerships
- Economic Development
- Cultural Activities & Art
He is justifiably proud that BMO Harris is the largest single donor to the United Way. But his passion for helping truly shines when he discusses the organizations that he personally supports with his time and connections — the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, Youth Guidance and WTTW.
“We have so much measurable impact from this work too,” he delights.
The bank and McNitt have even more to celebrate than 200 good years in Chicago and his 40 year tenure. BMO expanded across the Midwest with their acquisition of M&I bank in 2011, spreading the bank’s community-centric values and strengths.
“The reality is that it’s never just about us; rather it’s what we can do together.” He explains, “I learned this because I have been fortunate in family, school, sports, friends and attitude.” He pauses, then provides a good analogy: “I learned to build a square house on a square foundation.”
Proof that good Midwestern values are still a good foundation for success — in business and in life. And it is indeed all about attitude too.