Bremer Bank CEO says she opposed bank sale out of community concern, not self-preservation

·2 min read

Oct. 16—Jeanne Crain, president and chief executive officer of the Bremer Financial Corporation, briefly took the witness stand in Ramsey County District Court on Friday to explain her opposition to a forced sale of Bremer Bank, one of the Midwest's largest farm lenders.

Her comments capped the 13th day of testimony in the Minnesota Attorney General's petition to unseat the three trustees of one of the state's oldest philanthropies.

Established in 1944 by German banker and St. Paul philanthropist Otto Bremer, the Otto Bremer Trust owns 92 percent of the Bremer corporation, which is the holding company for Bremer Bank, a major farm lender in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

Crain has played a leading role in efforts to block the trustees from selling controlling shares in the corporation to aggressive East Coast hedge funds. Trustees have acknowledged that an Oct. 2019 share sale — since frozen by the courts — was designed to unseat her and the board and unload Bremer Bank to new owners.

Chris Burns, an attorney with the Attorney General's office, asked Crain — who became CEO in 2016 after more than 30 years in the banking industry — if she was aware of allegations that she and other bank board officials had their own self-preservation at heart in attempting to block a bank sale. Board members are paid for their service.

Crain said that as a shareholder approaching retirement age, she'd actually benefit from a bank sale, and doubly so given that as CEO, she would be entitled to a contractually-required severance payment. She said her concern, however, was the direction the bank would take in the event of a hostile takeover.

"I do own shares in Bremer. It's interesting to me how the allegation has been phrased. ... I'm well protected from change of control," she said. "I could retire comfortably. It was never about anything for me personally. ... (My) contract, I'd have a severance payment. It protects the CEO in the event of a position by the board to release me."

Her testimony is expected to resume Monday, to be followed by a cross-examination by the Trust's attorneys.

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