TH EXCLUSIVE: Longtime HTLF executive retiring, says company will move headquarters from Dubuque

A longtime executive for one of Dubuque’s largest employers has expressed his “extraordinary disappointment” in recent moves made by the financial services company and said it intends to move its headquarters to Colorado.

Lynn B. Fuller, executive operating chairman of HTLF, recently submitted a letter to company leaders announcing his plans to retire from that position in May. He intends to retain his place on the company’s Board of Directors until his term expires in 2024.

Speaking with the Telegraph Herald on Thursday, Fuller said a plan recently approved by the board to consolidate the company’s 11 bank charters into one charter based in Colorado will result in HTLF moving its headquarters to Denver. The consolidation move is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to be complete by the end of 2023.

“I am concerned about the impact that the consolidation will have on Dubuque,” he said. “I have concerns about moving the headquarters to Denver.”

Contacted by the TH, HTLF issued a statement that stressed that the charter consolidation efforts do not signal future plans to move administration offices out of Dubuque. It pointed specifically to HTLF investing in and moving its employees to the Roshek Building.

“HTLF will maintain its strong and sizable presence in Dubuque,” the company stated. “Current HTLF operational and administrative functions will continue to be largely staffed and run from Dubuque.”

The company currently provides banking, mortgage, investment and other financial services and has a presence in 12 states, including Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. HTLF currently has more than 500 employees in Dubuque.

Fuller has served as the executive operating chairman since 2018. Prior to that, he was the CEO of what was then Heartland Financial USA from 1999 to 2018 and president of the company from 1990 to 2015. He has been chairman of the Board of Directors since 2000.

The Telegraph Herald obtained a copy of Fuller’s retirement letter. One paragraph of the four-paragraph letter is devoted to Fuller’s concerns about moves being made by the company, which has more than $19 billion in assets.

“As I retire from full-time employment with Heartland, I would be remiss if I did not convey my extraordinary disappointment with Heartland’s recent performance and with management’s apparent inability to develop, articulate and follow a strategy that is designed to improve total return to stockholders,” the letter states. “Instead, management, with the apparent support of some directors, seems focused excessively on administrative initiatives such as collapsing the charters of our subsidiary banks, rather than on profitably expanding our loan portfolio and growing through acquisitions. Of course, the board is free to pursue these administrative measures, but I cannot in good conscience lead an exercise whose success is unlikely to yield the results our stockholders rightly expect from Heartland.”

HTLF recorded net income of nearly $212 million in 2021, up from $133.5 million in 2020.

During the company’s most recent earnings call on Jan. 31, President and CEO Bruce Lee discussed the bank charter consolidation plan. He said the company’s 11 banks will “maintain their brands, local leadership and local decision-making.”

Contacted by the TH for comment on this story, an emailed statement from HTLF explained that the charter consolidation is seen by company officials as part of their strategy for growth.

“That decision by the board enables HTLF the agility, efficiencies and scalability to support growth, while still maintaining its local brands, local decision-making and deep presence in local communities,” the company stated.

Fuller said that while administrative operations will remain in Dubuque for now, he is concerned that those operations might move to Colorado in the future.

“A majority of the backroom functions will remain in Dubuque, and I would hope that would be the case,” he said. “Potentially, over time, though, that might not be the case.”

Fuller’s retirement notice and comments come on the heels of his son’s recent departure from the company. Tut Fuller had served as Region 1 president for HTLF since July, having previously served as DB&T’s president and CEO since 2017.

Tut Fuller said he could not comment on the nature of his departure from the company or the reason for it, but in an internal email obtained by the TH, Lee on Feb. 2 announced plans for administrative consolidation within the company, which included the merging of HTLF’s two regional president positions into a new chief banking officer role. While Region 2 president Kevin Quinn was promoted to the new role, the email stated that Tut Fuller “will depart the organization.”

The younger Fuller said he is proud of the work he accomplished during his time as part of the company.

For decades, the Fullers have played major roles in the financial services company. Lynn B. Fuller’s father worked at the company from 1964 to 2000 and served in several major executive roles, while his grandfather served on the board of directors for the company.

Tut Fuller said he is disappointed to see his extensive family history with HTLF end with him.

“You go through a lot of emotions,” he said. “Am I really sad to have our family involvement for four generations in a great company end with me? Yeah, I am.”

Tut Fuller said he intends to stay in Dubuque and pursue the formation of a new banking company. He added that he would enjoy working with his father again but declined to say if that is the current plan.

“My goal is to build the next great financial institution, and I want to have fun doing it with a great team,” he said.