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Making it in Big Sky: American Bank

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By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – American Bank opened its doors in 1947 as Livingston State Bank in Livingston, Montana. The company was, and still is, a full-service, family-owned bank with a focus on providing products and services geared to meet Montanans’ needs.

The company attributes its growth into a business with 75 employees serving five communities across Montana—Livingston, Big Timber, Bozeman, Big Sky and Whitefish—to their ability to understand customer needs.

American Bank opened the Big Sky branch in January 1999 with Ross Pfohl, Marla Ganoom and Joanne Welch as the first employees. The bank was first located in Meadow Village until their current location at 1700 Lone Mountain Trl. was renovated and ready for business.

The team of employees still includes Pfohl and Ganoom, with the addition of Marie Rapp in 2005, Maria Locker in 2007, and Sarah Beer in 2012.

They consider one another like family and pride themselves on their longevity with the company and providing excellent customer service to the community.

As part of this ongoing series, Branch Manager Ross Pfohl shared this thoughts with EBS on the reasoning behind the bank’s success and longevity in Big Sky.

Explore Big Sky: What has been the key to your success?

Ross Pfohl: We have an amazing team. Our method of working together is how we offer the hands-on service that we are proud of. I often receive compliments about our team going the extra mile to service our customers. We have all lived in Big Sky for many years and know our customers as friends and neighbors and strive to do our best for our community.

EBS: What are the biggest obstacles to operating a small business in Big Sky?

R.P.: The off seasons, or shoulder seasons, used to be the biggest obstacle in running a business in Big Sky, but now, that seems to be less of an issue. We have been very fortunate in retaining quality employees. The last time we hired someone was four years ago. Marla and I have been with American Bank for 19 years; Marie, 13 years; Maria, 11 years; and Sarah, 5 years. I am proud to be part of such a professional and hardworking team.

EBS: How has the business landscape changed since you started out?

R.P.: The Erickson family, owners of American Bank, started lending in Big Sky the first year the ski resort opened. The founder, Claude Erickson, who lived in Livingston, loved spending time up here in the early days. I recall his stories of horseback rides from the Meadow area before Big Sky was developed. Obviously, we have seen a lot of growth in Big Sky since that time and we are proud to be a part of the growth.

There is a lot more competition as well as opportunity now that we are an established community, and banking as a whole has moved into the electronic age with online banking services. Thanks to many innovations that are now available to smaller banks, we are lucky to offer the entire suite of these state-of-the-art products and services.

EBS: What is it about Big Sky that compels you to stick it out through the hard times?

R.P.: We all love Big Sky … it’s an amazing place. We have made a commitment to our customers and to the community since Big Sky’s inception. At times the changes are hard to fathom, but the energy and spirit of Big Sky will continue to grow positively and we are excited to be a part of it.

EBS: What is one of the most memorable moments you have had as a resident/business owner in Big Sky?

R.P.: From the business side it’s been great to see customers start out with a dream and build those dreams into thriving businesses. From a personal side, it was the first time I ever rode a chairlift with Warren Miller, listening to him talk made me feel like I was in a surround-sound ski movie. I truly cherish all my memories with him and having had the opportunity to spend so much time with Warren, his wife, Laurie, and stepson, Colin, over the years.

EBS: What advice would you give to small business owners just starting out in Big Sky?

R.P.: Before you open a small business make sure you completely know the Big Sky market. Only now can we say that we have qualities of a four-season community. Our summers are so much more vibrant now than they were just a few years ago. The mountain biking scene is just one of the newer features that we are proud of.

EBS: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

R.P.: Bruce and Carolyn Erickson used to say “work hard, have fun and make money.” This has become the mantra for American Bank. To me it really means to be attentive and diligent at work, but don’t forget to enjoy your surroundings and community.

EBS: Where do you see your business in 10 years?

R.P.: American Bank will continue to grow, but we will never forget where we came from: small town Montana. We are a bank family, and will continue to reinforce our culture and traditions. We are honored to carry this heritage forward. Our focus is to be here for our customers and our community. We love to listen and look forward to offering products and services that our customers want.

American Bank – by the numbers

• Staff: 5 in Big Sky, 75 Montana-wide.
• Years in business: Big Sky branch, 1999
• Longest serving employee: Ross Pfohl and Marla Ganoom, 19 years

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