It's easy to forget that a bank is just another kind of business, until you run into a banker like Dean Treptow. Using practices straight out of In Search of Excellence, he has built Brown Deer Bank, in Brown Deer, Wis., into a model of small-business lending. So, surprised as we were to learn that Treptow is selling his bank, we weren't the least bit surprised to hear how he's going about it.

For years, Treptow had been thinking about ways to get more capital to support continued loan growth; without it, he believed, his best people would move on. After exploring various options, he approached Minneapolis-based FirstBank System, a bank holding company. FirstBank was interested. Treptow made it clear that he would need up-front assurances of job security for Brown Deer employees and a guarantee of operating autonomy, as well as money to expand. FirstBank agreed. Within 30 days, the two parties had worked out the final terms, including a price of $11 million.

But more important is what happened next. As soon as Brown Deer's board approved the letter of intent, Treptow called a meeting of his 65 employees, who own 25% of the stock. Officials from FirstBank assured them that their jobs were secure. Two days later, Treptow held another meeting for about 125 commercial customers, again with FirstBank representatives in attendance. "It was important for them to hear everything I said confirmed publicly by FirstBank."

As for the future, FirstBank wants Treptow to extend Brown Deer Bank's approach to small-business lending throughout Wisconsin, and perhaps into other states. Toward that end, it has given him and two other top officers three-year management contracts and plenty of performance incentives. Treptow is already in high gear. "We've always had more ideas than money," he jokes. "Now, we don't have any more excuses."