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Dennis Hackett, president, rural banking, First Midwest Bank in Morris, Ill.
Dennis Hackett left the family farm near Tuscola, Ill., to attend the University of Illinois in the 1960s, and he's been an agricultural banker ever since.

"I decided to pursue a career in agricultural banking because I enjoy working with people and I love agriculture," says Hackett, who is currently president, rural banking, First Midwest Bank in Morris, Ill. First Midwest is a $6 billion bank and the fourth largest agricultural lender in the state. "Every day on the job is different, and that is a good fit for me."

Hackett majored in agricultural economics and agricultural education in college but has never used his teaching certificate. He worked for Tuscola National Bank for about three years following graduation. He then joined First Midwest Bank in 1968, where he since has served as bank president in three communities, residential mortgage manager/director and agriculture sales manager.

"Agricultural banking is a wonderful occupation. You can have a positive impact on farmers' lives, as you provide them with the credit and counsel they need to work toward financial independence," he says. "Bankers are also well-respected, high-profile people in most rural communities, and you can truly have a positive influence on the economy in the community where you work."

Hackett is actively involved in economic development in rural communities, and looks for opportunities to bring new businesses and economic vitality to the areas that First Midwest serves. "About 75 percent of our deposits are deployed as loans," he says. "I like to help companies that can come in and offer employment, such as value-added agriculture, and help increase the community tax base."

Professional development and community service opportunities are an important component of an agricultural banker's career. Hackett currently serves as chairman of the American Bankers Association Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee, a committee of 15 bankers that presents positions on agricultural issues to Congress and works to resolve key ag banking challenges.

Hackett is also treasurer of the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority, serves on the executive committee, is past president of the Grundy Economic Development Council and is a member of the Illinois Bankers Association Agriculture Committee and the University of Illinois President, Illinois Connection Committee.

But for all of the rewards from a career in ag banking, the field is not without challenges. Hackett predicts the biggest obstacle new graduates will face will be coping with ongoing change.

"When I graduated, change was not very rampant. Now it is constant," he says. "Also, young people are now entering agriculture during a low point in the agricultural cycle that has been persistent for the last three or four years. The challenge for them is going to be keeping a positive attitude as they work with farmers to help maintain profitability. It will be a good learning experience."

Demand should also be fairly high for new graduates. According to the "Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in the Food and Agricultural Sciences - Agriculture, Natural Resources and Veterinary Sciences for 2000-2005" report, which was coordinated by USDA and Purdue University in 1999, employment opportunities are expected to fare well for accountants and financial managers in food, agricultural and forestry businesses through the remainder of the outlook period.

The report suggests that individuals with strong business, communication and human relations skills may be best suited for management positions. Individuals with graduate degrees, especially in marketing and financial specialties, are expected to fill nearly one-third of the anticipated jobs in the field through 2005.

"Banking itself is a field for people who enjoy working with others, listening to them and helping them make decisions," Hackett says. "But there are related careers in banks for those who don't fit that profile. People who enter the fields of finance and accounting may never have to work directly with bank customers."

Looking back on his 30-plus years in agricultural banking, Hackett is pleased with his decision to enter the financial field rather than farm. "I am happy I have remained in banking," says Hackett. "I have looked at other opportunities along the way, but I never wanted to switch. Banking is a dynamic business that is of great importance to agriculture, and I am very proud to be a part of that." AM


Barb Baylor Anderson is a free-lance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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