WBA’s Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT)

By Cassandra Krause

If one thing is certain about young professionals in Wisconsin’s banking industry, it is that they are ambitious. Their careers mean more to them than just a paycheck, and they’re looking for ways to grow and make meaningful contributions. Nearly ten years ago, the Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Section was created to tap into the potential of emerging leaders in banking across the state.

Julie Redfern was one of the inaugural BOLT Section Board members in 2013 and has advanced in her career to executive vice president, chief operations officer at Monona Bank. “Fostering growth and leadership skills in our industry was a motivational factor for joining the BOLT initiative in its infancy stages,” said Redfern. “We had a gap in our industry, and I think BOLT is now a great tool to offset that gap for bank CEOs looking to develop bench strength with future leaders at their community banks.”

Motivations for joining BOLT vary from banker to banker. Some are seeking opportunities to learn the skills needed to be a respected, contributing community banking officer able to handle increasing responsibility. Others join because of the access to a tremendous network of Wisconsin bankers with a vast back- ground of knowledge and experience who are willing to share it in a non-competitive environment. Still others may be looking to become more engaged in legislative, regulatory, and public affairs advocacy.

BOLT was launched to ensure ongoing success for community banks by focusing on talent development and providing networking opportunities for the next generation of community bank leaders to grow and develop the necessary skills to be effective leaders.

“Nearly a decade later, talent recruitment and retention, as well as succession planning, continue to be top concerns for community banks,” said Daryll Lund, WBA executive vice president and chief of staff. “We have grown to have over 500 BOLT Section members representing over 135 banks.” It is free for WBA members to join the BOLT section, so many banks take advantage of the opportunity to sign up multiple employees.

The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey found that approximately 40% of Gen Zers and 24% of millennials would like to leave their jobs within two years, and about a third would quit without another job lined up. While those numbers may be startling, a recent LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index gives some insight into the priorities of job seekers.

Graph of young professionals' reasons for seeking new employer

As the chart above shows, a career path that aligns with the employee’s interests or values (80%) and more opportunities to learn/practice new skills or expertise (76%) are equally important to — or even more important than — better compensation or benefits (76%) for Gen Zers. Younger employees’ desire to pursue a new industry or job function and interest in moving up or increasing responsibilities underscore the importance of offering professional development opportunities.

A major draw to the BOLT Section is the access to the biannual BOLT Leadership Summits. Attendees often talk about the “spark” that’s ignited in them through the Summit programming and networking. Dan Ravenscroft was the inaugural BOLT Section Board chair and has since become president and CEO of Royal Bank, Elroy and continues his service to the industry on the WBA Board of Directors. “BOLT is designed to provide bankers with the additional knowledge, skills, and tools that they need to take their careers to the next level,” said Ravenscroft. “The connections, experiences, and relationships built through participation in the interactive BOLT Leadership Summits have proven invaluable in my personal career development.”

Lori Kalscheuer, WBA director – education, serves as the staff liaison to the BOLT Section Board and heads up the planning for the Summits. “The energy at the BOLT Summits is always very high, and the participants are eager to make the most of their experience,” said Kalscheuer. “Along with new skills and ideas, they bring back a lot of enthusiasm to their banks.” Kalscheuer emphasizes that leadership skills are applicable to any employee at the bank, regardless of job function, age, or experience level. She encourages any banker who wants to build their leadership skills to get involved with BOLT.

Now almost a decade in, the BOLT program sees continued engagement of longtime participants as well as many referrals for fellow bankers to get involved. Jennifer Sobotta, vice president and marketing director at Forward Bank, Marshfield, and current BOLT Section Board chair, views BOLT as an important benefit of WBA membership. “Joining the BOLT Section Board gave me an opportunity to stay connected with industry peers and the WBA,” explains Sobotta. “Being part of this group fits beautifully with the leadership initiatives we have going on at Forward Bank and has allowed me to identify and send our up-and-coming leaders on to fine tune their skills.”

As Loni Meiborg, senior vice president and director of organizational development, Fortifi Bank, Berlin rounds out her time on the BOLT Section Board as past chair, she has sought out a new opportunity to stay involved and continue to grow her career by serving on the WBA Marketing Committee. Her testimonial speaks for itself:

Without BOLT, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today in my career. Early on, the Summits allowed me to meet influential people who shared their knowledge and experience to help me grow. Once joining the BOLT Section Board, I was inspired by each member’s passion and commitment to fostering success among bankers and the industry overall. And now as past chair, I reflect on all the folks I’ve met and the speakers I’ve heard along the way, which have left their indelible mark on how I lead, how I think, and how I feel about banking. Thank you to the WBA leadership and team for focusing on, and knowing the importance of, Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow.

To learn more about BOLT, visit

Join emerging bank leaders on November 9 in Wisconsin Dells

Emerging leaders are encouraged to join their banking peers from across the state at WBA’s annual BOLT Winter Leadership Summit in November. Are you interested in taking the next step in your career development or looking to network with other emerging leaders in banking, or know someone who might be? Joining BOLT, or Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow, is the perfect opportunity to gain valuable education and connections that will last a lifetime!

This year’s winter summit will begin November 8 with an optional, pre-summit networking event. Light refreshments will be provided.

The summit will officially kick off the following morning, November 9, with breakfast and an opening keynote session on the power of effective communication. Denise Thomas, founder and owner of Milwaukee-based The Effective Communication Coach, will lead attendees through her “effective communication formula.” Gain techniques that will allow leaders to better connect with others, and leave the conference with practices to put into action. In addition, every emerging leader will receive a digital copy of Thomas’ book, The Effective Communication Coach Guidebook.

The daylong event will feature two additional general sessions, a peer group discussion on topics of effective leadership, and various opportunities for bankers to connect with peers from throughout Wisconsin.

Bankers of all levels — entry-level to c-suite — find that attending one of BOLT’s biannual summits is an excellent opportunity not only for bankers to round out their skills in community banking, including becoming an advocate for our industry and gaining the support of their peers, but is a critical process in preparing the bank’s next leaders when succession planning.

Interested in attending the BOLT Winter Summit? Visit or contact WBA’s Director – Education Lori Kalscheuer to learn more.

Triangle Background

By Jennifer Sobotta

Attending and enjoying the June BOLT Summer Leadership Summit, listening to the speakers, and connecting with old and now new friends makes me think of how I got to be where I am today. This year’s BOLT Summer Leadership Summit made me think of it even more as we talked about career pathing. So much so, that during my next turn at the podium I introduced myself as “Jen, the Accidental Banker.”

During my studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point back in the 90s, I had no intention of going into banking. I wanted to be a marketer after all and didn’t (and still don’t) care for numbers enough to be a lender. That was how I looked at banking back then — only the positions that you would see walking in as a customer.

My senior year, with the help of UWSP Career Services, I sent over 80 resumes, had 30 interviews, nine second interviews, and three job offers. Not one was in the financial services industry.

My first real job was on a marketing team at a rural hospital/nursing home. It was very community focused and located in a lovely rural area. I had the chance to learn from an experienced leader more than tactical marketing, but the art of navigating internal meetings, public relations, and community events.

When it came time to look for more growth with another company, a friend recommended a local bank that was expanding. I took a chance and happily joined the team at the end of 1998 with a lot to learn. My mentor there had led teams at a few other banks previously and shared her expertise constantly. My path to where I am today wasn’t straight, but it was paved by leaders willing to share. That’s an important lesson.

Within two years, that mentor retired, and I took a leap of faith that I could be the next marketing director. The bank took a chance on me and invested in me as I grew as a leader. They sent me on to the ABA School of Bank Marketing & Management and countless other conferences and seminars to learn new methods and software to fine-tune my craft. Through the years, I built my team up to three in the marketing department, and the bank grew to $500 Million in assets and 14 locations. Yet, it was again time to move on to the next challenge.

I received a call from an old colleague, a lender who I didn’t always have a chance to talk with much. He told me about the opening at Forward and encouraged me to apply. That gentleman has risen to the role of president and is the leader I now report to. A great lesson that every interaction with people is important — you don’t know when and what is noticed.

The past 12 years have been a blur, much like when you are speeding down a highway. I’ve seen the same level of investment in me as a team member and more in all of us as leaders. We all challenge each other to innovate, to remove the traditional roadblocks, and push back at the naysayer mindset sometimes found in financial services. We understand that banking isn’t a transaction, it’s now an experience.

Forward is now approaching $1 billion in assets with 12 locations, seven insurance offices, and three investment offices. When I look around, there are many accidental bankers like me with the list growing each year.

As the current Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow (BOLT) Board chair and thinking of the time spent working with and learning from the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA), we are all lucky to have this resource. From serving on the Marketing Committee, then as its chair to being part of BOLT and now proud to be this year’s chair, I wonder what will be next. Where else can I continue to learn and lead through that process?

One final lesson that has stayed with me for over 20 years. My 90-year-old grandfather swung a golf club for the first time as I was practicing in the yard after his birthday party. Knowing he would never play a course, I asked him why even learn to swing the club. He told me, “you never stop learning until you leave this earth.” Best lesson ever.

I may not have chosen initially to be a banker, but the path I’ve taken has been created by the lessons of leaders around me. Good luck on your journey.

Interested in attending the next BOLT Summit?

Sobotta is vice president – marketing director at Forward Bank in Marshfield


Join WBA and your fellow emerging leader banker peers from across Wisconsin for our annual BOLT Winter Leadership Summit! The summit will kick off on Wednesday, November 9 at 9:00 a.m. and adjourn at 3:00 p.m.

Interested in some extra networking time? Make plans to arrive on Tuesday, November 8 and join the optional pre-summit networking event!

Interested in developing your leadership skills? Looking to build and grow in your career in banking? Then BOLT is for you!

Click Register to visit the event website for the full summit details and to register online!

Confirmed Sessions Include:

  • Great Leaders Are Great Communicators – Denise Thomas, The Effective Communication Coach
  • A look at the future of banking and what every current and future bank leader should know
  • Peer group discussions to learn from your peers and make new connections
  • Leading with Emotional Intelligence – Emily Smit, The Perk

What is BOLT? BOLT stands for Building Our Leaders of Tomorrow and represents the emerging leaders section of membership within WBA. Membership in the BOLT Section is complimentary for all WBA members. Each member bank is encouraged to identify their emerging leaders and have them participate in BOLT as a part of their career development within the bank.

Who typically attends a BOLT Summit? The BOLT Summits bring together a wide variety of bankers in various roles and experience levels from all across Wisconsin. From entry-level roles to c-level staff, BOLT brings together 100+ Wisconsin community bankers in an energized environment focused on educating our current and future bank leaders, building networks and lifelong connections, and advocating for community banking.

Registration Information

Bank Member Registration: The registration fee of $150/attendee includes networking meals and breaks, general sessions, and access the summit mobile app.

Associate Member Registration: Associate Members are encouraged to send their emerging leaders as well! The same registration fee is available to WBA Associate Members. Interested in upgrading your presence? Register to be a summit sponsor to receive additional benefits and summit recognition!