Peter Stenehjem, ’07 2020 UND Young Alumni Achievement Award Recipient

As a fourth-generation member of a banking family, you would think that it was natural for Peter Stenehjem, ’07, to study business at the University of North Dakota. But the Watford City, North Dakota native and 2020 Young Alumni Award recipient spent his freshman year debating whether to pursue a future in medicine or finance.

Despite the facts that his great-grandfather founded First International Bank & Trust (FIB&T) and he’d worked for the bank since he was 15, Stenehjem says his family tree also has a lot of medical professionals. His decision to stick with banking was influenced when he returned to work for the bank the summer after his freshman year.

“I started going on customer calls with my dad and other lenders and I started appreciating seeing businesses expand or construct a new building. I just thought that was an amazing way to help clients. And I loved that kind of customer interaction.”

Stenehjem greatly enjoyed his time in Grand Forks; he jokes that his mother says he got an “A” in Social Life. One of his fondest memories involves body hair removal.

It all started when he and friend Dave Wedin, ’08, mentioned on a local radio program that they should wax their chest hair, ala the famous scene in the just released movie “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Stenehjem says they were only joking when they suggested they’d follow through in order to raise donations for Hurricane Katrina relief.

Soon, the duo was receiving national attention for their fundraising idea, appearing on cable news programs. Before they knew it, they and several of their friends were getting waxed in the tailgating area before a 2005 UND football game. The group raised $20,000 for hurricane victims.

Stenehjem was on the radio because he was a member of the Sioux Crew, the student athletic booster organization. He says he got a lot of real-world experience as a Sioux Crew leader when he had to help keep the books, solicit local businesses for donations and advertising, and work as part of a group.

The Student Managed Investment Fund was also a training ground for Stenehjem’s career. The Fund allows students to work with donor-provided money to make real investments.

“I loved my experience with the Student Managed Investment Fund,” said Stenehjem. “You either celebrated successes or dealt with your failures. You received firsthand knowledge of how the markets work.”

Upon graduating in 2007, Stenehjem went into the family business. He is currently the president of First International Bank & Trust, a community bank with assets of around $4 billion and about 700 employees in 28 locations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Arizona.

In addition to his current role, Peter is a director of Watford City Bancshares, Inc., and is a member of the FIB&T Board of Directors and the Strategic Planning Committee. Peter is involved in several entrepreneurial ventures, including Alati Energy, Stenehjem Holdings, Stonehome Brew Pub, and Stonehome Brewing Company, Outlaws Bar & Grill, and JL Beers. He is also managing partner of Stenehjem Development.

A leading member of the North Dakota business community, Peter is on the FMWF Chamber Board of Directors, the Sanford Health Medical Board of Directors (Fargo Region), and the Dakota Medical Foundation Governance Committee. He is also part of a Fueling our Future, a long-term initiative focused on large-scale economic and community solutions for the Fargo region, serving on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Formerly Peter co-chaired the UND Game Day Experience Committee and served on the Sanford Health Foundation committee. He was named to Prairie Business Magazine’s 40 Under 40 in 2016, and Independent Community Bankers of America’s 40 Under 40 in 2020.

Stenehjem says he’s proud of the company’s roots in his hometown of Watford City and happy to be working with his family in support of community banking. He says the number of community banks in the U.S. has shrunk from a high of 20,000 to around 5,000.

“I refuse to let us become one of those statistics. The bank we are today is not the bank that we’re going to be tomorrow. As a tightly held company, we can be nimble and we can also have a long-term focus because we are not necessarily worried about the next year or two. We are focused on what’s going to happen in year three, five, or year 10.”

As an example of how nimble FIB&T can be, the bank handled 2,000 federal Paycheck Protection Program loans as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. About one in every four North Dakota PPP loans went through FIB&T with the state receiving high marks for how quickly it helped employers secure funding.

When he first moved to Fargo several years ago, Stenehjem says he was a “joiner.” Getting involved in Chamber of Commerce events, economic development organizations, and charitable work helped him get to know his new community. Now he, his wife Stacey and daughter Evelyn are firmly established in Fargo.

Growing up, Stenehjem saw his parents actively supporting any number of causes in Watford City and beyond. That commitment to serving others is something that stuck with Stenehjem through his time at UND and in his current beliefs about philanthropy.

“If you want to be a strong community bank, you have to be active within that community.”

By Milo Smith, UND Alumni Magazine Writer