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James Klein has served as the president of Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust (CRBT) since January 2019, and has held numerous leadership positions throughout his career.
But that is not why he has been voted the Corridor’s Most Influential leader for the second consecutive year.
If you ask those who know Mr. Klein, they will tell you that his intentional, people-focused approach to community impact is what makes all the difference.
“If you know James, you see that he is really intentional about being there for people and being engaged, no matter who it is," said Kristin Roberts, executive director of United Way of East Central Iowa. “James firmly believes in the community in which he grew up in and lives in. And he understands the idea that if our community is to be successful, it needs to be successful for everyone.”
Mr. Klein serves on the United Way’s board of trustees, one of the many boards he serves on concurrently. The lifelong Cedar Rapidian is also a board member for Theatre Cedar Rapids, Kids First Iowa, the Catherine McAuley Center and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. He also chairs the Downtown Cedar Rapids Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) Commission, and is a trustee for Big Brothers Big Sisters and Junior Achievement.
“Cedar Rapids has done so much for me. It just feels so natural to give my time to these organizations,” Mr. Klein said. “I give a lot of time when I serve on boards, but it's not comparable to how much I've received back. I've met such wonderful people, I've learned how people think about different strategies. I've been given so much in return for serving on these boards.”
Mr. Klein joined CRBT in 2004, working his way up the ladder and serving as the bank’s executive vice president and chief lending officer before being named president in 2019.
He credits CRBT’s founder and CEO, Larry Helling, with inspiring his philanthropic endeavors.
“I've worked for Larry Helling for nearly 20 years,” Mr. Klein said. “He modeled and participated in the community, and really showed me how much of an impact you could have and led me to get as involved as I am today.”
Mr. Klein said CRBT’s company culture lends itself to encouraging community involvement by all employees.
The intersectionality of Mr. Klein’s career expertise and his commitment to community impact is seen in his involvement with Junior Achievement of Eastern Iowa (JA), the local branch of a national organization that focuses on financial literacy and career readiness for young people.
“One of the great accomplishments of my career has been volunteering with JA and going into the classroom,” Mr. Klein said, referring to a local JA program that partners with local schools to teach about financial literacy in the classroom. “I was able to teach all three of my children from first grade to fifth grade. I’m so thankful I got to experience that.”
Mr. Klein also steps outside of his comfort zone, when it comes to his board experiences.
He has been serving on the Theatre Cedar Rapids board of directors since 2018, despite not having experienced live theatre until well into adulthood.
“It was like an additional part of my brain was ignited,” he said, describing his first exposure to the "art form" in 2006. “I just fell in love with the creativity and the passion that these performers have at TCR.”
Some time later, Mr. Klein was asked to join the board of directors and decided to be “all in” on the experience. He has served as the board’s president in the past and is now co-chair to a capital campaign for the nonprofit theater company.
“James Klein is one of my favorite people,” said Katie Hallam, executive director of Theatre Cedar Rapids. “I think the coolest thing about James as a leader is his authenticity and that he shows up to everything with his whole heart.”
The concept of giving 100% to every endeavor is palpable for those who know Mr. Klein, no matter how many boards he serves on.
“James is a person of deep integrity and builds a lot of trust,” said Clint Twedt-Ball, executive director at Matthew 25. “When he says he's going to do something, you always know that he's going to follow through, which means a lot when he has your back.”
Mr. Klein has served on Matthew 25’s board of advisors since 2020.
“Right now, it's probably as intense as it's ever been,” he said, regarding his schedule of commitments. “I truly think it's an honor to be able to help the community grow and prosper. When you want to make an impact, and you want to help change things, you find the time.”
Mr. Klein credits his family as his main support system. He and his wife, Barb, met at the age of 5 years old in Cedar Rapids and still live in town. They have three adult children.
“I hope our children have seen me," he said, "and I hope it inspires them to get involved in their community someday, to make a difference.”