For Cressman Bronson, perseverance has become somewhat of a personal mantra. He learned of its importance as a student-athlete and incorporated it into his career trajectory after earning an accounting degree in 1989, and a marketing degree in 1993, both from the University of Toledo.
Bronson, who now is regional president for the Florida East market for PNC Bank in West Palm Beach, Fla., also is a former UT Rocket. A walk-on athlete for baseball and track, Bronson says, “Athletics teaches you hard work, perseverance, resiliency, and a sense of pride.” Those lessons helped him work his way through college and have remained with him throughout his life. “I’m very proud of my education and the degrees I earned at the University of Toledo.”
One of his most memorable experiences at UT happened on the school’s running track. “That’s where I met my wife, Nicole. She was a baton twirler for the marching band, and they would be practicing on the field when I would be running sprints.” The two began dating, then married and now have three children. Cressman and the former Nicole Woodruff have been together for 27 years.
Perseverance became a strong influence in Bronson’s life when he discovered how tough it is to break into the industry of professional sports and had to pursue another career avenue. His dreams of playing professional baseball were not unlike so many other young men with a good pitching arm or a vision of hitting a home run with the bases loaded. After college, Bronson played baseball with a semi-professional team in Orlando, Fla., but the competition to break into the professional leagues was formidable. He left baseball behind and began working in his father-in-law’s construction business in Akron, Ohio. As he gained more experience in entrepreneurial pursuits within the construction industry, Bronson wanted to leverage his accounting and marketing degrees and break out on his own merits to get into the banking industry.
He took a chance on calling a top executive at Key Bank, Yank Heisler, who had gone to high school with Bronson’s mother-in-law. He says he asked to speak with Heisler, and then was asked if Heisler was expecting his call. He answered, “no,” but that his mother-in-law, Connie Hart, said to say hello to him. Heisler’s assistant then put Bronson’s call through. “I asked him, ‘How do you get into the banking business?’” Heisler advised getting more sales experience, which Bronson then acquired through some work in investments and sales work with Metlife.
That experience and his degrees in accounting and marketing solidified his determination to become a banker. In college, he says, “Accounting was my focus. I liked the balance that it gave me. I liked its structure and symmetry,” says Bronson. He also was fond of the former UT professor of psychology, Ace Lane. “Lane would bring real-life perspectives to his teaching and speak to students in layman’s terms.” For Bronson, it provided a non-business aspect to his learning. “That resonated with me,” he says. “It was about knowing that the psychology of human behavior was going to be critical no matter what you did in life.”
As he continued building his corporate banking portfolio, Bronson was mindful of the value- added proposition, he says. His own business values “came from an entrepreneurial spirit, and a high regard for small business ownership. I wanted to be a source of information and guidance,” says Bronson. Between his wife’s family and his own, five different businesses had been built, from manufacturing to printing, a business his grandfather ran for 35 years, to construction and insurance. Being able to help other businesses succeed and grow through sound financial management was the goal.
In 1995, perseverance paid off. Bronson joined Key Bank’s corporate banking program in Cleveland and worked there until 1999. He then moved to National City in Akron, Ohio. In 2007, Bronson moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., with National City, where he became regional manager. In 2009, PNC Bank acquired National City. At that time, Bronson was advising companies across the state that had revenues in the range of $10- $50-million. He also was establishing a Commercial Bank group in four different markets that included Tampa, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. “You embrace change when you know you’re going to be better off,” says Bronson, who welcomed the acquisition.
In 2014, Bronson succeeded Craig Grant as regional president for the Florida East market. In that role, he continues his work in commercial banking, overseeing the areas of wealth management, and corporate and retail banking. Bronson ensures teamwork among his staff members in all business units to meet the needs of local employees, customers and communities as well as PNC’s shareholders.
Bronson serves on the boards of the United Way of the Palm Beaches, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, and is a member of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County and the Association for Corporate Growth. He also heads some of PNC’s philanthropy, chairing the bank’s Florida East foundation, which focuses its charitable giving on early childhood education and community development through the arts. “It’s our responsibility to support these causes, and there’s a joy in being part of your community,” Bronson says.
PNC supports early childhood education through its Grow Up Great initiative and partners with Step Up for Students, a tax-deductible donation program that is funding the education of 329 low-income students in either a public or private school of their choice. PNC staff members can form teams and participate in a challenge grant program, in which they can build up 100 Grow Up Great service hours to earn a $3,000 grant to donate to the educational initiative.
“We also support the Arts Alive! West Palm Beach organization and STEAM programs that teach kids science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Through the arts, we engage those who are under-invited to events such as plays, concerts and exhibitions,” says Bronson, offering opportunities to people who typically are not exposed to the arts.
As a leader in the community, Bronson can now pass on the lessons of perseverance, hard work and resiliency to his own children and those he meets through PNC’s philanthropic endeavors.