Updated: 5 p.m. | Posted 9:19 a.m.
The above audio is a conversation about Bill Cooper with former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson and former Star Tribune reporter Dane Smith, hosted by MPR's Tom Weber.
Bill Cooper, the ex-CEO of TCF Bank and former head of the Minnesota Republican Party, died Tuesday night.
Cooper, 73, was known for his blunt speaking style. He was involved in Republican Party politics for years and was chair of the state Republican Party in the 1990s.
He first became CEO of TCF in 1985. He reorganized the company and later moved its headquarters out of downtown Minneapolis to Wayzata. He backed Arne Carlson's run for governor in 1990.
"Bill leaves a remarkable legacy on TCF and the communities we serve," current TCF chief executive Craig Dahl said in a statement. "From the time he became our CEO in 1985 when TCF was a struggling savings & loan to leading us to be the strong, independent and growing company it is today, Bill transformed our company more than once and mentored many great leaders
In later years, Cooper became an advocate for school choice and charter schools.
In 2005, he stepped down as CEO of TCF Bank, but remained as board chair. In 2008, he came back to the CEO position and served until 2015 when he retired.
Cooper grew up in Detroit. His father died when he was young and his mother worked as a clerk for the New York Central Railroad, according to his TCF biography, which also noted he graduated from Wayne State University in 1967 and worked as a Detroit police officer to help pay for his education.
"We are saddened at the loss of Bill Cooper and offer our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to his family," current state GOP Chair Keith Downey in a statement.
Highlighting his work in the GOP, in banking and in charter schools, Downey called Cooper "an example of pursuing public service for the good of our state."
In a 2011 interview with MPR, Cooper described the banking business as a game. And he wanted to win.
"Money is how you keep score," he said. "And I enjoy the competition the same way a lot of people enjoy tennis or golf."
Cooper began his banking career at Michigan National Bank and joined the failing TCF in 1985.
Banking consultant Bert Ely says Cooper was innovative and smart.
"Bill, I think, gets a lot of credit for having turned around TCF during the S&L crisis," Ely said. "He saved the bank and can be deemed a to have been a very successful banker."
Ely said Cooper built TCF into a major regional bank, refining a business model based on innovations such as so-called free checking, supermarket branches and Saturday hours, along with a heavy reliance on overdraft and maintenance fees.
Cooper would often say his target customers were the Joe Lunchbuckets of the world.
But one banking analyst once suggested the typical TCF customer paid so many fees, depositors wound up paying the bank, instead of the other way round.
Ely said Cooper was unapologetic about the business model.
"It would be very expensive for those depositors who overdrew their accounts. But he was very up front about the fees," Ely said. "I don't think there was any hiding of them. There was a certain segment of the population, bank customers that were willing to do that deal with them."
With relentless direct mail campaigns, account-opening bonuses such as coolers and clock radios, and sassy TV sales pitches, Cooper helped TCF work its way into the minds and wallets of Twin Cities consumers.
Cooper's formula was simple: bring in deposits, don't pay much for that money, make simple loans and avoid risky ways of making money. "This isn't rocket scientist stuff," he once said.
But federal regulators have just accused TCF of hiding fees on Cooper's watch.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued TCF last month, accusing the bank of tricking consumers into signing up for costly overdraft services for debit card and ATM transactions.
The watchdog agency said the fee revenue was so lucrative that Cooper had even named his boat "Overdraft."
The bank denies wrongdoing and promises a vigorous fight.
Dahl, the current TCF chief, said Cooper was very principled and didn't back down.
"He had reasons behind the things that he fought for and was not afraid to be unpopular because of it," Dahl said. "And I think that's that is true leadership."
Cooper could be counted on to readily speak out on issues confronting his bank or industry, even when that put him at odds with regulators.
And he certainly wasn't shy about his political beliefs.
He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes.
As party chair, he helped the GOP raise a record $5.3 million for the 1998 elections and also led Republicans to win a majority in the Minnesota House for the first time since 1984.
In a 1999 interview with MPR, Cooper looked back on his days as party leader.
"I think the the biggest accomplishment was basically building a coalition of the social conservatives with the economic conservatives in Minnesota," he said. "If you can bring them together, that's a majority of Minnesotans."
Former Gov. Arne Carlson said Cooper was a black-white kind of thinker, and while people might question Cooper's views and actions, his integrity was unquestionable.
"I would be stunned to hear anything untoward about Bill Cooper. I think he was deadly honest, deadly committed," Carlson said. "And I just don't see him compromising his own sense of integrity."
Carlson said Cooper wanted to help impoverished children improve their lives through education, as Cooper had himself.
A strong supporter of charter schools, Carlson sponsored schools and helped them raise money.
St. Croix Preparatory Academy director Jon Gutierrez said Cooper was instrumental in founding that Stillwater charter school in 2004. "He wanted to provide an opportunity for students to pursue a rigorous education and an opportunity for students to pursue their dreams," Guttierez said.
A memorial service for Cooper will be held in a few weeks.