Leadership Team

The President, Executive Vice Presidents and Senior Vice Presidents each certify to the Board of Directors of First National Bank Alaska that in discharging their duties they adhere to and advocate the principles and responsibilities governing professional and ethical conduct (75 KB PDF).

Photo of Betsy Lawer

Betsy Lawer

Board Chair and CEO/President

Lawer shapes the bank’s vision, strategies and goals today and moving forward. As a third-generation Alaskan banker, Lawer grew up with many of Alaska’s business and community leaders. She learned the banking business literally at her father’s knee, earned her economics degree from Duke University, and returned in 1974 to work her way up to the leadership position she holds today. Lawer previously served on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Board of Directors and their Audit Committee. She has served on the Smithsonian National Board since 2008.

Photo of Darren Franz

Darren Franz

Senior Executive Officer and Chief Credit Officer

Franz brings 27 years of banking experience to his role as Chief Credit Officer. During his career, Franz has successfully overseen the management of retail and business banking in 16 different Alaska communities with broad geographic, economic and cultural diversity. Franz uses his proven expertise to lead lending managers in Anchorage and supports lending functions across the Great Land. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics and is a graduate of the renowned Pacific Coast Banking School. Franz is a board member for the University of Alaska Foundation Finance and Audit Committee and the Great Alaska Boy Scout Council.

Photo of Cheri Gillian

Cheri Gillian

Senior Executive Officer, Chief Administrative Officer and Board Secretary

Gillian oversees the bank’s Human Resources and Corporate Communications division. An Alaskan for 40-plus years, Gillian has spent most of those years marketing and promoting Alaska products and services, including more than two decades at First National managing broad internal and external communications initiatives that have helped lead to a strong corporate culture and well-respected brand. Her deep understanding of Alaskans is invaluable in helping the bank hire the right people and develop products to meet their customers’ unique needs.

Photo of Ryan Strong

Ryan Strong

Senior Executive Officer and Chief Banking Officer

Ryan Strong’s steady progression to the First National leadership team began more than two decades ago when he joined the bank as a Management Associate. Since then, he has served as manager in branches across the state, as a commercial loan officer and director of Mortgage Lending. Strong leverages more than 20 years of hands-on operations experience and detailed knowledge of Alaska’s economy in his role as head of the Retail Banking & Cash Management Division. His responsibilities include oversight of the operations of Anchorage branches, commercial cash management, Mortgage Lending, Loan Servicing and Escrow. Strong is Co-Chair of the bank’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, responsible for the creation and implementation of First National’s response to the pandemic crisis. He is an active member and past president of the Alaska Bankers Association. 

Photo of Cindi Buzitis

Cindi Buzitis

Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer

Buzitis’ years of experience in nearly every area of banking at First National give her the breadth and depth of knowledge vital to successful leadership. In addition to serving on the executive management team, she is also the Bank Secrecy Act Officer and oversees the Bank Support & Compliance division. Buzitis joined First National as a Mini Proof Clerk in 1977. She spent subsequent years on multiple projects like installing the bank’s first ATMs, and played an instrumental role in the 1997 conversion to a new software and hardware mainframe.

Photo of Phil Griffin

Phil Griffin

Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer

Griffin began his banking career in the early 1980s after graduating from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He arrived in Alaska after holding Chief Information Officer positions in California and Nevada. Griffin plays a key role in business continuity planning and is responsible for the bank’s information technology strategic planning, implementation and security, core and item processing systems, network services, software solutions and support, e-Payment services, card processing systems, ATMs and online banking.

Photo of Michele Schuh

Michele Schuh

Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

A third-generation banker and second-generation First National banker, Schuh brings more than 35 years of finance and leadership experience to her role as Chief Financial Officer. She directs the bank’s Property and Finance departments, encompassing a wide variety of functions including treasury and securities portfolio management, shareholder relations, facilities, financial reporting and tax. Schuh is a graduate of the University of Washington and the Pacific Coast Banking School.

Photo of Denise Brown Robinson

Denise Brown Robinson

Senior Vice President and Corporate Communications & Customer Experience Director

Brown Robinson brings more than 20 years of marketing and communications experience to her role as Corporate Communications & Customer Experience Director. A lifelong Alaskan, Brown Robinson oversees the bank’s Business Development & Customer Experience and Marketing sections. Her expertise has helped First National earn national recognition for its “We Believe in Alaska,” rebranding and promotional campaigns. She has also played an integral role in the bank’s Branch Re-Engineering and Digital Adoption initiatives.

Photo of Rick Flake

Rick Flake

Senior Vice President and Corporate Services Director

A graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, Flake grew up in Montana and has lived and worked in Alaska for more than 35 years. He began his career as a teller and, over the course of 30 years in local banking, gained the wealth of financial expertise he now uses to oversee Special Credits, Central Loan Processing, Credit Administration and Collateral Valuation at First National. Flake’s success stems from a genuine desire to help customers succeed and his ability to find humor in most any situation.

Photo of Karl Heinz

Karl Heinz

Senior Vice President and Branch Administration Director

Heinz is proud to be the main character in a home-grown Alaska success story. He grew up in the Last Frontier, and his deep understanding of Alaska, how it works and the people who live here help make him a valued member of First National’s senior management team. Heinz joined the bank in 2003. Today, the graduate of the respected Pacific Coast Banking School oversees all phases of the lending and deposit process in branch communities outside Anchorage.

Photo of Dustin Hofeling

Dustin Hofeling

Senior Vice President and IT Systems and Support Director

Hofeling joined the bank in 2011. In charge of the bank’s core processing systems and technical support, Hofeling has played an integral role in the development of the bank’s online banking solutions. As a child, he received his weekly allowance and sorted out the dollar bills by serial number and Federal Reserve district. Hofeling has also collected coins his entire life. While interested in all things financial, his attention turned to information technology. He has earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a Master in Business Administration degree, combining the best of both worlds.

Photo of Pamela Keeler

Pamela Keeler

Senior Vice President and Compliance Senior Legal Counsel

For Keeler, banking is in the family. Inspired by her father who worked at banks in New York and California, Keeler began her First National story in 2001 as a Trust Officer. After the birth of her daughter, she took a break to focus on her family, as well as explore opportunities with Alaska Native Corporations, gaining experience in risk management. Keeler returned to First National in 2018, where she uses her wealth of legal knowledge to ensure the bank complies with banking laws, regulations and rules. Her legal expertise is rooted in a diverse education, with a number of degrees in political science, public service, education and law from prestigious schools University of California, Davis; Western Washington University and University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law.

Photo of Elaine Kroll

Elaine Kroll

Senior Vice President, Treasury Management and Anchorage Branch Administration Director

In her more than 24 years as an Alaska banking expert, Kroll has excelled in a variety of positions in marketing, human resources, training, branch management and business relationship management. A graduate of State University of New York at Fredonia and the prestigious Pacific Coast Banking School, she has also earned the designation of Certified Treasury Professional. Kroll leverages her decades of experience to ensure First National customers receive exceptional service as Treasury Management and Anchorage Branch Administration Director.

Photo of Steven Patin

Steven Patin

Senior Vice President and Human Resources Director

With over two decades as a US Army officer and more than 10 years of executive experience in both the public and private sector, Patin knows the value of a strong team. As Human Resources Director, Patin leverages his experience to provide strategic human resources leadership and to direct talent management, compensation and benefits, employee relations and policies at the bank. His steadfast commitment to 650-plus employees exemplifies why First National has been voted the Best Place to Work in Alaska by Alaska Business magazine readers five years in a row (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020). Patin earned a Bachelor of Science from West Point concentrating in Behavioral Science and Systems Engineering before earning a master’s degree in Human Resources Management and another in Administration and Supervision.

Photo of Chad Steadman

Chad Steadman

Senior Vice President and Corporate Lending Director

Raised on the Kenai Peninsula working at canneries and hatcheries, Steadman has a deep understanding of Alaskans’ specific financial needs. In his role at First National, Steadman utilizes his expertise in commercial underwriting and lending to coach First National’s skilled corporate lending bankers. Armed with a bachelor’s in finance from Utah State University, a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage and an education from the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University, Steadman uses his banking knowledge to enrich the community, working shoulder-to-shoulder with local businesses and teaching construction finance management courses at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Photo of Craig Thorn

Craig Thorn

Senior Vice President and Regional Branch Manager

Since 1984, Thorn has played an integral role in meeting the banking needs of Alaskans in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the fastest-growing community in the state. A lifelong Alaskan born and raised in Seward, Thorn provides Valley customers solutions-based expertise to help make their financial dreams come true. Based at the Wasilla Branch, he oversees branch and lending operations and relationship building there as well as at the bank’s branches in Eagle River and Palmer.