President and CEO, First Bank of Georgia, Augusta
What’s the summary story about how you became a career banker?
My mom was a teller with C&S for 25 years and her dad was with C&S for 45 years, so I guess banking was in my blood. I graduated with a BBA-Finance from UGA and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into banking or not. When I graduated, the economy was in pretty bad shape, the prime rate was 16.5 percent, but banks were hiring and I joined the Georgia Railroad Bank in Augusta. I loved it right away!
What are some lessons you learned early on that you still use today?
I learned the “finite” stuff about looking at financial statements, looking at credits, etc. But the really interesting lesson was the “soft” stuff – the experience of the borrowers, the experience of the lender in particular types of loan and perhaps the biggest lesson was that often the hardest part was getting the loan, not making it. That the best loans were the ones that everyone wanted to make, but you had to work to get the customer to want to bank with you. You do that by building relationships with your customers and looking out for them. It happens throughout a good bank and starts with the tellers. It seems that often the strongest bonds are between the tellers and their customers. I saw that with my mom and have continued to see that throughout my career.
The most misunderstood thing about banking or bankers is…
I think that people think of bankers primarily as numbers people, which they are to some extent. However, most bankers, from tellers to bank presidents, are servers. They get their job satisfaction from getting to know their customers and helping them with banking and financial needs. They always have their customer’s best interest at heart. We have lots of regulations, and that’s good, but most bankers are trying their hardest to do what’s best for their customers, to make things easier, safer, and more convenient.
Sometimes, it seems like it has become a sport, at the national level, to beat up on bankers. The reality is that I don’t know of another industry that is more devoted and conscientious to serve and support their industry and their communities. Any local civic club, Chamber of Commerce, charity, church, PTA, etc. is sure to have many local bankers involved meeting the needs of their community. They serve on boards, they help raise money, they are involved. I think this is a reflection of who they are and what they enjoy, rather than being a job requirement.
How does involvement in GBA help you and your bank?
Our involvement helps in numerous ways.
It’s a great source of education for us, both from the classroom and from having a network of other bankers who are willing to share their advice and experience with you. All levels of our bank have connections with other bankers that they’ve made through the GBA that they can call and get help or advice from.
I think the GBA also does a tremendous job of keeping us informed of important banking issues and the legislative process. Regulatory changes and mandates are coming at an ever increasing pace and GBA is a valuable resource in keeping up with much of that. They are also a strong resource for educating legislators on the merits or detriments of legislation that is being considered. Often, well intentioned legislation is written that has many unintended consequences that should be considered and the GBA helps provide a common voice of information and reason in that process.
When you are not at work, what do you like to do most?
I’m a big family man, so my main enjoyment is spending time with Laura, my wife of 30 years, and our two grown boys. I’m one of five children, so we have a big extended family. Also, we both grew up in Augusta, so we’ve got lot of friends and activities. I also enjoy reading,golf, hunting and anything outdoors.