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Blake Hogan: Talk to me about the idea of a signature bank. Part of your role is climate control and creating a culture not only internally but externally that would attract people to something like this.
Ron Samuels: It really centered on redefining how people experience a bank. It was almost a back to the future approach -- if you go back into the 50s and 60s, you would see that you have service station attendants out serving cars. In the late 60s/early 70s, banks were high service models, as well. As things changed, we queued up people in teller lines and it became less of a place that would remember your name and more like a number - and efficiency mattered. We sort of looked at it and said, “Look, we can redefine how people experience a bank.” We want to capture the creative spirit of Nashville, and that means getting the right person in the right job. So a fundamental for us was to hire people that want to serve. And that means having a service mentality about them - it’s not something you have to train. So when we defined our difference, it would be a concierge approach to banking. People would say, “What’s a concierge approach?” I’d say, “I’m not sure right now, but we’ll get there. And you will be a part of defining what concierge bankers do.”
Blake: Tell me a little bit about how your leadership style and a collaborative effort has helped to create this.
Ron: My style has always been to hire the smartest people I can find. They have made me look pretty good over the years, but the thing about it is you have to be authentic. Being authentic can mean a lot of different things, but one is trusting people to do their job. If you look at this simply, it’s hire the right person, get them in the right job, get them doing the right thing, and check in. And mainly, get out of their way, let it happen. But you have to have a culture that embraces that, and that culture is really the first step in creating a brand. Banks have notoriously been known as having a herd type mentality - everybody picks up on what the others are doing. Here, we were embracing a more innovative spirit, a more creative spirit. We were soliciting ideas. In fact, one of the things we encourage is that there’s no need to complain here, because you can be the solution. If you don't like what’s going on, come up with a better idea. We have a smart room here and we said “”Look, get a few people, go in the smart room and come up with a good solution.” Who knows, you may just change the course of this business with a great idea.
Blake: Talk to me a little bit about the why. Other than the Starbucks and one Splenda when you get up in the morning, what’s your motivation?
Ron: Nashville’s a great place to raise a family. Nashville and the community deserve to have local banks of size that can be a part of the community. And the difference is you’re making decisions here locally, but more importantly, we’re re-investing in this community. I sometimes get frustrated hearing people say, “Yeah, we’re trying to get here to Nashville because this is a great community to take some business from.” For them, it’s about taking, not giving. For us, I get up because this is a great place to give back. It’s a place where you see dreams coming true.
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