How did First Liberty Bank start?
In 2005, I left Stillwater National Bank with the dream of founding First Liberty Bank. I brought on three other founders – Barry Switzer, Hunter Miller, and Toby Keith. I surrounded myself with an incredible and visionary leadership team of Sandy Bracken (CFO), Tammie Garrison (Treasury Services) and Tammy Boatman (Credit Administration). These original team members are still leaders of the bank.
Describe the journey from start up bank to where you are now.
We opened the doors on October 2, 2006 with 6 employees and all working out of the service bay at the back of the former Jackie Cooper BMW dealership at 9601 N. May. During that first year, we moved from the service bay to a construction trailer and hired a few more employees.
Meanwhile, we were refurbishing the showroom at the front of the old Cooper BMW to become the lobby of our main bank. We were trying to open new accounts and talk to clients on the phone with the construction crew cutting concrete and tearing down walls in the background. It was loud! Some of our customers like to say they banked with us when we were in a trailer.
We seeded the bank with $12 Million in capital and grew to nearly $100 Million in assets before opening our full-service lobby. Today, 11 years after opening, we are nearing $400 Million in assets and have 70+ employees.
Why the name First Liberty?
I grew up in Liberty, Texas. My family founded and still owns a significant portion of the First Liberty National Bank based in my home town. The bank was founded in 1913 by my great uncle, Bert Riviere. Uncle Bert built the house my mom and then I grew up in. The bank was a big part of my life and the history of my family, so it was natural to name the bank I founded First Liberty Bank.
In addition to that history, all the founders of First Liberty Bank love this country and the freedoms we enjoy here. We are very aware that without those freedoms, we could never have started the bank in the first place; so “Liberty” was a perfect name for that reason as well.
What’s planned for the bank in 2018?
We intend to continue our fairly rapid growth plan, mainly by focusing on our core business of providing financial services to Oklahoma businesses and individuals. I’m pleased to announce the pending opening our second full service branch in Norman, OK. The branch will be located in Tecumseh Crossing at 24th and Tecumseh. We have a lot of ties in Norman, particularly with our founders, and are looking forward to serving this market in a more direct way. Staying true to our tradition, we are opening in a trailer! We intend to break ground on our permanent facility very soon.
What are the highlights and challenges of running a community bank?
The most rewarding part of being a community banker is getting to know your clients. There are some amazing people in OKC and hearing their individual and business stories is a lot of fun. Community banks play a critical role by supporting businesses and individuals that make up their communities. Entrepreneurial businesses are often unique and are difficult for large banks to serve as a result. Community bankers take the time to really get to know their clients and become an integral part of their success. For this reason, community banks are a critical part of the financial system in the United States because so many people are employed by small businesses.
The biggest challenge for community banks is the regulatory burdens that have been placed on the financial industry. A lot of the regulation is a “one size fits all” model. Thus, smaller banks don’t have the economies of scale to deal with the resulting costs, which become a much greater percentage of their income.
What changes will the banking industry see over the next 5 years?
The biggest change we are currently facing is in the method of determining capital adequacy. It is an attempt to bolster the strength of the banking system as a result of the financial crisis of 2008. I also believe we will see continued consolidation as banks merge and smaller banks are acquired.
On a positive note, the current administration appears intent on eliminating some of the burdensome regulations and in particular, is looking to find ways to make regulations that are geared towards bank size and complexity.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
When I started First Liberty Bank, there was not much of a balance. As with all start-ups, the hours were grueling, and I feel a little guilty about the limited family time because my kids were young (10, 8, and 1). In the last couple of years, I have been able to balance a little more, spend more time with my family, and enjoy my time away from the bank.
Who had an impact on you as a leader?
I have been very fortunate to work with and to get to know some truly exceptional people during my life and career. Three that I will mention are Rick Green, Barry Switzer, and Bob Funk.
Rick was my boss at Stillwater National Bank and took a chance on me as a new resident of OKC when I moved here in 1992. Rick was the kind of leader that could really articulate a vision and make you want to be a part of it. Barry Switzer, co-founder of the bank, long-time client, and good friend, has tremendous charisma and absolutely lights up any room he enters. Bob Funk has built one of the largest personnel agencies in the world headquartered here in OKC, is an advisor and confidante, and has also been kind enough to take his time to serve as a First Liberty Bank board member for the past 8 years.
One common trait that all these men have is seemingly unending generosity. They are kind to their friends, their staff, and to strangers. They have all taught me that the best way to lead is to put the needs of others ahead of your own.
Describe the culture of First Liberty
Though the term is overused, I believe we have a family atmosphere at First Liberty Bank. We care about each other and try hard to be understanding of people and the lives that they have outside of work.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
My leadership style is a work in progress and something I spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to improve. I am a bit of a self-help junkie and try to read as much as possible on leadership and business management.
Probably the most positive thing I have done in the past several years Is hiring a business coach – Sherry Dale with the Mettise Group. Sherry is someone I have known for many years and always had great respect for. She has owned and operated many successful businesses in her own right and she has helped me refine my leadership style. My goal is to become a leader who is understanding and fair, while holding people accountable for their performance and results so that the organization is unified and working towards a set of common goals. I will seek to improve until my last day in the office and am grateful for Sherry’s help in that regard.
When you aren’t working, what are you likely to be doing?
I have a lot of outside interests that keep me pretty busy away from the office. I never miss a sporting event that my 12-year-old son Mitchell is participating in. I love to read and always have at least two books going, generally a novel and a business book of some kind. I play the piano and usually play at least a little every day which I find to be a great stress reliever. My favorite past time is golf. I moved out to Gaillardia a couple of years ago and have my own golf cart. If I get home before dark, I usually get over to the golf course and practice a little or play a few holes.
Tell us about your family
When I was in school at the University of Texas, my sister Suzy told me she had met the perfect girl for me. I told her that she did not know what kind of girls I liked and to leave me alone. My sister then helped me get an interview at a bank in Dallas. I got the job and moved to Dallas. Suzy didn’t give up and set me up with that girl (Polly) on Halloween night in 1987. Well, Suzy knew more about me than I gave her credit for as Polly and I were married in 1990. Polly grew up in OKC, and so we were moving back to her hometown when we relocated here in 1992. Polly owned and operated a furniture store for 12 years until she closed it to become a stay home mom. After 12 years at home, Polly got her real estate license and has become a very successful realtor with Keller Williams.
I have 3 red-headed boys, Maxwell (22), Mason (20) and Mitchell (12). Max is my movie guy – we love to go to movies together. He is a senior at OU, has worked as an intern at American Fidelity for the last year, and was offered a full-time job there when he graduates. YES! Mason is my football guy and Longhorn fan. Even though he is a sophomore at OU, he comes home every weekend and we watch the Longhorn games religiously. Mason is a sports buff and can tell you the scores and critical plays of practically every Longhorn game since he became interested. Mitchell keeps me young – he is in 6th grade at Deer Creek and is a talented athlete, particularly in baseball, a sport I loved as a child. He is my remaining hope for golf as the other two boys never warmed to it. Neither has Mitch for that matter, but he is only 12, so there is still hope!
What do you love about your work?
I love to make sales calls and try to help people grow and improve their businesses. As a banker, I get to hear inspiring stories about people’s businesses. Other than their family, there is typically nothing more important to an owner than their business. I usually just say something like “Wow, you’ve built an amazing business here – can you tell me about it?” After that, I just shut up and take notes for a couple of hours. As someone who started his own business, I can often relate to the problems facing small business owners. Along with the capital and financial services that First Liberty can provide, hopefully this has been beneficial to many of the bank’s clients.
What are you reading now?
As I stated above, I am always reading at least two books. Right now, I have 3 going. One is called Radical Candor by Kim Scott, recommended to me by my business coach, Sherry Dale. The other is The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. Both are really about organizational health, a topic that I have been thinking about a great deal the past couple of years.
I have loved reading fiction since I was a very young and believe it has paid dividends for me throughout my life. I am reading “Artemis” right now by Andy Weir. It’s a science fiction novel set on the moon and is the guy behind “The Martian” that was made into the popular movie of the same name starring Matt Damon.
The Mettise Group (mettise.com) is a management consulting firm dedicated to helping high-growth entrepreneurial companies gain clarity and capacity around planning, execution, building high performance teams and financial resource management.