Dear John: A Celebration of Community Banking’s Unspoken Servant Heroes

Industry Insights by Bryan Kendrick, Kendrick Services

Greatness comes in different forms. Last November, I wrote an article in Bankers Digest titled “A Moment with T.C. Frost.” In it, I noted the recent passing of Tom C. Frost Jr., former president and CEO of Frost Bank. I recalled a moment I had with him in an elevator during a San Antonio Spurs game a few months before he passed away. The article reminded us all of how well known and influential Frost was to banking and his community—his life a true form of greatness.

About a month or so after the article was published, I attended the retirement party for another banker. In order to protect his privacy, we’ll just call him John. For every T.C. Frost in banking, there are multiple Johns. I’m sure you know at least one and maybe several. John, and those like him, started with the bank in his youth and remained there for 20, 30 or 40 years until retirement. Leaving the bank would be like leaving his home. Never! He grew up in the bank and the bank grew up with John.

Outside the bank, John was just another guy or gal in the community: rancher, deacon, school board member, councilman, mayor. But inside the bank, his identity was as rich as the bank’s itself. Those in the know admired and respected him for his loyalty, leadership and fairness. And in time, John became the bank’s leader.

John positioned the bank during the good times and had it more than ready when tough times rolled around—fragile margins and capital threatening many. His commitment to the community bank was unmatched. The big boys certainly loved what he had done with the bank and often knocked at his door with checkbook in hand and offers to leave community banking behind in favor of a megabank. But community banking and community bankers were his love. How do you sell that out? John wouldn’t. John didn’t.

You won’t see John’s name as part of the bank he helped build. His name is mostly unseen and unknown, hidden behind more common names like First Texas Bank, First State Bank, Citizens National Bank and so on. His achievements in banking might only be recorded in a retirement announcement on page 3 of the local newspaper’s business section.

Maybe. The history books will overlook him and his stealth accomplishments. Yet one of the most intriguing characteristics about him is that he is fine with all that. It was never the spotlight nor fame that drove John. It was the people in the bank whom he loved, always defended and always served.

Many, many years ago, a group of 12 men were arguing over greatness. They knew they were part of something special. Something that would only grow stronger in influence and strength. Something that would survive the test of time. And they were right!

But, as humans are so prone to do, each of these men were curious to find out who among them would be the greatest, have the bigger name, be most remembered. Then shock and awe settled in when their question was answered: “If anyone wants to be first [great], he must be the last of all and the servant of all.” Sound like any John you know?

In my 43 years of banking, I have been so blessed to know some very dear Johns. How about you? Have you encountered these men and women serving in banks? If so, please take a moment and join me for a toast: “Here’s to John, Dear John. Here’s to your loyalty, leadership, friendship and steadfastness. Here’s to your humility and your practice of putting others first—your service. Here’s to your greatness!”

Hear, hear!

Published in Bankers Digest April 1, 2019