Twenty Years in the People Business

by Mike Carroll, CEO

It’s hard to believe that I’ve now spent two decades as CEO of Heritage Trust Company. As I reflect upon the reasons for our continued success over the past 20 years, I remember a phrase that the political strategist James Carville used during his time as campaign manager for the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992. Everyone assumed George Bush, Sr. would win a second term because of the recent Iraq war. “It’s about the economy, stupid” was James’ response. 

When I mentor current Heritage employees about our business, I like to use my own version of Carville’s phrase: “It’s about the people, stupid.” We are in the people business. We’re on the same side of the table as our clients and are true partners. We have their best interests at heart, because our interests are aligned. As fiduciaries, we’re legally bound to always act in the best interests of our clients, and I think our dedication to that responsibility has distinguished Heritage Trust Company from our competitors from the very start. More than that, it’s our reason for existing.

Back in the summer of 1997, I was senior vice president at Liberty Bank in Oklahoma City, responsible for trust administration in the Oklahoma City market. I had been there since 1982 and had previously, from 1974 until then, been with the old 1st National of OKC. Liberty Bank was purchased by one of the big national banks in 1997, and it was soon evident to us that our way of doing business was about to change. The focus was becoming more about selling products than taking care of people. I and many of our longtime employees were concerned about the changes and that they were not in our clients’ best interest.

Among our customers at the bank was the William T. (Bill) Payne family. I had a strong relationship with Nancy Payne Ellis, the family matriarch, and felt comfortable discussing the situation with her in a straightforward way. She was concerned, supportive and wanted to be part of the solution. Although we did not start with the independent trust company idea, it became increasingly plausible the more we explored our options. We next found banking partners in Ken Ferguson and the late Randy Royse of NBC Bank, and with their guidance and support were able to open Heritage Trust Company’s first office in December 1997 with a staff of just six people. Nancy’s son, Bond Payne and I worked together early in the process, long before we had “an office.” Bond later became Chairman of the Board. Nancy was our initial chairman, but also took on an active role in promoting our company to potential clients.

We were fueled by the belief that many of our existing clients had the same concerns that we did about “the big bank way” of doing things. As time went on,
we became increasingly confident that our instincts were correct. Because of the strength of our existing relationships, we were able to hit the ground running,
with many former bank clients moving over to Heritage. Much credit is due to the hard work and reputation of the initial six employees. It would have not been
possible without them. We had between $200 million and $300 million in assets within three years, which I credit to our reputation in the community and for
taking care of our customers.

Although we achieved profitability rather quickly, I take the most pride in the fact that we did what my banker friends said we couldn’t do. We created
35 good jobs that pay well and over the past two decades have been a positive force in our community and our state. Many of my relationships today are in
their third generation, and I enjoy being able to tell stories to the new generation about their family. I’m a CPA — I understand the numbers, but the numbers
are a pure commodity. If you think you can succeed on the numbers only, think again. In every relationship, you need to be bringing value.

People in our business sometimes make it too complicated. Ultimately, clients just want to know that somebody cares about them and is in their corner.
That’s what we’ve always done at Heritage Trust Company, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.