BY: MIKE CARROLL | Co-Founder and Former CEO, Heritage Trust Company
Mike Carroll was co-founder of Heritage Trust Company and served as its CEO from 1998-2019. Mike passed away on May 5, 2020, shortly after writing this article.
“No one deserves more credit for Heritage’s success than Mike Carroll. He will be missed by Heritage’s clients, staff and professional partners.” – Bond Payne
I retired as Heritage Trust Company’s CEO earlier this year after a very happy and fulfilling 22 years, going back to my co-founding of the company in 1998. As I reflect back over my career, I’ve noticed that my fondest memories and proudest accomplishments all seem to have a common thread — they’re built on the strength of relationships.
I have a background as a numbers guy. In college, I began my career balancing the books for a downtown Oklahoma City bank in the evening, after classes let out. But the part of my job that always appealed to me most was its personal side. On many occasions, I feel that I’ve had the opportunity to make a true difference in the lives of my clients, many of which are multigenerational families.
I always liked working to help resolve the tough interpersonal problems that caused friction and hard feelings among family members, leading to disagreements over investments and family business decisions. One of my coworkers once remarked that I could get away with asking my clients questions nobody else could. The reason for that was the strength of the relationships I had spent time building with those people. They trusted that I didn’t have an agenda and was there to help. I opened some doors that needed to be opened so those families could resolve their issues and move forward. One of my clients called me a peacemaker, which I take as a great compliment.
We opened Heritage Trust Company’s first office in 1998 with a staff of just a few people. It was a lot of hard work, especially in those early days — a lot of Saturdays spent at the office. But the strength of our relationships sustained us. We were a great group — people like our co-founder Bond Payne, Senior Vice President Don Balaban, Senior Vice President and Trust Officer Ron Bowles and, of course, our director of operations, Cathy McKinzie. I still talk to some of them almost daily.
Cathy, for my money, is the best operations person in the country. If we had an issue that needed resolution, I knew I could call Cathy and she’d take care of it. It’s nice to work with people whom you feel that strongly about. I’d do anything for this lady, and I believe she feels the same way. We are family.
By opening Heritage, we created 35 good-paying, white-collar jobs at a place where people wanted to work. That’s really something to be proud of, changing the lives of 35 people, and those people’s families. Over time, as you get older, you realize how those jobs made a difference in the overall success of our community.
A few months after my retirement, it became even more apparent to me how much our work affected others’ lives when I had to be hospitalized. While I was recuperating, I got so many nice cards and letters from my clients, some of them very heartfelt and personal, expressing their gratitude: “I don’t know what I would have done without you.” “My family is together today because of you.” They mentioned conversations we’d had that impacted their lives. They mentioned the interpersonal relationships that became stronger as a result of our work together.
Do you know what they didn’t mention at all? Numbers.
Of course numbers matter — we’re a trust company, after all. And over Heritage’s history, we’ve grown in size and improved our investment products and capabilities significantly. Today, we’re able to invest quickly, and in cost- and tax-efficient ways that didn’t even exist when I began my career 40 years ago. But, speaking as a numbers guy, I feel that as long as the fundamentals of good investment management are in place, the numbers tend to take care of themselves.
In the end, it’s not about numbers — it’s about people. If you build a relationship with clients and they know you care, then the work itself becomes simple, and there’s not a better job out there.
To be really successful as a company, you have to have your heart in it. We had our hearts in it from day one, and I know the people at Heritage carrying on our work today do as well.