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Thanks to the WorldCom debacle, Mississippi has garnered a great deal of national media attention in recent months. Unfortunately, it’s the type of attention that our state could live without.

But beginning next month, the spotlight will shine positively on Mississippi as BancorpSouth chairman and CEO Aubrey Patterson takes on the presidency of the American Bankers Association.

While the ABA has had many impressive bank CEOs as leaders, our state should be proud to have yet another Mississippian in this prominent national role. Indeed, this reflects positively on the quality of banking talent that we have in our state. Patterson’s intelligent and articulate manner underscores this fact, while representing the best of what Mississippi is.

His leadership in building Tupelo-based BancorpSouth into a $10 billion-asset, multi-state banking company is certainly a testimony to his skill as a banker and a businessman. But the manner in which he has done it speaks volumes about his character and integrity, as well as his respect for the communities in which the bank does business.

As someone who has written for financial services magazines during the past 16 years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Patterson and other banking CEOs on a number of occasions.

While there are always areas of improvement for any company, this perspective has given me a greater appreciation of Mississippi’s banking talent. It has also given me a greater appreciation of the prudent manner that guides Mississippi’s banking institutions. I haven’t necessarily agreed with all of BancorpSouth’s corporate strategies over the years — or any other bank’s for that matter — I can’t argue with BancorpSouth’s track record.

When it was fashionable for many regional banks to follow the merger and acquisition “pack-mentality” of the 1990s, BancorpSouth embraced growth on its own terms when opportunities were reasonable.

As economic conditions tightened over the years, some regional banks foundered because of their overly-aggressive growth strategies. But BancorpSouth has continued to post respectable financials, even while integrating a major merger that added three states to its geographic footprint. Those who study the bank credit Patterson’s disciplined, yet opportunistic style.

As a journalist, I’ve always appreciated Patterson’s incredible knowledge of industry issues; his accessibility despite his hectic schedule; and his ability to bring diverse people together toward a common goal. I know these talents will serve him well throughout the next year in his role as ABA president.

At a time when many Americans are skeptical of anyone or anything corporate, Aubrey Patterson will represent the industry — and Mississippi — with dignity.

Karen Kahler Holliday is a freelance journalist in North Mississippi. Her column on banking and finance appears frequently in the Mississippi Business Journalist. Send comments or questions to mbj@msbusiness.com.

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