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Banking is a business for and about people

Banking Today

Over the past two decades, I’ve worked in a bank, written about banks and gone to school with bankers in various fellowship programs. As many banking institutions have aimed to transform themselves into more comprehensive financial services providers throughout this time, I’ve seen some of the negative effects transition can have on organizational leadership and management styles.

But beyond that, I’ve also seen the positive attributes that the industry has to offer.

Through my work, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and/or interview a host of talented and dedicated people who are committed to making their financial services companies and their communities the best that they can be. Many of the most impressive bank CEOs I’ve met are also among the most approachable and down-to-earth individuals who relate well to all types of people. These executives are well aware of the fact that the banking business is a business. But they also know that it’s a business for and about people.

In an industry that can be brutally competitive behind polite veneers, it’s reassuring to know that good people can make it to the upper management ranks in financial services — and stay there — while earning the respect of those around them.

Over the years, Mississippi banking institutions have been especially fortunate to have many of these types of leaders. I was recently reminded of this when I noticed that Hancock Bank’s George Schloegel was selected as one of four 2004 inductees in the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame, established in 1989 by Junior Achievement of Mississippi Inc.

A Gulfport native, Schloegel serves as Hancock’s president and CEO and has been recognized throughout his career as an advocate for many causes in the region, particularly economic growth and educational opportunity. He was instrumental in the development of programs such as Leadership Mississippi and Leadership Gulf Coast and remains a mentor for hundreds of banking students as a faculty leader at various banking schools.

Schloegel also helped to secure worldwide television coverage and international attention for the Mississippi Gulf Coast as chairman of the Miss USA Pageant, which was hosted for a number of years in Biloxi. His community involvement has been and continues to be extensive.

A fond memory

It was at the Miss USA Pageant that I first met Schloegel when I was one of eight journalism students from the University of Mississippi selected to work on the Coast at the 1980 pageant.

Most of us were sophomores or juniors at Ole Miss with writing experience at the campus newspaper or PR department. Nonetheless, we were charged with writing press releases and feature stories about the contestants and the various activities surrounding the pageant and pitching them to various national media outlets.

Given his busy work schedule, Schloegel could have easily ignored us or dismissed the work that we were doing. But he didn’t.

He was positive and encouraging and he made us feel like we were contributing something important to Mississippi’s tourism efforts. Even though we were college students with limited work experience, we all noticed that he treated everyone he encountered with respect and dignity.

As I graduated from college and began working in banking and financial writing, I came to appreciate — and continue to appreciate — the increasingly competitive nature of the business and some of the realities executives face in their efforts to deliver financial results. As the industry continues to change, it’s reassuring to know that some leadership attributes such as respect and courtesy toward others and dedication to one’s community haven’t gone out of style. Bankers like George Schloegel are a reminder of that.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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