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Peoples Holding Co. broadening its financial services scope

Tupelo — When E. Robinson McGraw became president and CEO of The Peoples Holding Co. in 2000, many wondered whether the Tupelo-based banking company would change very much.

Fast forward to 2004, and nobody seems to be wondering anymore. With assets of $1.6 billion, PHC operates 48 banking, insurance and financial services offices in 29 cities in Mississippi and Tennessee. Earlier this year, the bank completed its merger of Renasant Bancshares, a $226-million bank located in Germantown and announced plans to acquire Heritage Financial Holding Co., parent of the $540-million Heritage Bank with offices in Decatur, Huntsville and Birmingham, Ala. The company has broadened its financial services scope via insurance and wealth management activities and has worked to improve earnings per share growth, credit quality and fee income in recent years.

But as PHC has refined its organizational strategies — and as The Peoples Bank & Trust Co. celebrates its 100-year anniversary this year — one thing that hasn’t changed, according to McGraw is the company’s emphasis on serving its customers and local communities. “We don’t want to lose sight of how we got to where we are today,” McGraw said during a recent interview at PHC headquarters.

A key element in maintaining a community banking focus is the quality of an organization’s employees. While its common for most executives to claim that, McGraw has taken the initiative to match skills sets with responsibilities. Early on as CEO, McGraw reorganized some positions at the senior- and executive-management levels in an effort to “put people where their strengths lie.”

“We’ve really emphasized the importance of structuring positions around peoples’ talents versus plugging someone into an organizational chart,” McGraw noted. Strategic hires were made in areas that needed them and training has been strengthened throughout all levels of the organization.

Additionally, the bank has a chief relationship officer, H.L. Robinson, who is part of the senior management team and manages client and employee relations. McGraw believes that when employees understand their performance expectations in relation to group/organizational goals and are given the resources and training to accomplish those goals, they will strive to meet those standards. Said McGraw, “If your people are your priority, then your customers, clients and shareholders will be your priority.”

In recent years, many banks have focused on the development of “sales cultures,” which at times have turned out to be nothing more than short-term cross selling or product-hawking exercises. However, McGraw has emphasized a broader service orientation that aims to match bank services to customer/client needs.

“We did not want a transaction orientation where we were simply tallying the number of products sold during a specified period of time,” McGraw said. “We’re not just trying to sell something; we want to give our people the resources and training to identify needs and find solutions to those needs.”

While the company has been busy on the merger front recently, McGraw stressed that they evaluate merger potential very carefully. Growth for the sake of growth is not the priority. McGraw stated that both Renasant and Heritage bring vibrant economic markets that management understands. McGraw said that they also bring a community-bank orientation that fits within their organizational culture and management team.

Renasant brings offices in Germantown and Cordova, Tenn. — familiar territory for the Tupelo-based company given its DeSoto County presence. Management finds it noteworthy that with the Renasant merger, more than 45% of PHC deposits are in markets with an annual deposit growth rate of 8% or greater. Heritage, which operates eight banking offices in Decatur, Huntsville and Birmingham, allows Peoples to gain a foothold in markets that management deems economically attractive.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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