Ronnie Smith loves duck hunting, snow skiing, water sports and playing golf “on the good days.”
“I’d like for the golfer in me to hit it straight occasionally, but he doesn’t show up very often,” said Smith, the new AmSouth president for Mississippi, with a laugh. “No really, I have many hobbies, but I don’t do any of them very well because of time constraints.”
Except for the occasional self-deprecating joke, Smith, 44, is all-serious about returning to his home state. A Natchez native, Smith met his wife, Candy Madden, at Mississippi College, where he earned degrees in accounting and economics. He didn’t plan on a banking career, but mentor Paul Klutz, a member of the Deposit Guaranty National Bank (DGB) board of directors, changed his mind.
“My dad owned an auto repair shop in Natchez, and although I was involved in taking deposits to the bank and the banking side of his business, I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “When I started college, I met Paul Klutz. He was a great business mentor for me, taking me under his wing and introducing me to people within the DGB world. That was over 23 years ago.”
Smith began his banking career in the management-training program at DGB and later graduated from The Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University. From 1981 to 1985, he worked for DGB in Jackson and Natchez, as a vice president commercial lender, professional and executive lender and credit analyst. In 1990, he relocated to Shreveport, La., when DGB bought the “very troubled” Commercial National Bank and held the positions of senior vice president, corporate division manager; department manager, Ark-La-Tex Lending; and team leader of the metropolitan department.
“That was a huge challenge,” he said. “As the economy turned and things got much better there, the challenge was how to grow that bank.”
Another challenge occurred during the transition period between First American Bank’s acquisition of DGB and AmSouth buying First American.
“We’re now part of one of the top 20 largest banks in the nation with substantial financial strength,” said Smith. “It’s great to have those kinds of resources in our market.”
In 1999, Smith was promoted to area executive of North Louisiana and supervised business and consumer banking operations in the area, where he became involved as a board member of the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, Caddo Parish Public Foundation/Alliance for Education, Shreveport Committee of 100, Greater Economic Foundation, Northwest Louisiana United Way, Sci-Port Discovery Center and the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission. He was also active in the Downtown Rotary Club.
In May, AmSouth named Smith the area executive in Mississippi. He will continue to oversee business and consumer banking operations in North Louisiana.
“What a great opportunity to come back where I started,” said Smith. “That doesn’t happen very often. For people within our company, they can see that there is opportunity for those who embrace the process.”
Smith’s focus on family, education and economic development will remain a high priority.
“I sincerely believe that education helps stabilize and drive economies, whether people are coming in from the outside looking for a great education system or companies are expanding locally and need to hire qualified workers or companies are relocating from the outside asking about educational opportunities for their companies,” said Smith, the father of children ages four and 15. “Education is at the heart of economic development.”
Smith will build on the progress made by his predecessor, Brett Couch, to keep AmSouth involved in supporting economic development projects, including the work of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce’s economic development arm.
“We’ll work through those agencies with hired professionals who are so good at their jobs,” he said. “Any time resources are needed from the bank from a recruiting standpoint, to sit down and visit with people about the banking or economic environment of this area, we’re going to be there. We enjoy the upswings of the economy here. If there’s a downturn, we face the disadvantages. From my perspective, we need to be very involved. But to lead our own charge, we won’t do that.”
Smith’s primary focus in the Mississippi market will be “making AmSouth the bank of choice for our customers, employees and shareholders,” he said.
“It starts obviously with our customer base,” he said. “We have to create the kind of environment for people to continue to make that choice. Closely behind that is having an environment that people want to make this the bank of choice for their employment. People still bank with people, and we have to have the right people in the right chairs to ultimately make us the bank of choice. That comes from using common courtesies, getting back to the basics of understanding the needs of people and building relationships. We have a quote in the bank where our goal is ‘to understand needs, meet needs and build relationships.’ That’s more than just a cliché. That’s what we do every day and is how we’re going to become the bank of choice in this market.”
Smith gets a kick out of seeing people excel at their jobs. “I want to be supportive of the people I work with and position them in the best capacity to succeed,” he said.
On a personal note, he continues to strive for that all important, sometimes elusive, life balance. “If I could balance work life, family life and spiritual life, not necessarily in that order, and meet the challenge of making sure I keep enough narrow focus going on in each area of life so that I don’t get out of balance, that’s my goal.”
Indulging his avocation for golf, Smith makes a beeline every fall to the Southern Farm Bureau Classic at Annandale Golf Club, a PGA tournament once sponsored by DGB.
“AmSouth is still a major sponsor, and Southern Farm Bureau is doing a great job as title sponsor,” he said. “I went this year, and was impressed with everything.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.