Rodney Cockerham was the right man in the right place at the right time to lead the startup of a local bank in Laurel. The Bank of Jones County was founded by 44 incorporators and received a state charter in a record 40 days. In its first 26 weeks, the new bank grew by $1 million a week and sold $7 million of stock in 10 days. That was a decade ago, and today the bank has assets of $163 million.
“I would think that was an impossibility in a small community like this,” Cockerham said. “There was a pent up demand for a local bank. All the banks in the county had been acquired by regional banks. They don’t always know the community and we felt there was a void for a community bank.”
‘Time was right’
A Jones County native, he had many years’ experience working for banks of different types and sizes and stepped out on faith, resigning his job with Trustmark Bank, to take the helm of the new bank.
“For years I had a burning desire to start a local bank and the time was right to do it,” he recalls.
The 59-year-old banker is a graduate of Jones County Junior College, the University of Southern Mississippi and the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University. Before he entered the banking field, he worked for Sanderson Farms and in construction sales.
“The key is the relationship with customers and maintaining that relationship; knowing them and what products suit their needs,” he said. “In today’s fast pace, businesses don’t always take the time to do that. Incentive programs might not fuel that type of thinking.”
The son of a disabled WWII veteran and a school teacher, Cockerham began working at age 10. He says it was out of necessity but he didn’t know he had it hard. He learned valuable work lessons from St. Elmo Howard, a Laurel service station owner.
“He had an eighth-grade education but taught me more about customer service than anyone I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “I worked there in high school and junior college. Other major influences were Bob Gaddis, the president of Trustmark in Laurel, and Winston Shows, the president of Laurel Savings and Loan.”
Cockerham is driven by the desire to give superior service, products and meeting the needs of the community. “I’m old school. I know I’ve got to get up and go to work,” he said. “We have great employees who are a big help. I don’t get up dreading to come to work. I love my employees and they’re devoted to the bank.”
Mac Deaver, president of the Mississippi Bankers Association, says having the right people in place is a key factor in the bank’s success.
“Maintaining strong relationships and identity in the community are two challenges to a start-up bank,” he said. “Rodney’s leadership and his experience as a longtime banker in Laurel and Jones County helped him accomplish these things in relatively short order. Continued hard work has created a real community bank success story.”
Cockerham credits the bank’s success with a simpler formula. “We’re the only local bank in the community. We have a local board and make all decisions locally. There are no foreign investors,” he said. “There’s nothing exotic about it. It’s pretty much home cooking with peas and cornbread.”
He does not discount the area’s strong economy and consistent low unemployment numbers, either. Jones County has a large oil-related industry along with the timber industry, Sanderson Farms and Howard Industry. These sectors are vital and provide many job
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.