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The First gets new CEO

HATTIESBURG — M. Ray “Hoppy” Cole will be named CEO of The First, A National Banking Association and The First Bancshares. He took over as CEO Sept. 14.

Cole is a founding director of the First National Bank of the Pine Belt (the predecessor bank of the current Laurel branch) and a director of The First Bancshares Inc. Cole joined the bank as president of the Picayune location in 2002, was named president of the banking system in 2006 and relocated his office to Hattiesburg in 2007.

Cole graduated from the University of Mississippi where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration. He began his career with The First National Bank of Commerce in New Orleans, where he held the position of corporate banking officer. He joined Sunburst Bank in Laurel serving as senior lender, and later as president of the Laurel office.

Cole, who attended the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at the University of Delaware, has also served as secretary/treasurer of a privately-held corporation.

Davis E. Johnson will continue as chairman of the board, carrying out newly-expanded responsibilities of that office.

Commenting on the transition, Johnson said, “Market conditions and growth within our bank have brought about the necessity of separating the critical duties of the CEO and chairman of the board to ensure protection for our shareholders. The First has grown from a Hattiesburg-Laurel bank to a $475-million institution with 10 locations in eight South Mississippi cities. Separating the duties of chairman and CEO is good corporate governance.

“Hoppy has done an outstanding job as president, and I look forward to his leadership as CEO.”

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