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Journalist turned banker finds similarities in the two professions

BAY ST. LOUIS — This banker does not fit the stereotype. You won’t find Jeannie Deen, vice president of The Peoples Bank of Biloxi, hunched over a ledger full of numbers. She’s a word person, a former journalist and English teacher who can sometimes be seen tooling around Old Town on her purple electric scooter.

“While I recognize the need for numbers in analyzing a loan, I have to admit that I rely heavily on instinct, character and a “gut” feeling,” she said. “Some large banks have gone to dealing strictly with formulas, credit scores and ratios in their credit decisions, both large and small. I’m glad that The Peoples Bank is still small enough to allow loan officers to use their own judgement, based on experience and knowledge of the customer.”

The road from Corinth, where she grew up and worked after school at the daily newspaper and “fell in love with learning and reporting,” to being a banker at the extreme southeastern tip of the state came straight down the length of Mississippi.

“I feel like I’m from the entire state of Mississippi,” she said.

Deen earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism and English at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, then lived in Jackson several years and worked at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in the public information office. She returned to Southern Miss for a master’s degree in English and served as a graduate teaching assistant in the English department. For four years she traveled the state visiting high schools and community colleges as a recruiter for the university.

“The academic life was fun and the university was good to me as a student and employee,” she said, “but I started feeling that I was almost spoiled by that protective environment and that I needed to learn more about the real world if I ever wanted to write about it.”

Striking out for the Coast…

So, in 1983, Deen made a bold move by taking a sales job with Gulf National Bank and moving to Bay St. Louis where she didn’t know anyone.

“I felt that working at a bank from eight to five would use a different part of my brain than writing and that at night I could work on my novel,” she said.

Quickly, she discovered that banking was more than just a vehicle to writing and she liked the way the people in her new hometown enveloped her with friendship.

“I haven’t written a word since,” she added. “The Peoples Bank bought Gulf National in 1988, and they took on the task of giving me an education in banking.”

The English major attended several banking schools, continuing to be what she says she’s always enjoyed being — a student. She embraced her new career and advanced to her present position as vice president and manager of the Bay St. Louis branch. Additionally, she is a member of the bank’s senior credit committee which considers larger loan requests and of the asset liability committee.

“I do a little of everything including answering the phone, picking up litter and serving food when necessary,” Deen said.

What she likes most about banking is definitely the people — customers and fellow employees. “I get to work with people who are pursuing their dreams,” she said. “Small business people are extremely brave and I admire them. A day’s work is never boring.”

Deen says she’s been pleasantly surprised at how much she enjoys her fellow bankers. She describes one of The Peoples Bank’s lenders, John McKellar, as an artist, writer and musician.

“I brag on him so much that he accuses me of next claiming he can do brain surgery!” she said.

Shared skills

Deen feels her background gave her the confidence to deal with people although she says she has been humbled many times by the mentors she’s had in the business world, customers and hands-on help from senior bank officers. When deliberating over whether or not to take some action, she considers herself fortunate to have been told by the bank’s president and CEO Chevis Swetman to always choose the course that will allow her to sleep well at night.

“Specifically, journalism has helped me in the gathering of information necessary to make a loan,” she said. “I have a reputation for grilling people and interviewing them as if I’m writing a book, not lending them money. The five Cs of credit are similar to the who, what, where, when and why of journalism.”

She considers herself successful because she enjoys her work and finds living in Hancock County exhilarating. She lies the mix of art, science and technology; local people who’ve lived there all their lives, people moving from New Orleans, Stennis Space Center personnel and tourists who visit and decide to buy a house and stay.

“The blend of people is wonderful. The county has diversity in its people, industry and topography,” Deen said. “There are big things coming to the county and I want to be a part in all that is happening.”

Deen serves on the board of directors for the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, the Hancock County Library System’s Foundation Board and most recently was involved with the creation of a Hancock County Unit of the Boys and Girls Club. The bank sponsors a band at every Second Saturday in Bay St. Louis, a street party with art and retail shops staying open late.

The journalist/English teacher turned banker sums it up well: “Banking is like journalism after all,” she said. “Journalists watch and report other peoples’ stories and bankers get to watch their customers make a difference in industry, the arts, retail and the housing of people. It feels good.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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