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Cumbest: community involvement, open-door management

Pascagoula — Royce Cumbest, the president and CEO of Merchants & Marine Bank, considers himself a hometown guy for a hometown bank. A lifelong resident of the county, he grew up in northeastern Jackson County, between the communities of Wade and Three Rivers to be exact. The only time he’s spent away was to attend Millsaps College and the University of Southern Mississippi.

He sort of stumbled into banking after interviewing with Twin Cities Savings & Loan as a class assignment. “One of the questions I was asked was how I would market a new branch,” he recalls. “The guy liked my answers and called back. They were opening a branch in Escatawpa and offered me a job.”

Cumbest says at that time his concept of marketing was going door-to-door on his dad’s political campaigns. His dad, Lum Cumbest, served as a Jackson County supervisor from 1957 until 1982.

Cumbest took on the banking job much the same way he had worked in his dad’s political campaigns, by getting out and meeting people face to face and giving them information. “The people in Escatawpa were wonderful and glad to have a financial institution there,” he said. “We had success there and it grew rapidly.”

That was in the early 1970s, and the young Cumbest hosted community events at the savings and loan facility, a marketing tool that had not been started by financial institutions in the area at that time. “We hosted events like fall festivals in our large parking lot,” he recalls. “Also, we were in the same building with the post office and got to see a lot of folks that way. They would come in and drink coffee with me.”

Downplaying his role in the branch’s success, he says he was young and didn’t know any better and tried innovative ideas. Twin Cities was bought out and Cumbest moved on to First National Bank as a vice president in 1974. It too was a new branch — on U.S. 90 in Pascagoula — and he again had a young crew.

“We had boat and car shows in the parking lot, letting the dealers have sales, and we did on-the-spot financing,” he said. “You have to do something extra when you’re new and want to make yourself known. Those kinds of things were not done here at that time. We even took the doors off and drove cars and boats into the bank lobby for a week to draw attention to upcoming sales.”

At First National Bank he worked with Rex Foster, who was on his first job out of school, and the late Jolly McCarty, who worked with him for a number of years. Thinking outside the box followed Cumbest when he made a lateral move in commercial lending to Merchants & Marine Bank, founded in 1932 by a group of local investors.

“Getting to know people and being involved in the community are important to me,” he says. “If you can make your bank a community institution in addition to the business you conduct, people seem to appreciate that.”

McCarty, who shared Cumbest’s philosophy of community involvement and supporting any kind of economic development, moved to the M&M Bank too. Cumbest said they made a good team and enjoyed working together.

In 1985, Cumbest became the bank’s sixth president and CEO. The 54-year-old says he’s seen a lot of management styles and he values that folks who’re in charge have a high regard and respect for employees.

“We earn respect by the way we treat others. I’ve never liked the pyramid style of management where people at the top don’t have much contact with employees,” he said. “I have an open-door policy. My office is right on the lobby, and I’m accessible if someone has a question.”

Also, he says he does not micromanage the bank’s employees. He believes in hiring good people and giving them the tools they need to do their jobs. “That’s why we’ve been successful,” he adds.

Cumbest serves on the board of the Mississippi Bankers’ Bank that was organized three years ago as a co-op to provide services to small, community banks. He is heavily involved with community activities that include Rotary Club, Caswell Springs United Methodist Church and the Ascendo Christian Home for boys. He says he plays golf for relaxation but isn’t sure it’s always a relaxing activity.

He and his wife, Janey, are the parents of a daughter, Jamey Wachsman, and a son, Gray Cumbest, and have two granddaughters.

When the M&M Bank opened its doors in 1932, it had four employees, two offices and $25,000 in assets. Today, it has 140 employees, 11 branch offices and $329 million in assets. They were the first bank in Jackson County to offer ATM services and now have 20 ATMs in Jackson and George counties. With 949 shareholders, the bank is still locally owned. They recently broke ground for a new 40,000-square-foot building, choosing to remain in the downtown area. The new facility and the green space that will be open to the public will be a major part of the downtown revitalization.

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


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