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Apr 25, 2011

Six Big D banks have top officers from northeast Louisiana

Norm Bagwell, chief executive of Bank of Texas, recently brought an odd fact to my attention: Six banks in Dallas, including his, are run by people who grew up within 30 miles of one another in northeast Louisiana.

In addition to Bagwell, John Dienes at Park Cities Bank, Joe Goyne at Pegasus Bank, Van Pardue at Community Trust Bank-Texas, Chad Smith at JPMorgan Chase Bank-Dallas and Kay St. John at Branch Banking and Trust Co.-Texas hail from Monroe or neighboring hamlets.

That’s an extraordinary showing for an area with fewer than 150,000 people.

It’s not as if these executives from Little M hang out together in Big D. And none of them realized that so many Dallas banks were headed by people from Monroe until Bagwell brought it to their attention.

Bagwell decided to count the Monroe bankers in Dallas after Smith was promoted to chief executive of Chase’s Dallas regional commercial banking operations two months ago.

All six will tell you that Monroe and Dallas share an entrepreneurial spirit, work ethic, friendliness, competitive nature and the convenience of Interstate 20.

And many Monroyans think of themselves as auxiliary Texans.

“People in northern Louisiana identify more with Dallas than they do the cities in southern Louisiana,” says St. John, who took over her role as BB&T Texas regional president in 2009. “When I was growing up, people in Monroe rooted for the Dallas Cowboys vs. the New Orleans Saints.”

St. John and Bagwell’s sister were college roommates and bridesmaids at each other’s weddings. Bagwell has known Dienes since the former was a kid. In the 1980s, Bagwell was thinking about returning to Monroe and interviewed with Pardue for a job back home.

So what besides I-20 encouraged the Monroe-Dallas connection?

Decades ago, when interstate branch banking was prohibited, executives from Dallas’ big three national banks — Mercantile, First and Republic — set up relationships with Monroe’s community banks. The idea was to increase lending limits so that northeastern Louisiana companies wouldn’t take their banking business to New York, Chicago and Boston.

The area is the birthplace of Delta Air Lines Inc. and home to communications giant CenturyLink Inc. and the first family to bottle Coca-Cola.

“The big banks banked the small banks, so there was a pipeline to Dallas,” says Bagwell, who went to work for Mercantile after graduating from Southern Methodist University in 1985.

Jim Gardner (who served on Century’s board for decades) and Gene Bishop, who were top officers at Mercantile, and Jim Aston of Republic were particularly popular with both local banks and the area’s customers.

Dienes was the first to move to Dallas, when he took a job at Republic in 1964.

“Ouachita National Bank and Central Bank were the two banks in Monroe,” says Dienes, now president and chief executive of Park Cities Bank. “When they had a young guy who wanted to get into banking, whoever was running those banks would call their contact over in Dallas and see if they might have a job.”

All this explains how people got here. But why did so many rise to Dallas’ banking elite?

Early on, it was timing. Dallas banks were booming and needed talent in a hurry, says Goyne, who joined Lakewood Bank & Trust in 1969.

“In those days of unit banks [no branches], there were 200-plus banks in Dallas,” says Goyne, president and chief executive of Pegasus Bank. “A kid out of college got lots of opportunities.”

Goyne moved up quickly and eventually became vice chairman of Comerica Bank-Texas. More recently, he founded, built and sold Lone Star Bank and used that money to start Pegasus.

And there’s a common answer that spans all age groups: Small-town principles work pretty darn well in big-city banking.

Here are the six bankers and their stories:

Norm Bagwell

Title: Chairman, chief executive, Bank of Texas

Age: 48

Hometown: Monroe, La.

College: B.B.A., Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business

When did you come to Dallas and why?

I came to SMU in 1981 with plans to get an accounting degree and go to law school. I decided to go to work vs. law school. My father yelled at me for several minutes for diverging from the long-established career plan. Finally, I was able to tell him I was going to work for Jim Gardner’s bank, the Mercantile.

His quote, “That will be just fine. Why didn’t you say so?”

Joe Goyne

Title: President and chief executive, Pegasus Bank

Age: 65

Hometown: Monroe

College: B.A. in economics, Hendrix College; postgraduate studies at Southern Methodist University and London School of Economics

When did you come to Dallas and why?

Most kids growing up in Monroe decide early that they will do one of two things: live the rest of their lives in Monroe or move to one of about three big cities — New Orleans, Atlanta or Dallas. I chose Dallas in 1969.

What about growing up in Monroe made you a better banker?

I worked summers and weekends for a man who owned an assortment of businesses, including a pawnshop. I learned firsthand that if you take abundant collateral (as pawnshops do), you are not taking a lot of risk.

Kay St. John

Title: BB&T Texas regional president

Age: 57

Hometown: Monroe

College: B.A., University of Louisiana-Monroe

When did you come to Dallas and why?

I worked for Hibernia National Bank in New Orleans for 29 years, calling on Texas companies that needed a Louisiana bank. In March 2005, Hibernia promoted and moved me to Dallas to be its North Texas chairman.

Moving to Dallas has been the best career move for me because of the business climate.

Chad Smith

Title: Chief executive, Chase Middle Market Banking-Dallas Region

Age: 39

Hometown: West Monroe, La.

College: B.B.A. finance, Texas Christian University

When did you come to Dallas and why?

I came to the Dallas area in 1990 to attend Texas Christian University.

Whether it was a summer trip to Six Flags or going to a Cowboys game, frequent trips to Dallas made a big impact on me. When it came down to deciding on a college to attend, I did so with the intent of staying in the area afterwards.

What about growing up in Monroe made you a better banker?

I grew up watching my mother and father deal with customers at a pharmacy they managed. They were always friendly, respectful and went out of their way to exceed the customer’s expectations.

Van Pardue

Title: President and chief executive, Community Trust Bank-Texas

Age: 61

Hometown: Monroe

College: B.B.A., University of Louisiana-Monroe

When did you come to Dallas and why?

I came to Dallas on April 15, 2010.

We bought a charter in the Dallas market in May 2008 shortly after I’d joined Community Trust Bank in the northeast Louisiana market. The CEO, the chairman and I were sitting around our conference room one day [last year] talking about how we needed to get this community bank culture of ours into the Dallas market. By the end of the conversation, they were pointing at me.

John Dienes

Title: President, chief executive, Park Cities Bank

Age: 69

Hometown: Mer Rouge, La.

College: B.S., Louisiana Tech University, M.B.A., Southern Methodist University

When did you come to Dallas and why?

Lee Vanderpool, the chairman of Ouachita National Bank, got me a job at Republic in 1964. I just got married and needed a job. My wife didn’t want to come to Dallas, so I said, “Look, let’s go over there for two years.” My plans were to return to Louisiana, become a lawyer and run for governor, but I stuck to banking.

What about growing up in Monroe made you a better banker?

Monroe is a small town compared to Dallas, but it’s big compared to Mer Rouge, which had a population of 713. You grow up with transparency and trust. Everybody knew you and knew what you’d done the night before. If you’d been to Monroe drinking and dancing, the preacher would preach directly to you Sunday morning. He wouldn’t use your name, but he’d by God stare at you.

By Cheryl Hall

cherylhall@dallasnews.com
Published 23 April 2011 10:49 PM in the Dallas Morning News