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An Interview with David Barksdale, President and CEO of Carolina Premier Bank
August 28, 2015
Q:  You recently took the helm of Carolina Premier. What has been the biggest surprise to you in your new role as a CEO? What has been the biggest surprise about Carolina Premier?
A:  Well, bankers are known not to surprise well. I like to think that my previous roles, especially working closely with NewBridge Bank CEO Pressley Ridgill, prepared me for the role. That said, I believe the biggest surprise in the new role was how quickly issues came at you. In the first few months, we put together a profit plan, a strategic plan, an operating plan, and investor presentations. The flow of “things to do” is pretty constant. My biggest surprise about Carolina Premier Bank is a pleasant one. Knowing that the bank dealt with the sudden departure of the founding CEO, I thought the professionals here might be a little beaten down. To the contrary—I found our professionals to be very passionate about serving our clients. This passion is something we can really build upon.
Q:  What is your leadership philosophy? Has it evolved since taking over Carolina Premier? If so, how?
A:  I’d like to think I have a “leadership philosophy.” I was a math major and spent as little time in philosophy as possible. I loosely define leadership as balancing the task with the people—being able to move the company forward toward its goals while engaging the people to want and share that same goal. Shortly after I arrived, we set forward our Core Values. There are many values that we all want to model, but we limited ours to five—Trust, Excellence, Focus, Collaboration, and Balance. If we all can embrace and model these values, I am convinced that our culture will thrive. Engaged professionals lead to great client service, which leads to shareholder value. It all starts with culture. I am not sure my style has been radically evolved since coming to Carolina Premier Bank. I would rather believe that my style is constantly evolving as I learn about people and face different tasks. We all are going to mess up from time to time, but if we go back to those Core Values, we will move the ship forward.
Q:  As a whole, what do you think community banks are doing right? Where are they falling short?

A:  We are great at understanding and serving our clients—in our case, small businesses and professionals. We are not, and won’t be, the bank for everyone. We can excel, however, if we maintain our focus on our target segments. We (all community banks) help serve consumers and small businesses, and I would argue that our economy is built upon small businesses. Where are we falling short? I don’t want to whine, but the fact is that we deal with many of the same compliance and regulatory requirements as the regional and national banks. It is just harder to spread those costs over a small base.
Q:  What do you think the typical community bank will be in ten years? Is it a dinosaur in its present form?
A:  Absolutely not. If I believed the community bank model was dead, I would not have come here. I do believe the small banks—those under $500 million in assets—do and will play a role in the financial landscape. Now, I am not sure we need 8,000 of them, and I am not sure Charlotte needs two dozen of them. But, we do serve a critical role in understanding and helping small businesses, professionals, and retail clients. With the advances in technology, we don’t need to out-branch the big banks. Yes—our model will need to change (as it has), but community banking is still viable—and I would argue, necessary. If I am wrong, and we are dinosaurs, then future generations can thank us for the fossil fuel we will provide.
Q:  Bank consolidation is driven in part by a notion that there is an asset threshold that a bank needs to exceed to be competitive. Do you agree that there is such a threshold? If so, what do you think it is?
A:  I don’t agree that there is a threshold. Consolidation is a fact of life in today’s current banking environment. Managing overhead costs (compliance, regulatory, etc.) and accessing additional capital is certainly easier if you are bigger. The result will be fewer community banks, but I also believe that a community bank of $250 million can thrive and provide good shareholder returns.
Q:  How can a bank differentiate itself (preferably for the better) in today’s marketplace?
A:  That’s absolutely critical. A bank must figure out how to differentiate itself, and it has to be around two to three items. We cannot be all things to all people; we must focus on these two to three things and then execute. “Client Service” is not one of them. That is just the standard to play the game. It has to be more than client service. In our case, we believe that the “challenger” style of communication that we use will provide value to our clients in thinking through the best possible solution to meet their goals. Equipping our bankers and our clients with tools that challenge the status quo will allow us to better meet client needs.
Q:  What is the future role of the “branch” in community banking? Will a branch be recognizable (or even in existence) in 10 years?
A:  I wish I knew. Who would have thought 10 years ago that we would deposit a check by taking a picture of it with our phone? I do believe the branch will play a role, but not as a transactional center. Transactions will happen electronically. There will still be times, however, when clients want to come to our offices/branches and hash through their situation and find solutions. Compare it to shopping for clothes. While you can order any clothing online, every now and then you need to go into the store to feel the fabric, try on the garment, or just see what other styles might be out there. Branches will be fewer in numbers, smaller in space, and geared to the changing habits of clients, but they will still be there. We are trying to figure out how to combine a food truck and branch. Then, I could ride around, cook BBQ, and handle a few loans on the side. (For those of you who are wondering, his BBQ food truck will be serving it "Lexington Style." Barbeque is serious business so that question had to be answered.)
Q:  What do you think the average customer (retail or commercial) is looking for in a bank? Is it only the best rates or are they looking for something more?

A:  It varies. Some are looking for the best rate—that is fine; we are probably not their solution. Some are looking for multiple branches and convenience—that is fine; we are probably not their solution either. Some, however, are looking for something different. Our clients are looking to build a relationship with a banker that will challenge, in professional and trust-building manner, their thinking so that we can all arrive at the best solution.
Q:  What is the most personally rewarding part of being a community banker to you?
A:  I enjoy watching people grow and develop. That applies to the business owner that grows his or her business and accomplishes great things. It also applies to our banking professionals, as they grow in skills and confidence. Growth does not necessarily mean more money, more sales, or more clients. Growth is about making progress, whether financially or emotionally. I enjoy watching that happen. Plus, we get to wear a tie every day—isn’t that great?
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