Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Unconventional Thinker: Despite His Laid-Back, North Texas Drawl and Quite Manner, This Tall Man from Oklahoma Will Surprise You in More Ways Than One. Meet the Next ABA Chairman

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Unconventional Thinker: Despite His Laid-Back, North Texas Drawl and Quite Manner, This Tall Man from Oklahoma Will Surprise You in More Ways Than One. Meet the Next ABA Chairman

Article excerpt

KEN FERGESON IS A MASS OF CONTRADICTIONS: a registered Democrat who helped bring a right to work law to pro-union Oklahoma; a banker who loathes rule-flaunting credit unions but understands the need for cooperative ventures; a business owner who prefers being number three in market share; a Texas farmer's son who listens to National Public Radio; a lover and supporter of the arts who also loves to roar across the prairie on a motorcycle.

Ken Fergeson is full of surprises, and, those who know him would agree, he kind of likes it that way.

In some ways, Fergeson strikes you as the last pure country banker. That's not literally true, of course, but he embodies so much of the independent, free-spirited entrepreneurial banker--the antithesis of the folks who track, and operate by, efficiency ratios, ROE quartile, and quarterly earnings per share growth--that he almost seems out of another era. He likes that, too, enjoying telling people, "I want to be the least efficient bank in the country."

While he's no boaster, he's not lacking in confidence, either. One of the reasons he loves living and working in Oklahoma is because in a state with only three million people scattered over roughly 69,000 square miles, one man can truly make a difference.

"You can know the governor on a first name basis," he says, "and you can personally know half the legislature." That, more than anything else, is what drives Ken Fergeson. One day he'd like to grow his two bank holding company, NBanC, Altus, Okla., to $1 billion in assets. Not only for the usual reasons, but because at that size he, as CEO, would have a bigger impact in the state in terms of both charitable donations and involvement in commissions and the legislature. "I would be listened to more, and I have enough ego to think that my ideas matter," he says matter of factly.

He doesn't necessarily think that being a big fish in a small pond is that important, just that it's easier to have an impact in a small pond, and a lot more fun. To put this in perspective, we're talking about a man who says "volunteering is my hobby," a man who spends three or four nights a week serving on foundations and community boards and who conducts a lot of his bank's business by phone from the road. Civic involvement is part and parcel with bank leadership, but Fergeson takes it to a new level. Up until fairly recently he was serving on 30 charitable and development boards. With his ABA service claiming more of his time, he's had to cut back. Now the number is only about 20!

"I'd rather be a banker"

Fergeson was born and raised on a sharecropper's farm in the small north Texas town of Crowell, about 70 miles west of Wichita Falls. The entire county had a population of only about 1,000. His mother remarried when he was about 4, and Fergeson recalls that his stepfather was a firm believer that "idle hands are the devil's workshop." So he and his two brothers were kept busy with farm work. But he had a great childhood, he says, "not knowing we had no money." In the hot summers, Fergeson recalls, he and his brothers would take a barrel half and place it on the slope of one of the "tanks" (manmade ponds) on the farm, creating a ramp. Then they'd ride their bikes down the slope onto the ramp, and go soaring into the pond.

The farm was owned by a banker--a rather tight character, as Fergeson remembers him. Negotiations over the repair of the door of a tornado cellar, for example, took nearly a week. Finally, says Fergeson, the banker agreed that if Fergeson's stepfather would supply the planks and labor, the banker would supply the tin to cover the door. This, plus personal knowledge of the physical labor involved in farming, convinced young Fergeson that he'd rather be a banker than a farmer.

He met his wife, Mary Ann, just before they entered high school, where, together, they represented 15% of their graduating class. Dates often involved driving 30 miles to see a movie. …

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