Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Low Profile, High Energy: New ABA President Aubrey Patterson -- Regional Bank CEO with a Penchant for Quietly Making Things Happen. (Cover Story)

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Low Profile, High Energy: New ABA President Aubrey Patterson -- Regional Bank CEO with a Penchant for Quietly Making Things Happen. (Cover Story)

Article excerpt

Say "Tupelo, Miss.," and most people, if they know the place at all, will think of one thing. The small Mississippi city that was the birthplace of Elvis Presley. The two-room house he lived in till he was 13 is still there, about two miles from Tupelo Hardware where he bought his first guitar.

Tupelo also happens to be home to another Mississippian of note -- Aubrey Patterson, ABA's next president.

The contrast between these two figures couldn't be more pronounced. Compared with Elvis, Patterson is the personification of "low key." In fact, Patterson concedes he wasn't much of an Elvis fan, even though as a teenager he once heard Presley play the Grenada, Miss., roller rink.

Appearances don't tell all, however. Behind Patterson's composed manner is an analytical mind, a competitive spirit, and a keen sense of duty that compel him to try to make a difference in whatever he does. As a result, Patterson is as well known in Mississippi business, political, and community circles as Presley was in the music world--just a little differently.

And though his birthplace will never become a pop-culture shrine, Patterson has done much to help the people of what had been one of the poorest regions in the state achieve a far better standard of living. As he would be quick to point out, he is just one of many community leaders who have had a hand in the long effort to turn northeast Mississippi into the leading manufacturing region in the state, boasting, among other things, the largest nonurban hospital in the country.

This community development work of Patterson's has largely coincided with his leadership of BancorpSouth, a regional bank holding company headquartered in Tupelo that he has run since 1990.

The bank, like its CEO, has a low profile on the national scene, given its size. And also like its chief, this belies an aggressive growth strategy that has taken it from a $100 million bank in 1971, when Patterson first joined it as a junior officer, to a $10 billion operation with branches in six states.

Banker, by way of the Air Force

Aubrey B. Patterson, who will be the 117th president of the American Bankers Association, was born in Grenada, Miss., in 1942. His father worked on flood control projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In the mid '50s the family moved to Oxford, Miss., in the northern part of the state. Oxford is home to the University of Mississippi--Ole Miss--and the move marked the beginning of Patterson's deep affection for the 154-year old public institution.

Patterson was 14 when he arrived in Oxford. The local high school at the time was operated by the university in partnership with the town, and was situated on the college campus. Patterson met his future wife, Ruby Kathryn, while the two were attending University High School, as it was known. She actually lived on the Ole Miss campus, because her father, a former assistant FBI director, was vice-chancellor of the university.

Both Aubrey and Ruby Kathryn enrolled in Ole Miss after high school, which, for them, was simply a matter of changing buildings. While in college, Patterson got to know Sen. Trent Lott--then a student in the class a year ahead of him--and was friends with the wife of Mississippi's other U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, as well as other future leaders of the state's business and political communities.

Patterson and Lott share a common interest in the university, of which they are both strong supporters. Patterson has been involved with the school for many years, most recently as chairman of the University of Mississippi Foundation and chairman of the Advisory Board for the School of Business.

Patterson studied accounting in college and never intended to be a banker. In fact he very nearly made a career in the Air Force. He had taken officer training while at Ole Miss, and, upon graduation, he and Ruby Kathryn married and he went into the service, stationed initially in St. …

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