By Mindy Ragan Wood
In 1989 the Bank of Piedmont joined a long list of failed banks whose former glory lay in the ruins of an oil and real estate bust. A banker saw potential and scooped it up in an FDIC sale.
Born in Choctaw in 1927, John V. Anderson had survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and knew a bargain when he saw it.
By then he was picking up steam after having purchased a failed bank in Crescent in 1972. He may not have known this first purchase in a small town would launch his family into the respected F&B Bank dynasty.
Without assets or a line of credit sufficient to purchase a bank, the Crescent acquisition would seem like a miracle today.
However, when Oklahoma City attorney J.I. Gibson purchased Farmers and Merchants Bank of Crescent in 1969, Anderson joined a panel of advisory directors to guide it. By 1972, Gibson’s wanted out and he had in mind the perfect buyer.
“He said he was having some health problems,” Anderson recalled. “He said, ‘I think I’m going to sell the bank. I’ll give you first shot at it.’”
Two trusted friends agreed to loan him $548,000, an equivalent today of more than $3 million.
“All I had was sweat equity,” Anderson said. A colleague at the time told him he would be “one of the last guys who’s going to be able to buy a bank with just sweat equity,” he recalled.
Anderson purchased his third bank, a second location in Crescent in 1995. He launched F&M Bank in Surrey Hills in 1998, then salvaged another failed bank in 2012, the First Capital Bank in Kingfisher. Today there are nearly a dozen F&M banking locations across the northwest part of the state which his son Terry V. Anderson and grandson Eric V. Anderson help oversee.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS
The Andersons have weathered many crises in the industry, including the recent 2009 recession, and emerged not only virtually unscathed but prosperous. The secret to their success may be found in the upbringing and life experiences of its founder.
Anderson described his early life as the years when he learned to get by on very little. His father lost his job in 1930 and did not find steady work until 1941 at Tinker Air Force Base. By 1945, a 17-year-old Anderson could wait no longer to join World War II and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He had the satisfaction of returning soldiers, sailors and marines triumphant from the ravages of war back to where it all began in Pearl Harbor.
“Everybody my age will remember where he was at and who told them that there’d been an attack on Pearl Harbor, that two or three thousand Americans had been killed,” he remembered.
Home from the war in 1946, Anderson faced a competitive job market as millions of veterans were looking for jobs. He found temporary work with OG&E, but his next job in Oklahoma City would change the course of his life.
“A good friend of mine told me I needed to go down to Liberty National Bank, ‘they’re hiring every day,’” Anderson remembered.
He started on St. Patrick’s Day in 1947. He took courses offered by the bank in addition to night school at OCU thanks to the G.I. Bill. Smitten by fellow employee Jo Laverne Ellis, the pair married in 1949.
His time at Liberty taught him lessons an education fails to impart; the value of treating employees well.
“Liberty declared three bonuses,” Anderson said. “The phrase I used was, ‘I’d died and gone to heaven.’ But the folks’ feeling on that was, it was a 70 percent excess profit tax in effect at that time for businesses and he (banker) said, ‘I’d rather give it to the employees than the government.’”
Eric Anderson believes it has been his ‘Paw Paw’s’ character and work ethic which has driven a bank culture where people want to work and do business.
“Paw Paw has been the tip of the F&M Bank spear,” he said. “He steers our culture. We want to try to continue modeling that standard Paw Paw has set, that culture of service.”
It’s the kind of bank where customers are on a first name basis with its president and tellers, and a handshake follows warm greetings. It was the kind of bank John Anderson has always known.
He summed up the guiding principles of his business in a few words.
“One of the things we’ve always concentrated on is you need to know your customers,” John said. “Are they people of integrity and character? Don’t take any wild chances.”
And, Anderson tells his family and colleagues, hard times are coming. Eric and Terry strive to keep the lessons their father has taught them on the forefront of their own decisions.
“Staying humble and remembering where you came from,” Eric said. “That’s been a big one. Constantly striving to improve and maintain consistency to your principles. Responsibility, owning your actions.”
“Three things,” Terry said, “is you need to deal fairly, honorably and keep your word.”
From bank messenger to the most recent inductee of the Oklahoma Bankers Association Hall of Fame, John Anderson celebrates 72 years in the industry. He and his wife continue to enjoy more than 70 years of marriage. Their burgeoning family lives within a 30-mile radius from Piedmont, where Eric and Terry call home.