In 1986, after Peoples Bank had been sold to Third National, and Lebanon Bank had been sold to First Tennessee, there seemed to be a void within the banking community in Wilson County. A void the community felt, and a void the community was ready to fill.
Nine men came together to fill that void in the form of a brand new institution, and Wilson Bank & Trust was born. The initial board members consisted of Jack Bell, Tony Patton, Harold Patton, Jerry Franklin, Mackey Bentley, John Freeman, Marshall Griffi th, W.C. Marks and Randall Clemons. These men came from all walks of life, and together they put forward the proposition that Wilson County was ready for an independent, community-focused bank.
In May of 1987, led by Randall Clemons, in a small, two-bedroom caretaker’s home on the Castle Heights campus in Lebanon, the initial eight staff members opened for business. “We wore many, many hats,” noted Randall Clemons, who today is the Chairman of the Board and CEO. “We were working in very close quarters. I was a teller, loan offi cer, public relations specialist, human resource manager, you name it, and at the end of the day would take the trash out back and burn it,” he says with a smile, obviously proud of the bank’s humble beginnings.“No job was too small or too big for any of us. And like any new business we knew we were taking a risk with this new venture. I remember the staff and I would rotate our cars in the parking lot during the day, so we would look busier than we were.” With this Randall brightens up and chuckles.
Stories like this are what have endeared WB&T to the community. Everyone knows someone who either helped establish the bank, works at the bank or most importantly deposits their hard-earned dollars at the bank.
In 1987 WB&T stock was offered to approximately 1,000 locals for $10 a share.
“Many people had never owned bank stock before and took great pride in owning local stock,” noted Clemons. “We knew we were on to something when we hosted our fi rst Open House in early January of 1988. It was snowing outside and very, very cold, and I looked out, and a line had formed to the point that people were standing outside in the snow waiting to come in.” More than 1,000 people attended that event, a testament to the fact the community was ready to support a locally owned and operated bank. “Initially the bank sold five million dollars in stock and today has grown to 140 million.
WB&T made a profit from its very first month in operation and has never lost any money any month or year since,” he added. In these times, numbers and facts like these are impressive.
The key, Randall noted, is that the bank has always been conservative in its operation. “Nobody is exempt from the current times, and we all feel a degree of hurt. However, because we have always run the bank responsibly, we have remained profi table in this market.”
Another reason the bank remains a rock in these tough economic times is because it strives to be more than just a financial institution. “It is very important to us that the community is better because WB&T is here,” Clemons said. With that principle in mind the bank sponsors or participates in each and every community where they have a presence. From festivals to parades to health fairs to car shows to senior sponsored trips to school banks, WB&T is a beacon for community events. “Employees are encouraged to participate and volunteer in their communities and spend time with customers and neighbors at local gatherings.”
To this point, in addition to a Board of Directors, the bank also has a Community Council made up of different members of the community who serve three-year terms. “These men and women are our eyes and ears. We hear about local needs from the members of the community itself, and we do what we can to always participate wherever we are needed.”
In December of 1987, construction was completed on a new office, and the small staff moved into the building. Since then, the main offi ce located on West Main Street has expanded twice and still serves as the hub of operations.
The new Lebanon branch was followed very quickly by branches in Watertown and Gladeville, and later Mt. Juliet, Smithville, Alexandria, Carthage, Gordonsville, Hartsville, Leeville, Hermitage, Donelson, Murfreesboro and Smyrna, as well as additional locations in Lebanon.
In April of 2011, the Providence Branch in Mt. Juliet will be complete, and in July the fi rst Gallatin offi ce will open. “With the Gallatin offi ce we will now be in every county bordering Wilson County,” Randall proudly announced.
WB&T will celebrate its 25-year anniversary in May 2012. The organization has grown to the point where it’s large enough to compete against any national bank. “We have every possible product, the latest technology and don’t depend on any other financial institution for anything,” Clemons said.
The bank also has regular planning retreats and always keeps a 10-year plan in place. “We believe in keeping employees for the long-term. Becky Taylor, Kay Johnson and Lisa Pominski are just a few who have been with the bank from the very beginning. Long-term employees are good for business and good for our customers because we have depth in management. This means as one department head steps down, there is someone with experience ready totake over,” Randall explained.
Asked the million-dollar question, whether there are any plans to sell, Randall once again smiled and immediately affirmed, “Our plan is to remain independent and continue to serve the community.”
From its modest beginnings in a two-bedroom home only two decades ago, WB&T has grown to 23 offices throughout six Middle Tennessee counties. Amid all the growth, WB&T remains steadfast as an independent institution, makings its own decisions and staying in touch with the community that launched it.
“We started a tradition many years ago,” remarked Randall, “that whenever we open a new branch in an area, we send everyone in that community a key. It’s important that we let them know that all are welcome, and we are ready to earn their business.”