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Merging Banking and Farming Careers

 

For Will Lucas, a homegrown boy from the agricultural community of Center, Texas, working the farm and running a bank is a way of life. On weekends, he can be found on the family farm raising chickens and cattle and harvesting hay. During the week, he is president and COO of Shelby Savings Bank, which has been serving the citizens of the East Texas communities of Center, San Augustine and Hemphill since 1982.

Working on a farm is a natural fit for Lucas since he comes from a family of farmers. Also, Center is known for its poultry and egg processing, an industry that is celebrated every October with the East Texas Poultry Festival.

His route to the banking industry, although more indirect, has brought him equal fulfillment. The banking industry makes it possible for members of the community to buy their first homes or cars or start new businesses.

Family of Farmers

Lucas left Center in 1988 to attend Stephen F. Austin State University in nearby Nacogdoches, where he graduated with a degree in business management and a minor in Spanish. He met his wife, Kelly, at a crawfish boil on the Sabine River the summer before he started college; he married her his senior year.

He took a job in Nacogdoches at the Tyson plant until his wife received her degree. Then, he moved to the Rio Grande Valley where he farmed watermelons on his family's leased farmland. In 1996, the family lost its lease, leaving Lucas in a career quandary: would he remain in farming or seek another path?

He decided to go in another direction and opened a small loan company in Cleburne, not far from Fort Worth. "I learned so much about credit and reading people," he said. "And since I made loans with my own money, I learned how to be a cautious lender."

Just when he was becoming profitable he was contacted by his longtime loan officer, Lynn Hartt, executive vice president of Shelby Savings Bank. "He asked if I would be interested in moving back home," Lucas recalls. "I sure was; with two kids, it was getting hard to get baby-sitters."

Lucas sold his loan company and moved back to Center in the Fall of 1998. He started out as a loan officer and worked his way up the ranks from assistant vice president to executive officer and, 13 years later, president.

He had several mentors along the way, including Vice Chairman and CEO John Snider, as well as Lynn Hartt, Jim Sawyer and Steve Waters.

Serving East Texas

Shelby Savings Bank was founded by a group of East Texas businessmen who wanted to create a true local bank. Lucas credits Chairman Emeritus James Campbell for the bank's vision. "He felt there was a need for a bank here to serve the people," Lucas says. "He knows that's why we are here to loan money for our community."

The bank officially opened in 1982 in a portable building with three employees and $1.5 million in assets. Today, Shelby Savings Bank has four locations, 73 employees and approximately $260 million in working assets.

Although it's an agricultural community, Center has recently been impacted by the oil and gas industry, which has grown the size of the bank's assets and provided insulation from the troubles experienced by much of the banking industry since 2008.

This growth has translated into a 8,000-square-foot expansion of the main office and an additional branch in north Center. The bank also has branches in San Augustine and Hemphill.

Like other banks, Shelby Savings has been challenged by the Dodd-Frank Act, which, Lucas says, has made it harder to loan and borrow money. "I feel that Dodd-Frank goes against Mr. Campbell's mission of serving the people. Credit may be lower in this area, but that doesn't mean people don't pay."

Center

Center, with a population of 5,000, is home to two locally owned banks, four branches and a credit union.

Lucas credits the area's geography for the large number of financial institutions, explaining that the entire southern part of Shelby County is blocked off from the Louisiana border by the Sabine River and Toledo Bend Reservoir. This keeps people in Center to conduct business, dine and shop.

Shelby Savings Bank, like most community banks, is very tied to its community. The bank supports Relay for Life, the Poultry Festival, FFA and 4-H Clubs.

The bank is also heavily involved in TBA, where Snider serves as treasurer and Lucas is chairman of the Texas Bankers Foundation, the philanthropic arm of TBA. Lucas' involvement in the Foundation has opened his eyes into the depth and breadth of banker involvement in financial literacy and community endeavors.

When he's not volunteering, banking or farming, Lucas enjoys spending time with his family, which includes daughter Ashton, 17, and son Alec, 15. Ashton is active in cheerleading, tennis and FFA and has a passion for horticulture, while Alec is active in baseball, tennis and FFA and enjoys hunting and fishing. His wife, a retired registered nurse, now farms full time, while Lucas has taken on management duties. In addition, they employ three full time workers on the farm.

Although the family doesn't have much down time, they visit the family lake house in Maine to get away from it all and relax.  

Reprinted with permission from the Texas Bankers Association. Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Texas Banking.  


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