What Matters Most – 120th Anniversary Conversations with Bill Grant

Today we have the honor of speaking with former CEO at First United, Bill Grant. Bill gives us an update on how he's doing, what he and his family have been up to, as well as his memories of First United and what the 120 years of community banking that First United has provided mean to him.


Man 1: Welcome to the “What Matters Most” podcast presented by First United Bank & Trust, That’s My Bank. Visit us today at MyBank.com.

Eric: Well, hello and welcome to “What matters Most,” the podcast all about finances, community, savings, and security for you, your family, and your business. This podcast is brought to you by the helpful folks at My Bank, First United Bank & Trust. I’m your host, Eric Nutter. And in today’s episode of, “What Matters Most” is First United 120th anniversary. And for this discussion, I’m honored to be joined remotely today by Bill Grant, former CEO and former chairman of the board at First United. Hey, Bill. How’s it going?

Bill: It’s going well, Eric. It’s going real well.

Eric: Good, good. Tell us how have you been? How’s retirement treating you? What’s life after the bank?

Bill: Well, it does change. It’s not nearly as hectic, the deadlines are a little more flexible than they used to be. And Lauren and I are becoming snowbirds and getting caught up on some of my history reading. And since leaving the bank, I’ve had two additional grandchildren. So, that makes life very full.

Eric: Yeah, I’m sure you got your hands full. So, let’s start with the books. What’s the latest history book you’ve been digging into?

Bill: I’ve been reading, I’m still reading in World War II. I’ve been reading about FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s role as Commander-in-Chief, and I’m just finished reading the book about Truman and the Atom Bomb. So those are two of the most recent books I’ve read.

Eric: You always dug into the history.

Bill: I enjoy it very much.

Eric: Absolutely. So tell us, and now grandkids, so you’ve got two?

Bill: Well, actually have three. One was born prior to my retirement. Andrew and Tanya, have a son, Liam, who’s now six and a half, and they live in Vilseck, Germany. Andrew and Tanya both work in the Department of Defense and educating the children of service people. So, they live over there. And since retiring, Jenny, our daughter, who lives in Greensboro has had two boys, Gus who’s age three, and Max who is three weeks old.

Eric: Wow. Three weeks. Have you gotten to see him, yet?

Bill: Yes, yeah. We went down and spent a week both trying to spoil Max and helping them keep an eye on very active Gus, who’s three years old and full of energy.

Eric: Awesome. Awesome. That’s so exciting for you. I’m happy for you. So, let’s talk a little bit about your career at First United. So can you tell us… Let’s wind it way back. When did you start? And how long were you here for?

Bill: Okay. I started on August 1st,1978. The CEO of the bank was Courtney Tusing at the time and he’s the one that hired me. And if my memory serves me well, the bank was $57 million of assets at the time, and I think the Trust department where I went to work was I think we’re in the neighborhood of $6 million. So, it was a much different time and era. And then, of course, I worked up and through January 1st of 2016.

Eric: Got you. So yeah, definitely a bit smaller size at the time. Did we have offices just primarily in Garrett County, or where were we?

Bill: Yeah, at the time, I came back in 1978, we just had offices just in Garrett County. We hadn’t spread out very much yet.

Eric: Got you.

Bill: Actually, I take that back. We were just across the border into itizens. We had branches down and we called our Citizens branch in Western Port, and we also had a branch in Barton. So I stand corrected, but they’re almost in Garrett County.

Eric: Yeah. So you started your career in the Trust Area? What was your role there?

Bill: I was brought in as a Trust Officer and also in-house counsel given I had a law degree. And we started just in understanding and learning more about the trust business and was brought in a role to help grow the trust department primarily.

Eric: Got you. Well, that worked out. It’s interestingly larger now.

Bill: It’s a little bit bigger and interestingly enough, I was also the bank’s first compliance officer back in the day when it really wasn’t that big of a job. And I used to tell people, I could pretty much handle the bank’s compliance program with maybe about an hour or so of work a week. We had a Community Reinvestment Act folder, and it laid flat. It had a CRA statement in it and I think two other pieces of paper and that was pretty much all there was required in the day. Obviously, that’s changed dramatically, too.

Eric: Absolutely. Yeah, everything has gotten bigger or more complicated in terms of how much effort needs to go into these things. We actually talked with Gene Helbig in a prior episode, and he talked about the compliance area too, and his little bit of involvement for a little portion of his career too. And he expressed the same. It wasn’t quite as tasking as it might be now.

Bill: Yes.

Eric: So what other roles did you experience during your career?

Bill: Well, as I mentioned, I started in the trust department as a Trust Officer. And at the time, the head of our trust department was a gentleman by the name of Marvin Grant, who was wonderful, he was just finishing up at Northwestern Graduate Trust School when I came to the bank. Tragically, he died two years into my tenure. He died in August of 1980. So, at the ripe old age of 25, I was in charge in the Trust Department. Yeah, we just grew from there and we always had tremendous support from, at that time senior management, Dick Stanton and Courtney Tusing, as well as our board. So, we added resources. You know, Shirley Fitzwater, another very long-term employee came into our trust department, and did wonderful work for, I guess, the better part of 40 years. And we were able to add resources as we needed, and they understood the strategic importance of investing in Trust. And I was there, I guess, until 1990. There’s a couple of years of overlap, or Gene was manager of the Trust department, I was still the senior trust officer. But then he took that title. And I became executive vice president, and I’m thinking that was around 1990. And basically, my responsibilities at that time were all the outward-facing parts of the bank, everything that had to do with touching the customer or call center branches, trust, commercial learning, mortgage learning, etc. My colleague, Bob Kurtz ran the entire operations of the bank. Then in 1996, I was named as chairman and CEO of the company, and again, my colleague, Bob was president of the bank. So, we basically ran the bank together for a number of years till he retired. And then I became CEO in 1996 stumbled over there, and then I retired in 2016.

Eric: Right, right. So that period of time that you were in charge of the sales effort, what was the structure of that? What did that look like?

Bill: Well, then Ben Ritter was over pretty much all of the branches and marketing, great colleague did a wonderful job. Robin Murray basically launched our call center, we decided we need one of those. And then Francis Grimm and then later Steve Lands, ran commercial lending, and we had number of people kind of heading mortgages, so. And of course, Gene Helbig followed in behind me on trust. So that was basically our structure. And yeah, that’s also we’re Carissa got her start was in the Trust Area. So, First United is a little bit unique in that three of those last four CEOs came up through the trust side of the bank, and I don’t know another bank anywhere that can boast about that.

Eric: That can say that. Yeah, absolutely. So tell us about, what led you to career in banking?

Bill: It basically happened during my second year of law school. I went to Duquesne University School of Law, and I learned two things in my second year. I took a course in trial tactics and I took a course in estates and trusts. And I knew that I really didn’t like trial tactics at all, I’m not a tremendously adversarial type of person. I did fine in the class, but we had to have a trial every month during the semester, and most of those weeks I would lose 8 to 10 pounds…

Eric: Wow. Just stress of it.

Bill: …worrying about the trial, studying, and the stress of that. Conversely, we had a very gifted professor that taught the estates and trust and I absolutely fell in love with the concept of working with estates and trusts. I went on to take estate and gift taxation and really liked that class and did well. So, I knew by the time I was going into my third year, I really would like to have a career in banking, in the trust department. An interesting side note is to how I came to First United. I was in the interview and moving through the various levels of interviewing, it was then PittsburghNational Bank, it’s now PNC, with a thought that Lauren and I were going to end up staying in Pittsburgh, and that I would probably end up working in the trust department of then Pittsburgh National Bank. We happened to be home for Christmas, my third year, and just by sheer coincidence bumped into Courtney Tusing in front of the post office, and his son, George, and I were high school classmates. And we talked for a few minutes, and Laurie, who’s usually very reticent blurted out, “Hey, are you looking for a trust officer?” And Courtney always possessed a tremendous vision, said, “Well, you know, we’re always looking to expand and send me your resume,” and went down, I interviewed in March. And as the saying goes, the rest is history or the opportunity to come back to my hometown was overwhelming plus a lot of the associates today don’t know Courtney Tusing, but he was one of the most charismatic visionary leaders I ever knew. And I even realized that in high school and the chance to actually come home and report directly to him until he retired in ’87 was very, very special.

Eric: That’s cool. That’s a really interesting road to get there. And it’s almost serendipitous.

Bill: Yes. The good Lord knew what he was doing.

Eric: Absolutely. He always does. But you haven’t shied away from banking, though, even after your retirement from the bank, you’ve still had your hand in banking. Tell us a little bit about that.

Bill: Yes. I had the opportunity, because of the tremendous bench strength that we had at the bank, most notably Carissa, you know, I had the opportunity of becoming involved in the Maryland Bankers Association and actually was chairman of Maryand Bankers Association. Following that, I had the opportunity to going on to the American Bankers Association Community Bankers Council. Kathleen Murphy, the president of the Maryland Bankers Association nominated me and in a moment of weakness the ABA took me on. And I was very fortunate, you know. I was able to eventually become chairman of the Community Bankers Council for the ABA, which is a group of bankers about 100 strong from all across the country. And that was really a tremendous thing to do, and very, very enjoyable. But again, I hasten to add, it was only possible because of the strength of the associates back at the bank keeping things moving forward well while I was out doing association responsibilities. That was followed by two years on the American Bankers Association Board of Directors. And as I was viewing retirement at that point, they have something called our Membership Relations Consultants, which is a cadre of I think it’s 14 retired bank CEOs from all across the country who assist the ABA in both membership, development, retention, and serving. So, since I’ve retired, I’ve become a membership relation consultant, and serve both the State of Maryland and the State of West Virginia. So, that’s been fun and as I frequently joke to people, it’s a way that I could keep my fingers in banking and keep out of Carissa’s hair.

Eric: Well, I appreciate all your efforts in the industry, and I speak on behalf of everybody saying thank you for your time here and your leadership throughout your tenure here as well as even the years after where you helped guide the industry. So we appreciate that.

Bill: Thank you very much.

Eric: So, Bill, as you know, as a true Community Bank, First United is, we’re celebrating something special and that’s kind of the impetus for this interview, as well as several others we’ve done celebrating the 120th anniversary of First United. Can you tell me in your words and in your view, what does 120 years of community banking mean to you?

Bill: I think it means something very, very, very special. I mean, the bank, it’s not as old as Oakland but it’s in the same zip code as far as the age. And if you go back and trace both the importance of community banking and the important role that First United, previously, First National Bank of Oakland had ingrown to those years, it started November 1900 a,nd Oakland was a very small town at that point, but really has through the years provided a tremendous amount of stability, you know. First National closed its doors for the banking holiday as instructed by President Roosevelt, but then opened right back up. And as you probably know from MBA school days, a lot of banks didn’t reopen, they had to be rechartered, and reopened and depositors lost money. And that did not happen to First National Bank of Oakland.. But we were blessed with a lot of good leaders, you know. Previous to Courtney Tusing was George Litman, that always understood what it is to be in and a vital part of the community, both in terms of meeting the credit and deposit needs of the customers, but in the early 1960s, adding the trust as an extra dimension, and of course, other services have been offered subsequent to that. But all the leaders at First United tried to emphasize being involved in the community. And then you look at any number of boards, nonprofit boards, throughout our market areas, which are course much more expansive now, and quite likely, you’ll find a First United banker on that board you lending his or her expertise to whatever that particular nonprofit is trying to do.

So, I think being part of a community bank and being part of it, and having been chair of that, community bankers council had the opportunity to testify and trying to instruct policymakers and elected representatives the importance of community banking to this country, I’ve always said there’s a direct correlation between the fact that, in a fairly short period of history, we went from kind of being an agrarian backwater country to the most powerful economy in the world. And I think there’s a correlation between that and the fact that we have independent banks throughout the entire United States are diminishing, unfortunately, to some extent now, but we still have, I think, far more independent banks in our country than almost any other country now in the world. And I think there’s a correlation because people can get credit, can get needed capital in a town where they’re known and their business can be understood, and they can walk in and talk to somebody. So, I think that’s kind of the essence of community banking, from my viewpoint.

Eric: Well said. Well said. Let’s talk a little bit if we could about a, let’s go back to your time at the bank, and I just want to talk about some of your memories, some of your favorite memories being part of the institution. What sticks out to you?

Bill: I think to a large extent, Eric, are almost always around people, I think some of my favorite activities is the opportunity to help develop folks at the bank, mentoring, I think was always my favorite activity, you know, probably sitting through exit exams with regulators is probably my least favorite activity. But the fact of engaging and working with associates, whether it be community office managers, tellers, folks that, you know, aspired to be in senior management was always the most important and enjoyable part of what I did. I think certainly also watching the bank grow, the bank was so small when we first came in, you know, Bob Kurtz, and I talked about this a year ago, you know, we still got shower gifts for all the employees that we’re going to have children, we sold raffle tickets, it was not uncommon to walk in on a Monday morning and find two raffle tickets that you didn’t know that you had bought, obviously, as we grew that had to go by the boards, but other new things came on, we had other opportunities. And as the bank got bigger and broader, it really presented a myriad of opportunity the more people and we stayed as small as we once were, the opportunities would obviously be limited. So I think, you know, all my favorite memories really have to do with various encounters and engagements with associates all levels in the bank.

Eric: Yeah. Well, I can tell you your time here, you had a definite impact on everybody. But I think one thing that kind of a chord, that kind of rings true for everyone who worked with you or for you through the years, I still to this day I can open up a drawer on my desk and I’ve got handwritten notes from you. And I always really appreciated that. And I know everyone who ever received one of those from you appreciates those and keeps them. So those were always, that personal touch that you talked about in that interaction with other associates has always been part of who First United is as a company and the culture of the place. And I think that you certainly embodied that. And it meant a lot to a lot of people here.

Bill: Well, thank you very… It’s very kind of you to say that, Eric.

Eric: So, you may not have the exact same answer for this, but I’m curious, as you got up to work every morning for your career here, was there something you look forward to each day? Or was it just the people? Or is there more to it than that?

Bill: I think it primarily was the people, the thought of going in and interacting with people. And again, as we got bigger, some days, I’d be down in Frederick interacting with folks there, and then the next day, I’m in Morgantown. So I think, you know, first of all, the people I think, is the first most important thing. I think the second thing, Eric, there is always something different, you know, the thousands of days that I worked, no two days were alike. There was always something different what was coming at you with a challenge, an opportunity or what have you. And I think that kept banking fresh and I think it helped me expand my mind. So I think those are probably the two biggest things that I thought about getting up every morning.

Eric: Nice, nice. Well, Bill, after 120 years of First United helping people, put on your future thinking cap here and tell me what do you think’s next for the bank?

Bill: I think that’s going to be a continuation, I think we’re all on a continuum. Eric. Actually, when I first came to the bank we still had pass books and tellers actually wrote with ink pen, what you deposited and initialled it, and you came in, we actually had a note teller, you could actually walk up and you’d pay your notes, and they would go get a ledger card and you would write, you know, they would write what the payment was. We had one computer in the whole bank that could calculate APR, and that was it.

Eric: Just one? A single computer?

Bill: Yes. One single.. It was actually… It was a little thing, it had a metal software thing that handled the needed calculations. And that’s not to go down memory lane but it’s just to say, at that point, serving the customer was certainly very manual intensive. But we were there nevertheless, the doors were open, and we wanted to take care of the customer the way they wanted to be taken care of. And I think that’s going to continue, obviously the ledger cards in the past books have gone by the board, but our doors still open and your lobby is beautiful now, the renovations that you all did once you got rid of this old tie chromogen are just fantastic. And, you know, really encounter the customer probably more the way they want to be encountered. But as we go into the next 120 years obviously that’s going to continue to evolve, I think, you know, particularly as, you know, Gen X comes along and Gen Z and millennials, you know, they’re gonna want to be served in different ways and in different places. And I applaud all the efforts that are going on and you’re leading some of those and I know Matt’s leading some and Carissa is out in front leading the charge to make sure that we’re able to have the technology in place to serve customers the way they want to be and while the same time still having that level of our personal touch that you can still have a live encounter with a First United banker, and speaking as an old node, I hope that’s something that never goes away. But, you know, it’s going to be a blend of that intense personal relationship coupled with technology that puts us where the customers want us to be.

Eric: I think that’s it. That’s exactly right. And I hope that I hope that you’re right and then we keep down that path. I think that’s the right place to be. It’s the personal touch that that makes us a community bank that wants to be there and have that one-on-one interaction with people, but we need to have that technical expertise and those technical pieces of the puzzle to help people do their banking as conveniently as possible. Well, Bill, I didn’t have this on the list but I’m curious, if there’s anything else you want to mention or any message you have for the associates at First United who have clearly spent a good portion of their career reporting to you, or maybe even the new ones that have started since.

Bill: Well, certainly to those that were, worked with me while I was there, you know, they’re the main reason I was able to get up every morning, the opportunity of working with them, being with them, learning about them, as people, helping to the extent I could develop their skills to make them better bankers, I appreciate you guys, lifelong memories and heartfelt gratitude for those working with me. The associates that have come since I left, welcome to, I think the finest community bank in the country. And I’m saying that with some degree of authority, because I see hundreds of banks, and I haven’t found a better bank anywhere. And I would just encourage them to hold fast to the vision statement and just understand you’re working at a special place and just take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. And I think the last message I would have for Carissa is just, you know, again, gratitude, and thanks for doing all the things that made me look good for a whole bunch of years. And I know she’s gonna take the bank, she’s already doing it now, taking it to new heights of both what it means to be a tremendous community bank and also what it means to deliver to fantastic shareholder value.

Eric: Awesome. Bill, I want to sincerely thank you for joining me today. I really appreciate your time. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I miss getting to talk to you from time to time. So, thank you for doing this.

Bill: You’re most welcome. I miss talking to folks down there and just whoever you see, tell them I said, “Hi.”

Eric: I will. Well, that brings us to the end of our show. You can always find more episodes by visiting Mybank.com/podcast or find us on your favorite podcast app. And we’re on basically every podcast app there is, so find us on there, subscribe, and give us a five-star review so other folks can find episodes just like this. You can also leave feedback, ask questions or request the topic for us to discuss by sending an email to podcast at MyBank.com. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with more helpful content. But until then, we wish you the best in focusing on “What Matters Most” to you.

Man 1: First United Bank & Trust was born 120 years ago in 1900, a time before gummy bears, before the first big game, before sliced bread. First United was formed because we believed we could make a difference. Since then, we’ve delivered 120 years of community banking partnerships, solutions, and most of all trust. So we’re celebrating the people who call First UInited, My Bank. Help us celebrate at MyBank.com/120.

Man 2: First United Bank, My Bank for Life.

Man 1: Member FDIC.

Eric: This recording is for informational purposes only. Any references in this recording to any person, organization, product, or service does not constitute or imply the endorsement, recommendation, or affiliation with First United Bank & Trust. First United is not responsible for your use of the information mentioned within this podcast. Please consult legal or tax professionals for counsel as needed.