Executive Chairman Tom Bennett, Jr. Celebrates 50 Years in Banking
Once the guy who filled the soda pop vending machines at his first banking job, Tom today is the Executive Chairman of the Board for First Oklahoma Bank. He looks back with gratitude on his long-term banking career and everyone who has made it possible.
As a fifth-generation Oklahoman, Tom had early dreams of becoming a politician. His great grandfather was a Baptist minister; his grandfather was the president of Oklahoma A&M (Oklahoma State University) for 23 years and a prominent figure in Oklahoma politics; his father was a World War II veteran, attorney, and a federal administrative law judge.
All of them demonstrated a common interest in making the world a better place through God’s guidance of their life’s work, which influenced Tom’s own aspirations.
Tom became the student body president at OSU. As an undergraduate, he never took a single class in the business college - not a management, finance, accounting, or any class that would have prepared him for banking. Instead, he earned a sociology degree and planned to attend law school and pursue a career in politics.
He even moved to Washington D.C. after graduating from OSU to seek a political job, but he couldn’t find a job. Discouraged, he prayed about his predicament and felt led to return to Stillwater where he met Bob McCormick, president of Stillwater National Bank.
Mr. McCormick hired Tom as a loaned executive to work part time on the local United Way campaign. Later that fall, Tom received a job offer to become a management trainee at the bank. An OSU alum similarly offered him a job making more money at a major corporation. All his friends and family told him to take the higher-paying job, but Tom prayed about it and, against their advice, took the bank job.
“I’m really pleased that he chose the banking profession and has done such a wonderful job. Tom is as fine a person as I’ve ever known, and I think that his success and his treatment of banking as a calling in making the world a better place was a wonderful outcome,” says Bob McCormick.
Within a week of starting his full-time employment at the bank in 1973, Tom was dating his future wife, Sue. Sue became a devoted partner in the creation of Oklahoma National Bank and First Oklahoma Bank. Sue began her career in the financial services industry as the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Investment Forum, raising equity capital for Oklahoma companies. Today she is the Director of Investor Relations and Community Engagement for First Oklahoma.
In 1988, Tom opened new offices for Stillwater National Bank in Tulsa. Over the next 10 years, the Tulsa division of SNB grew to $300 million in deposits and $240 million in loans. After 25 years with SNB, Tom decided to pursue new horizons. Together with partners, he helped build from scratch two successful banks. The first - Oklahoma National Bank - opened on Jan. 20, 2000, and became the fastest growing new bank in Oklahoma history.
Later, Tom and Sue joined their son Tom Bennett III to form another investor group of Oklahoma families to create First Oklahoma Bank, which opened on Nov. 4, 2009. In nearly 14 years, First Oklahoma Bank has grown to more than $1 billion in assets, with offices in Jenks, midtown, Tulsa, Glencoe and Oklahoma City.
“Basically, banking is about managing risk in the transfer of wealth between generations by protecting the life savings of an older generation and making loans to a younger generation that is building and expanding businesses, buying homes and raising their families,” says Tom Bennett Jr. “It has been exciting to help entrepreneurs think about how to finance their growing companies and watch them enjoy success.”
In addition to his vocation, Tom also has been involved in a wide range of community activities: from local service on the Airport Authority and County Parks Board, to state service in creating a five-year economic development plan for Oklahoma and National Chairman of the OSU Alumni Association, to national service as a White House Fellow, to international service with orphans in Russia. He also earned a master’s degree in public administration with honors from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in Business Administration from OSU.
It is not often that you encounter somebody who cares about all facets of someone else’s life, says Tom Bennett III, President and CEO of First Oklahoma.
“Tom Bennett Jr. focuses on figuring out how to serve and facilitate other people’s dreams,” his son says. “He cares about how people are doing personally and professionally, how employees are treated, what kind of impact is being made in the community. It is not just a slogan to him. He literally lives it every day. Just ask bank customers, employees or people who have been in his Bible studies for the last 50 years.”
Garry Groom, a long-time friend and work colleague, spent 27 of his 42 years in banking alongside Tom at Stillwater National Bank, ONB and First Oklahoma Bank.
“Tom was always moving forward and was an advocate for positive change in a traditionally stale and static industry. He also had great relationships with his customers, which was a key component in starting a new bank,” Garry says.
Says, Tom Jr., “I have been blessed to serve with exceptional Directors, extraordinary bankers, and supportive investors. Working together, we have helped create three of Oklahoma’s 20 largest banks. If not for my faith and the help of so many people, this improbable journey would never have happened. I am extremely grateful.”