Hello to the CEO
Lexington State Bank you can, because
Bob Lowes desk is right at the front door
first thing you notice is the large desk not for whats on it
but for whats not on it. On the right is a telephone. In the middle
are two pens angled in a stand. On the left is a nameplate.
his chair is a laptop computer, resting in sleep. A couple of small
family pictures are nearby, seemingly in perfect symmetry. Books are
quiet and in their place.
you want to catch Robert F. Lowe as the nameplate reads with a
printout or a memo or a newspaper or a magazine on his desk, youd
best do one of two things: Come when the mail arrives, or come with an
brother Vincent taught me, says Lowe, the chairman, president and
CEO of Lexington State Bank and its holding company, LSB Bancshares
Inc., that you should only look at a piece of paper one time,
because youll know what youre going to do with it.
it a Lowe family tradition in a family traditionally rich in banking.
L. Vincent Lowe Jr., six years Bobs senior, was chairman and CEO of
BB&T when he died unexpectedly in 1989. Their father was an
executive with the former United Carolina Bank. All are past
presidents of the North Carolina Bankers Association, and Bob Lowe is
currently one of 18 members nationally on the board of the American
is something that I grew up with, says the 58-year-old Lowe, who
was raised in the little town of Chadbourn in southeastern North
Carolina. It was a part of our family, and therefore was always a
part of me, something I wanted to do.
something that he does well. Lowe came to Lexington the hometown
of his wife, the former Mary Hundley Philpott, in 1970, four years
after they married. He spent 11 months at a bank across the street,
then landed at LSB, a community-service bank with roots in Davidson
County that dates to 1949. He was named CEO in 1984, and LSB quickly
took off. As of last September, it was the states 10th
largest commercial bank with assets of $812 million and deposits of
say its a mini-Wachovia, says Tony Plath, an associate professor
of finance in the Belk College of Business at the University of North
Carolina at Charlotte. Its a conservative lender, well
capitalized, with a strong brand name, clean balance sheet and
last adjective goes directly to Lowe, says Jim Culberson, who retired
as chairman of First National Bank in Asheboro in 1998 and remains a
close friend. Hes a very efficient person in utilization of his
time and management, Culberson says. At the same time, hes
good at delegating, and thats what you have to be in order to be a
maintains that hes been more fortunate than skilled. He deflects
credit to the more than 350 LSB employees who operate the 21 bank
branches, mortgage loan center and two subsidiaries in Davidson,
Forsyth and Stokes counties. And he recognizes Lexingtons proximity
to larger cities like Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, and
appreciates how a small-town atmosphere parlayed with a big-city feel
has help accelerate the banks growth.
an ideal place to live and work, theres no question about it, he
says. To be within an hours driving distance of Charlotte,
Winston-Salem and Greensboro is certainly beneficial. There are
probably a million people in a 50-mile radius of Lexington.
have employees who live here and work at our branches in Forsyth
County, and we have employees who live in Forsyth County and work
here. The accessibility is definitely a plus for both our customers
and our employees.
promotes itself as the bank built around you. The message is
clear to its shareholders and board of directors: We have a defined
strategic plan to operate the bank as a community institution, Lowe
says. While we obviously realize that its a rapidly
consolidating industry, our strategy is to continue what we think we
that end, Lowe isnt too concerned that LSB didnt offer on-line
banking services until the first quarter of last year about three
years behind the states largest institutions. And he doesnt
flinch when those same corporate giants put out feelers to see if a
certain independent bank is available.
comfortable with what we do, he says. We have a lot of
potential, and we have capital to make acquisitions. Were looking
for institutions that think like we do.
that sounds like LSB is more likely to be buying than selling, so be
it. We have a responsibility to our shareholders, he says, so
I think youre always open to ideas and certainly you have to
listen. But there will always be a place for community banking, and
thats what we do best.
what Lowe does best, according to Bob Oates, a partner in Turlington
& Associates LLP, and a longtime neighbor of Bob and Hun Lowe.
He doesnt toot his own horn, says Oates. Hes got a very
quiet demeanor. He approaches the bank with the community in mind, and
hes held steadfast in those values through the years. Its very
much the way he lives his life.
N.C., is just west of Whiteville, if that tells you something. You
might pass through it on Highway 410 on your way to the beach, but
only if youre lost. Chadbourn is so small that Lowe doesnt
bother mentioning it by name rather, that hes from the
southeastern part of the state.
the town had Chadbourn High School, and it was from there that Lowe
graduated and headed for the big city Chapel Hill and the
University of North Carolina.
earned a degree in economics in 1965 and completed the Young
Executives Institute in the universitys business school. Among
many job opportunities came one from what was then the State Planters
Bank (now Crestar Financial Corp.) in Richmond. A few weeks into his
first full-time job, he met Hun, a student at the Pan American School.
mutual friend gave him my telephone number, says Hun. He
actually took my roommate out first. Once we began dating, it got
serious in a hurry. We actually lived in the same (apartment) complex,
just two rows apart, so we saw a lot of each other.
are fuzzy as to when they realized that they would share a life
together, only that it wasnt long. My mother says she knew in
July, Hun says. I wrote her a letter and said, Im bringing
a friend home (on vacation). When she saw how we treated each
other, she said she knew.
were engaged in November and married the following May. Three years
later, Hun gave birth to twins, Fielding and Cabell. Later that year,
they loaded up the baby clothes and headed to Lexington.
liked Richmond, but I think we just felt like Lexington was the right
place for us, especially seeing that Hun was from here, says Lowe.
When I was in Chapel Hill, I knew a lot of people from Lexington,
Salisbury and the surrounding areas. We wanted to come back to North
Carolina, and this was the perfect place.
still is, which is one reason why Lowe was able to turn away overtures
through the years that would have uprooted the family. Weve
lived in a couple of nice neighborhoods and got settled in the
community and the church, says Lowe, the latter reference being to
First Presbyterian Church, where hes served as a deacon and elder.
Weve never really had any desire to leave.
twins didnt stray far from home or the family business
either. Cabell is a banking officer with Bank of America in Charlotte.
Fielding, whos married and has a 2-year-old son, also works in
Charlotte for Oxford Advisors, an investment banking firm.
Lowe made his early mark at LSB as a loan officer. Burr Sullivan, the
owner of Dorsett Printing Corp. in Thomasville and a member of the
banks board of directors, remembers a phone conversation with a man
that he didnt even know.
years ago, I was in graduate school at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill and was about to take a job at Burlington
Industries (in Lexington), Sullivan says. I got a call from Bob
asking if there was anything he could do to meet my banking needs.
Somehow, he knew I was coming.
laughs at the story. Its been so long ago, he says, that I
dont remember how I knew that.
doesnt really matter, of course, but it was telling as to the young
loan officers initiative and energy. Hes always on top of
things, says Culberson, and always has been. We go back 20
years, and you can see the characteristics he picked up from his
father and brother. He has his own ideas, but hes always willing to
let you do the talking.
Lowe arrived at LSB, the bank was just beginning to bloom. It had
opened on July 5, 1949, the brainchild of local physician J.A. Smith.
He and a few close business associates felt that Lexington should be
more than a one-bank town. Issuance of 15,000 shares of capital stock
was made available, with an individual purchase limit of 300. The more
investors the better, Smith thought.
years end, LSB totaled assets of $1.8 million. Nine years later,
the first community branch was opened in Welcome, a small community
halfway between Lexington and Winston-Salem. Between 1965 and 1978,
eight more branch offices opened in Davidson County. More branch
offices followed, and a six-level addition to the home office opened
in 1988 and still today is the tallest and most striking building
downtown. Along the way, Lowe and LSB got behind every worthwhile
community project imaginable. LSBs been a model corporate
citizen, Oates says.
expansion continued into the late 1980s and early 1990s. LSB
Bancshares assets, which totaled $189 million when Lowe became CEO,
steadily rose. He took a deep breath in 1997 when the board voted to
acquire Old North State Bank, a longstanding institution with seven
offices in Forsyth and Stokes counties. The transaction opened eyes in
the industry and was, Lowe notes, a learning experience. That was
new ground for us, he says. In a similar situation now, I think
the transition would certainly be smoother and more efficient.
notable that Smith, the banks first board chairman and president,
kept his office near the front door so he could speak to customers.
Today, Lowes office is on the ground floor near the front door
albeit in a more modern building one block away. Again, the message is
clear: The chairman, president and CEO is there for you.
up at the bank three of four times a week, says Sullivan, and I
usually pop in to say hello. You know, I used to kid him about that
desk, about him having another office somewhere where he actually did
another office does exist, its not at 110 Sequoia Drive, the Twin
Acres address that the Lowes have called home since the subdivision
was developed in the late 1970s. Chances are good that when Molly, the
familys five-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, greets her
master at the door, hes done for the day.
has always been good about not bringing work home, says Hun.
Sometimes the hours are long, but his family always has been his
top priority. Its still that way now, even though the kids are
husbands quiet demeanor and soft-spoken, Southern gentleman-like
voice are real and true, she says. But get him away from work and
hes not that quiet. Hes funny, and hes always been great fun
with the kids. He has a wonderful laugh, but its not something that
hell let go very often at work.
Lowe his hobbies and the first word out of his mouth is family. He
played golf occasionally until the kids were born then gave it
up for about 25 years. A regular tennis game took its place,
principally because tennis requires less time than golf. Now hes
back playing golf again only occasionally save for an annual
early Christmas present to himself : He and about 25 other business
men head to Myrtle Beach for three days the first weekend in December.
also are put on the calendar earlier these days. For the past three
summers, he and Hun have gone to Europe and anchored for a week in
either London or Zurich. In 1989, they began vacationing with their
children at an island every year, a tradition that has been put
on the backburner by the jaunts to Europe.
beach, however, remains a nesting place, as Hun and her sister have a
place at Arcadian Shores, while Hun and Bob maintain an interest at
Litchfield. When we have time, and can, we migrate toward the
beach, he says. So much of our travel used to be
business-related; weve decided now that well make a conscious
effort to do more leisure travel.
travel and early retirement often go hand-in-hand, but dont believe
for a minute that such will be the case for Lowe. I turned 58 in
August, he says, and Ive been in business for 35 years. It
really seems to have passed very quickly, and I enjoy it now as much
if not more than I enjoyed it then.
a banking standpoint, the challenges and opportunities have never been
greater. When you look at the technology, when you look at the other
types of businesses within our industry that you can get into, its
truly exciting. The rapid rate of change and the necessity to be able
to adapt to the wishes of our customers is tremendous.
you ever want to talk banking, Lowes not hard to find. If hes at
the bank, he answers the phone. Thats become the exception rather
than the norm among many top executives in todays e-mail, voice
mail-laden business world. But its not the case at LSB, a practice
that extends throughout the bank.
believes, says Oates, and rightly so, that if a customer is
calling the bank, the customer obviously needs something, and he or
she probably wants that answer from a person.
Its all part of the total package, according
to Culberson. The bank truly reflects Bob from top to bottom, he
says. With him, the customer always comes first.
Kevin Brafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL. This article first appeared in the January
2001 issue of the North Carolina Magazine.
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