MARIETTA — CEO Ron Francis says with a chuckle that he has tried to retire twice now and failed. The founder of First Landmark Bank in Marietta has had two previous tenures as chief executive officer at a bank, but says this is the best job yet.
In his first two leadership positions, Francis was hired at existing banks with boards of directors already in place. But in 2008, Francis created First Landmark from the ground up, with 250 shareholders and $21 million in investments.
“This was the first one where I was able to choose everyone here. I knew their capabilities and weaknesses,” Francis said.
He came out of his second temporary retirement when he realized there was a place for a commercial bank in Marietta with his business model. It took Francis and his board three months to raise the capital; then he began what he describes as the “voluminous” process of applying for a charter. When the charter was finally approved, he opened with 14 employees in the bank’s first building on Atlanta Street.
Today, the bank has 29 employees and boasts $185 million in assets. Francis also fulfilled his goal to build “a landmark” headquarters in 2010 when they moved into the new brick clock-tower building, a replica of the old Cobb County Courthouse, on North Marietta Parkway.
In 2011, the privately held bank reported profits of $1.2 million and received the highest rating of five stars from Bauer Financial, a national bank rating and research firm.
Despite starting a bank during a recession, Francis says the bank’s business model has worked because 90 percent of its lending is business, as opposed to residential, and 70 percent of its deposits are small- to medium-size businesses, rather than personal accounts.
“All community banks are the same, we just have a different clientele,” Francis said, adding “it is tougher now because of the economy and the regulatory environment. We have to be much more careful about loans.”
Lawyer John Moore, chairman of the bank’s board, said, “Ron’s vast experience with community banks, and the fact that he has been CEO of two community banks, sets him apart from the vast majority of banks which began with CEOs with no prior CEO experience. This was a major factor to those who invested as shareholders.”
Francis was born in Chicago to Scottish parents, and his family moved to south Florida when he was in high school. He met his future wife, Claire, a Marietta native, at Florida Presbyterian College, which is now Eckerd College. The couple has one adult daughter.
After serving in the Army as an officer, the couple moved to Marietta, and he accepted a job with Trust Company bank. Although he had five job offers in five different fields, Francis said he chose the bank job because of the weekday, 9-to-5 hours, and because he was always good in math, and accounting came easy to him. He earned a master’s of business administration while working at the bank in downtown Atlanta.
At 68 years old, Francis won’t say when he might retire permanently, but acknowledged that the bank is currently doing succession training.
“I’m doing more strategic planning now and less day-to-day operations,” he said.
Ninety percent of the bank’s shareholders work and live in Cobb County, he said.
“As long as we can continue to grow, make money and give a return to our shareholders, everybody is satisfied,” Francis said.
CEO PROFILE: RONALD H. FRANCIS
* TITLE: Vice Chairman and CEO, First Landmark Bank
* AGE: 68
* EDUCATION: BS, Sociology, Eckerd College; MBA, Finance, Georgia State University
* FAMILY: Claire, wife of 46 years; daughter Shana Rutherford * FIRST JOB: U.S. Army — Officer in basic training, Fort Gordon
* LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: Always read what you sign. * ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Surround yourself with people smarter or more talented than you.