When Paul Murphy was named CEO of Cadence Bancorp LLC, a merger of three financial institutions, he knew the staff would be asking, “Who is this Murphy guy who just bought the bank, and what is he all about?”
But he was not taken aback. He had prior experience as the CEO of Amegy Bank of Texas for 10 years, and the task of building one culture out of three was not an insurmountable one for him.
Murphy’s challenge was to bring Cadence Bank, a 127-year-old institution; Encore Bank of Houston; and a failed bank all under one nameplate. He believed it was first a job of gaining trust among employees.
“People are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but to really become committed and trusting, you’ve got to pass the time test,” he says. “You have to get to know them by sharing past experiences, background, how we approach business from big picture things like what type of culture are we trying to create; also in smaller things involving execution and delivery of service and the customer experience.”
While in such a situation you can’t expect that all three entities would have stellar company cultures, you can take the best of what there is and build on it.
“All three banks had elements of good cultures that we wanted to merge,” Murphy says. “But we wanted to raise the level of commitment to values and goals in all cases. We really wanted to hammer home the importance of customer service. We tried to do that in a way that is engaging and memorable.
“I think we are making great strides; we are generating a lot of new business and new revenue.”
With annual revenue of $240 million and 1,400 employees, Cadence Bank is showing the benefits of a strong company culture.
Here’s how Murphy, who in 2011 was named chairman of Cadence Bank N.A., fashioned a new culture by living it, meaning it and being committed to it.
Make it a good place to work
Murphy had previous experience with a merger when he helped found Amegy Bank in 1990 as Southwest Bank of Texas. With the bank chairman, he bought other institutions, including Klein Bank & Trust and Lone Star Bank and melded them into the fold. It gave him an edge when it came to Cadence Bank, but it still took some hard work.
“It is a combination of spending a lot of time together sharing ideas,” he says. “Credibility is of paramount importance. And communicate, communicate, communicate. You’ve got to bring the words to life. That creates the environment for the culture.”
Driving culture requires talking about it from the top, but it also can occur in situations like conference calls while you look through the nitty-gritty processes to be sure you aren’t micromanaging.
“Have adequate controls, but allow people still to be empowered and able to get their job done — in a sensible and timely fashion,” Murphy says.
Building a company culture is a long-term process that has to be nurtured constantly.
“To me, the culture is much more than posters on a wall,” Murphy says. “It is what you do every day. And when your company’s culture aligns with your personal values and your shared values, adoption is really quite simple.”
To determine the best aspects of the culture to save and nurture, look for those that make the company a good place to work.
“It’s about taking care of employees, providing them with opportunity and chances to advance, grow and expand their careers,” he says. “I think the customer service focus and intensity is something that really worked in all our three cases to be even more responsive — better products, bigger investment in technology, and providing tools to customers. That makes that a more robust product offering.”
Have a culture with a can-do attitude
In a merger, you may have to hire anew to fit the culture you’re creating. That is often a silver lining in the dark cloud.
“We have been fairly aggressive in terms of hiring commercial lenders, for example,” Murphy says. “Where the prior banks had small, almost nonexistent commercial lending competency, we have hired about 65 bankers with extensive commercial experience. That’s the most fun part of the job because you have new talent that is excited about being here, and they are on fire; they can’t wait to get to work. That’s pretty cool.
“We have been really successful in that regard.”
Murphy says he feels Cadence Bank’s culture plays a part in attracting new talent.
“For a highly motivated team of bankers, this is something that they would value, and they’re choosing where they want to be,” he says. “All these people who have joined us to help grow the business — the talent inflow has been phenomenal.
“There’s one man I have been trying to hire for 20 years. He was well-placed and doing well. His bank went through a series of transitions. To be part of something that is freshly, strongly capitalized, that has a great board of directors, a good management team, and to have a culture with a can-do attitude — so yes, this is something that a superstar team saw as a different place to work, a better place to work where I can do a better job for my customers and be more successful and be happier.”
If you’ve hired a new team, the employees’ first thoughts may be about the sincerity of the new company they’ve just joined.
“People are first going to say, ‘How sincere are these people about this mission? This goal? Who are they; are they really sincere? Are they genuine? It sounds good. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt,’” Murphy says.
“But as time passes, you’ve got to be consistent,” he says. “Then you circle back the second time and the third time. And then people will say, ‘You know, they seem to be really committed to this. They talk about it all the time. Maybe they do mean what they say.’”
The bottom line of a good culture is that it drives revenue and profitability.
“One of my favorite sayings ever — how your employees feel is eventually how your customers will feel — leads to a kind of enlightened self-interest,” Murphy says. “Your employees feel good, and know that this is a good place to work. The company cares about its customers and is sincere about doing a good job.”
Put a focus on attitude
While companies talk about enjoying your work and having fun at your job, Murphy knows there are realistic limits.
“It just can’t be ‘rah rah’ throughout the day,” he says. “I like enthusiasm, but I like sincerity and thoughtfulness as well. If you could put all of those together, then you have something that people can really take hold of.”
If you draw a flowchart about company culture, those three attributes should be radiating from one database called “attitude.”
“Attitude is a huge part of culture,” Murphy says. “Give me a person with a great attitude and a good work ethic and I think the sky’s the limit. But someone with a difficult attitude who’s not willing to be flexible — it’s going to be much harder for that person to be successful.”
While you may expect some employees to step right up to the company culture and engage to the fullest, others are bound to be less engaged. It’s important to discover the attitude. Subpar attitudes can weaken the culture.
“That is when you have to hold people accountable,” Murphy says. “Accountability is an important part of our culture. If we are not getting the job done, we need to address the issue and find the root cause. If it is that people aren’t well-placed, we have to address the issue. Turnover is never easy, but it is sometimes required.”
Murphy has found that by weaving the aspect of company culture into the annual employee evaluation process, it sends two messages to the employees. The first one involves the employee’s engagement with the culture and the second one communicates the point that the company places a high value on company culture.
“Our annual evaluation process is subjective: ‘Do you embrace the culture? Do you show a good attitude? Are you on board with what the company is trying to accomplish?’” Murphy says. “It is intangible in terms of how it is numerically rated.
“I think they see that if we are putting this into their evaluation, it must be meaningful to them [the bank] or we wouldn’t be going on about it so much,” Murphy says.
“Culture is a commitment of time and energy and training materials. But I think it is worth every penny. I think it is one of the best investments that you can make in the future of a business.”
Down the road, the company culture should continue to be a big part of the leader’s job, Murphy says: “Just continue to communicate, to live by example and to follow-up and follow-through on the little things around customer service to be sure that you are getting resources to people who can resolve customer service issues.”
How to reach: Cadence Bank, (800) 636-7622 or www.cadencebank.com
Make it a good place to work
Have a culture with a can-do attitude
Put a focus on attitude
The Murphy File
Cadence Bancorp LLC
Cadence Bank N.A.
Born: Vicksburg, Miss.
Education: My undergraduate degree is from Mississippi State University, and I have a MBA from the University of Texas at Austin.
What was your very first job?
My first job was washing windows at the bank that my mother worked in. I am from a banking family. Some of my uncles, my mom and my grandfather were bankers. I was probably 13 or 14. I also had a lawn-mowing business where I had several neighborhood lawns. What did I learn? I think the motivation to generate revenue and have more spending money and more impact on your quality of life or work ethic. I think I learned early of the importance of having a good work ethic, of being responsible for taking some financial responsibility for myself as a young person — that was a very good thing for me.
Who do you admire in business?
I love entrepreneurs. These people go out and start businesses, risk their own capital and walk away from a good job and safety net to create jobs, to bring new ideas to market, to change the world. I think the folks who are willing to do those things are extremely impressive and we should celebrate entrepreneurs more than we do.
What was the best business advice you ever received?
Work hard. Be persistent. I think a big part of success in life is being consistent, persistent and effective and follow through on the task ahead. I think that is really from my mom, Sally Wailes. What I learned from her is to be flexible, to not take yourself too seriously, and to have a good attitude even when things are not going your way. Look for the positive things in life; look for the bright side and persevere.
What is your definition of business success?
I think it is a couple of elements. One, to be financially comfortable would be a measure. Doing a good job for customers and creating value for your customers. A tight ship comes to mind. Being well-run, being accountable to shareholders, regulators, all the third parties and vendors. You want to be a good partner with all those groups which you encounter, and being a place that has high integrity and consistency.