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A New Tune


  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 9:54 a.m. December 16, 2011
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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A banker would likely cringe if his or her career took the trajectory of a country music song.

Lost dogs. Flat tires. Ex-wives and ex-husbands. It all goes against the put-together, on-top-of-it-all personas bankers seek.

But David Brooks, who was appointed market president for BB&T in Manatee County in August, grew up in country music. Brooks' grandmother, Winifred Rushing Kelley, was a nanny for John Carter Cash, Johnny and June Carter Cash's only child. Kelley became part of the extended Cash family. She even co-wrote a song with Johnny Cash. “She has had a lasting influence on me and many other people,” says Brooks.

A Nashville native, Brooks was around the Cash family regularly. Johnny and June Carter Cash played songs at Brooks' engagement party with his now-wife. Says Brooks: “They were the most generous people.”

Brooks says his grandmother and Johnny Cash taught him humility, character and work ethic — other traits that are a consistent country music theme. Brooks, 35, says those ideals have served him well in his banking and finance career.

Brooks sat down with the Business Review recently to talk about his banking career, the industry and his life outside work. Here are excerpts of the conversation:

Industry
Federal fray: Brooks says the federal government's harsh stance against banks is misguided — both because it's his livelihood and it goes against his sense of fair play. “They more or less have said we don't think banks should earn profits,” says Brooks.

Bigger, not better: Instead of too big to fail, Brooks looks at problems at some of the larger banks as simply being too big. First off, says Brooks, the bigger a bank, the more it costs to comply with what he terms “excessive regulation.” That leads to a dilution of equity, says Brooks, which is made worse by prior bad decisions at the bank to get that big in the first place. And that, in turn, leads a bank to take more risks to make up capital losses.

“There's a pitfall when you focus on being the biggest at the expense of shareholders and customers,” says Brooks. “If (big) is your purpose then you're doomed to fail. You need something more sustainable.”

Consolidation city: The banking industry is primed to get more competitive, predicts Brooks, because banks that survive the recession will look to grow by absorbing weaker institutions. “I haven't found that competition is anywhere near where it could be or will be five years from now,” Brooks says. “I think it will get tougher.”

Personal Life
Stick it Out: Brooks played football in high school until he was 16. Then he met John Baer, a nationally known figure in lacrosse who ran a program for the sport at Brooks' high school. Brooks quickly got hooked on lacrosse, and he later played it at Wake Forest University. “I was looking for something that was challenging,” says Brooks. “Lacrosse is something where you have to develop your stick skills. You have to run, catch and throw all at the same time.”

Across the pond: Brooks earned an M.B.A. from the University of Oxford-Mansfield College in England. He played lacrosse there, and took exams in 800-year-old halls and classrooms. Brooks earned a bachelor's degree in business and German from Wake Forest University.

Wide range: Brooks has an eclectic list of hobbies and books he's currently reading. On books, the list includes “To the Castle and Back” by Vaclav Havel; “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand; and “Lords of Finance” by Liaquat Ahamed. The hobbies range from playing the guitar to skiing to playing with his kids.

Career
A diverse lot: Brooks' first job in finance was selling truck loans for a Volvo dealership in North Carolina. That job led to a position with Merrill Lynch in Washington, D.C. He later joined BB&T, where he worked in the bank's Winston-Salem, N.C., headquarters, in commercial credit and corporate finance.

Brooks says he looks for jobs that allow him the chance to learn something every day. Says Brooks: “One of the things that makes me happy is when I have a constantly upward learning curve.”

A new perspective: Brooks and his wife lived in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001. The couple lived 10 blocks from the White House. But they missed their families after the terrorist attacks. They moved back to North Carolina, where Brooks' wife grew up. Says Brooks: “It helped put things in perspective for us.”

Moving on up: Brooks was appointed Manatee County BB&T area executive Aug. 22. There are 10 offices in the Manatee County region. “We're not intent on being the biggest,” says Brooks. “Our vision is being the best, which is of course objective.” Brooks, though, adds that in Florida, and in particular in Manatee County, BB&T seeks “opportunities to continue deepening our investment.”

 

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