Prime Meridian Bank
Where culture is key
Business View Magazine interviews Sammie D. Dixon, Jr., Vice Chairman, President & CEO of Prime Meridian Bank, for our focus on Top Community Banks in America
Sammie D. Dixon, Jr., Vice Chairman, President and CEO of Prime Meridian Bank, is about as candid a person as you’re ever likely to meet. A financially savvy, tell-it-like-it-is fellow, Dixon recently spoke with Business View Magazine about his Bank’s culture, change, and the last many months during COVID. He shared his insights about the future of the Bank and the industry, as a whole.
BVM: How has the Bank fared over the last couple of ‘interesting’ years?
Dixon: “Very well, thank you for asking. As of the end of last quarter (September 30, 2021), we are a $795 million bank. We almost hit the $800 million mark. That’s pretty good growth for a bank with $500 million in assets less than two years ago.
“Our approach has been to keep our heads down and our hands on the plow. We just keep pushing forward. Once you repeat that over and over, you’ve made some pretty good progress. Then we go plant some more, pull a few weeds, and manage the growth. To me, that ethic of hard work is the part a lot of businesses have all but forgotten.
“I think a lot of our success is due to the fact that, while PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] was a challenge for all banks to deal with, it also gave clients an opportunity to see which banks were truly relationship banks – banks that were going to hold their hands to get them through it – and which ones were not. That is the approach we took, and we did just over 1,300 PPP loans. Of those, 645 were non-clients, and over the past 20 months, we’ve already moved about 250 of those relationships [to Prime Meridian]. That’s a generational change for a community bank.”
BVM: Have you made significant changes in technology or otherwise?
Dixon: “Not really. From a technology standpoint, we upgraded our mortgage platform, but that doesn’t affect clients. It affects our team. We continue to make enhancements in our remote deposit, remote capture – but not big changes.
The secret is to stay true to who we are and focus on the client. If you do, good things are going to happen.”
BVM: Has your Bank’s culture changed during the pandemic?
Dixon: “No. Our culture is not something we change in response to outside forces. It is something we cultivate. It’s true our culture requires us to always consider “change” and be prepared for change. But we don’t change who we are based on the direction the wind is blowing.
We have a saying framed in our conference rooms: “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” That pretty much says it all. Since the middle of 2021, just like everyone else, the biggest challenge has been finding people who want to work. We’ve got a good, steady group of people now and I’m not worried about that.”
BVM: So, what is your “secret sauce”?
Dixon: “You know a teammate asked me that a while ago. I had never thought of it that way, but it’s really pretty simple: Our secret sauce is we don’t take ourselves that dadgum seriously. There’s another bank down the road. If you treat everyone with humility and respect, you can accomplish just about anything. That is our philosophy, and it doesn’t really change.”
BVM: What gets you excited about running a community bank?
Dixon: “In a word: involvement. I am the incoming chair of our local Chamber of Commerce. We are trying to help build our community in a very strategic manner. In Tallahassee, right now, all these students come in to go to university or college, and then when they graduate, they leave. Why can’t we do things and promote this community to grow jobs … to grow industry?
“The new President at Florida State University (FSU) wants to change it into more of a research institution, which is phenomenal. We’ve got the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) here – the largest and highest-powered magnet lab in the world – for research on magnetic propulsion, MRI machines, etc. It is funded by the National Science Foundation. The more investment we have in research, the more it helps the community with jobs, jobs, jobs. We’ve got one of the most highly educated populations here because of the universities. So, why don’t we leverage all these things into building up our local economy? The answer is, we are.
“For too long, Tallahassee has been a government and education town. Our concept is: let’s bring in industry and high-end scientific research. For instance, Taxol – the cancer drug – was invented here. Having opportunities like that is what gets me excited. Working with our not-for-profits does, too. Our Bank is heavily involved in the Boys & Girls Club – an organization that can get to kids at a young age, mentor them and help them learn. That’s building a community the right way because you have to build it for everyone.
“Amazon is currently constructing a robotics fulfillment center here which comes online end of 2022. That’s a huge boost to the community, as well, and for the betterment of all. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats – at least the ones that don’t have holes in them. We can’t solve every problem. But we can try to help the community and help people who want to accomplish great things.”
BVM: Tell us about your ‘building community bankers’ philosophy?
Dixon: “Our mission statement is: “Building bankers to serve our clients and community in order to optimize shareholder value.” We have just under 100 full-time employees, and I’ll have about 25 of those people in our management meetings.
“In some businesses, that circle is much smaller. But here’s the thing: I can’t give you experience – that takes a while – but I can give you exposure. Then, as you come across things you’ve never done before, you might have a perspective you would not otherwise have had. And if you’re constantly asking, ‘why?’ that exposure becomes more and more valuable.
“Instead of a siloed approach, our mission is to build complete bankers. If they can see the whole bank, and not just a slice of it, then they can come at any situation with a much more holistic solution. I always say it is your responsibility to question why something doesn’t make sense. If you’re asking why, you’re thinking and using the grey matter the good Lord gave you. If you’re doing that and asking the right questions, you’re less likely to make a mistake. On the flip side, if you ask anyone on our management team why we’re doing something and we can’t answer you, then we need to rethink what we’re doing.
“I don’t have a problem raising my hand and saying I’m wrong. As my dad used to tell me, ‘No matter what you do, there’s always going to be someone better. And if you make a mistake, own up to it.’ If you treat people with humility and respect, there’s not a lot you can’t overcome. A lot of the bigger banks have gotten away from that. I heard from a new client that they went with a big bank before [they came to us] because they [the big banks] were too big to fail. And that client left them because they felt the big bank was too big to care.”
BVM: What would you like Prime Meridian Bank and your team to achieve in the coming years?
Dixon: “The game plan for the next three to five years is ‘bigger and more’ – literally.
“We want to continue to grow, but we’re not chasing dots on a map. We’re looking for good, like-minded people that believe culture matters. I can’t overemphasize that. It’s taking an old-school approach, with a new way of doing things. We get everything prepared and then wait for the right opportunity. Meanwhile we focus on culture, building strong relationships, and taking care of clients.”
About Prime Meridian
Prime Meridian is more than just a financial institution. They are a big part of every community they serve. Headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida, Prime Meridian Holding Company (OTCQX: PMHG) offers a broad range of banking services through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Prime Meridian Bank, a Florida state-chartered non-member bank.
Founded in 2008, the Bank now serves the Tallahassee and Lakeland/Winter Haven Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA), including clients in North and Central Florida as well as South Georgia and South Alabama. The Bank currently has four Florida locations: two in Tallahassee, Florida, one in Crawfordville, Florida, and one in Lakeland, Florida. As of September 30, 2021, the Bank had 95 FTEs.
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AT A GLANCE
Prime Meridian Bank
What: Outgoing, diverse community bank
Where: Headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida