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An Interview With Greg Smithers, Memphis, Tennessee Market President

What’s your story? Where did you grow up and have you always lived in Tennessee?
I grew up in Cookeville, Tennessee and moved to Memphis to go to Rhodes College. After graduation, I stayed in Memphis. I’ve only lived in Cookeville or Memphis.

How did you get into banking?
My first job out of college was with Boatmen’s Bank. After almost four years with Boatmen’s I went to First Tennessee. After almost fifteen years there I went to Iberia Bank. Thirteen years later, I came to FirstBank.

How is the culture different at FirstBank compared to larger banks?
There are two ways to run a bank: line of business or market centric. Most big banks decide to go with a line of business approach. The market centric approach isn’t the most cost efficient way to run a bank, but it keeps decision makers closer to the client and keeps the bank anchored in the community as a good corporate citizen. FirstBank is very market centric.

What is your favorite part about your job?
Ultimately, its all about taking care of the client. The best way I know to do that is to build an effective and knowledgeable team who can advise clients. While the Memphis market had a good foundation, the ability to step in with a team of highly productive employees, coupled with the existing highly productive employees, makes for a fun time.

Describe a typical day at the office.
I don’t ever want a typical day at the office. As a market president, I am looking for new and novel ways to expand the brand, grow the market and take care of clients. If I ever start having typical days, it’s time to find something else.  

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. That dream came to a crashing halt when a family friend who was an orthopedic surgeon let me sit in on a total hip replacement. About two minutes after the initial cut, I knew that medicine wasn’t for me.

What do you like best about being a community banker? 
A community banking or market centric approach to banking allows me to get involved in all aspects of running a market from credit decisions to marketing to branch builds to helping the community. I like being involved in every aspect of banking.

As a Market President, what’s your vision for FirstBank in Memphis? 
We can’t compete against the big clumsy banks on the retail side. They have a huge head start on us and have all the best locations with branches on every corner. However, we eat their lunch on the commercial side daily. I want FirstBank to be known as the bank for business in Memphis. We understand commercial lending and have the best team in the city.

How do you think FirstBank’s local banking model gives customers more? 
Our local banking model simply keeps the decision makers closer to the client. This allows us to get to know each of our clients on a deeper level than the big banks. We are able to take care of our clients’ financial needs and at the same time, build lasting relationships.

Describe your market area in three words from a banking perspective.
Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity.

What is Memphis known for?
Memphis is the birthplace of Rock and Roll, home of the Blues and the cradle of Soul. The first branch of the Smithsonian museum outside of DC was the Rock and Soul Museum in Memphis. Their research revealed that every form of music in this country either originated in Memphis or came through here. Memphis is also known for our BBQ. Everyone knows that real BBQ is pork, not beef. I understand that Texas has beef BBQ and we think that’s real cute.

What do you like best about life there?
Even though the MSA has over one million people, it is still a small town. It is almost impossible to go out and not see someone you know. Life in Memphis is easy: traffic is not a concern, the cost of living is reasonable and the people are friendly.

If we got in your car and turned on some music, what are some songs that would be on your playlist, CD or favorite radio station?
I’m a huge music fan. On average, I’m at a live show at least once a week. If I could only listen to one band for the rest of my life, it would be the Grateful Dead.

Have you ever had a mentor who made a difference in your life? How so?
My parents were the best mentors I ever had: highly principled, inquisitive and full of common sense.

What is your life motto?
There was a great musician named Warren Zevon. Warren was dying of cancer and when asked by David Letterman what he was thinking about, his response was “Enjoy every sandwich.” So, enjoy every sandwich!

Describe your perfect vacation.
The perfect vacation to me is one spent with family and filled with outdoor adventure.

Describe your perfect vacation.
My wife likes active vacations. I like passive ones. My daughter summed it up best after an active vacation in Washington, D.C.: “I want a vacation where I don’t have to learn anything.”

Do you prefer indoor or outdoor sports?
I’m not much of a sports person.

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