An Interview With Justin Harwell, Fayetteville City President
What’s your story? Where did you grow up, and have you always lived in Tennessee?
Fayetteville is home. I was born and raised here and graduated from Lincoln County High School. After high school, I attended and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. After college, I worked for an agriculture focused lender in the Cookeville area for a few years and had the opportunity to return home in 2009.
How did you get into banking?
By chance. A great friend of mine from college encouraged me to apply for a position with Farm Credit Services when I was in college. Getting that first job with Farm Credit Services opened the doors for my banking career.
How is the culture different at FirstBank compared to larger banks?
FirstBank is a community focused organization that remains true to its heritage. We are committed to excellence and dedicated to providing first-class products and services. FirstBank empowers local bankers who understand their communities to make local decisions while building and maintaining relationships with their customers. Local people making local decisions is a driving factor in FirstBank’s culture.
What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part is being a banker and being a good banker. As a banker, we cultivate relationships that last a lifetime. Seeing customers grow both personally and financially is one of the most satisfying parts of my job.
Describe a typical day at the office.
This is a trick question because so far there have not been any typical days. Each day is different because of the diversity in our customer base. The one thing that has remained the same each day is meeting the needs of our customers.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A farmer. I grew up in rural Tennessee and agriculture has always been a part of my life. I have always enjoyed working with livestock and being outside.
FirstBank operates as a community bank, with the services and resources of a large bank. What advantages does that give you?
The advantage is the array of products, services, and resources that FirstBank has to offer. However, the community bank touch is what sets us apart. The ability to make a local decision allows bankers to have a real impact.
What do you like best about being a community banker?
The answer is in the question. Community first. Banker second. As a community banker, we are relationship driven striving to offer the most innovative solutions for our customers. Community bankers have a local focus with main street being an integral part of our lives. We have an opportunity to help small businesses and families achieve their goals in life.
As a City President, what’s your vision for FirstBank in Fayetteville in 2018 and beyond?
My vision for FirstBank Fayetteville is to be the best. To be the best at what we do every day with every customer. To be the best place of employment for our associates. Our team comes to work every day with the goal of getting better. Better at what we do, better at our jobs, better at serving our customers, and better at improving our community.
Describe Fayetteville in three words.
Community. Tradition. Location.
Community: Our community maintains a base of citizens which consist of multi-generational families. This creates involvement in the community due to “neighbor helping neighbor”. Our community has a reputation for supporting fundraisers, sponsored festivals such as Host of Christmas Past and the Slawburger Festival, and simply supporting one another. Our community is also home to the Fabulous Fifties Show held each March to raise monies for the American Cancer Society.
Tradition: The motto of “Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow” holds true for our community. We are postured for future growth while maintaining a “Small Town USA” environment.
Location: Fayetteville is close to Huntsville, AL, Nashville, TN, and Chattanooga, TN. The proximity to each of these large cities enhances our area. Many of our citizens work in these areas and commute back to our community on a daily basis.
What is Fayetteville, Tennessee, known for?
The Lincoln County Fair. The Lincoln County Fair is home to the only harness racing venue in the State of Tennessee.
Slawburgers. Fayetteville is the home of the slawburger. It’s a burger topped with a mustard-based slaw that is absolutely wonderful. Fayetteville is home to a Slawburger Festival every April held on the Courthouse square.
What do you like best about life there?
I love the fact that Fayetteville is close to several major cities which allows the big city exposure while maintaining the small-town culture.
Where’s your favorite lunch spot in Fayetteville?
Ken’s Fast Food. I highly recommend the slawburger!
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?
Merle Haggard and George Strait
If you could give your 20-year-old self one piece of advice, knowing what you know now, what would that advice be?
Save money. Spend more time with your grandparents.
Have you ever had a mentor who made a difference in your life? How so?
Looking back at my career, I attribute my success to a combination of factors, including hard work, a desire to win, and a network of people that I relied on for sound advice. When I was in college I had the opportunity to work for a person who believed in me and encouraged me to finish college and go out and “do something” with myself. He provided me with a job that worked around my college commitments. I am very grateful for the opportunity he provided even at times when he really did not have to keep me employed.
What is your life’s motto?
Treat others as you would want to be treated.
Describe your perfect vacation.
Fly fishing in Jackson Hole, WY
Do you prefer indoor sports or outdoor sports? Why?
Outdoor. I grew up playing football, golf, hunting, and fishing. My grandfather played an important role in teaching me the game of golf and fully supported me in all my sporting endeavors. Today I still enjoy playing golf on a regular basis, casting a fly line, and during the winter months I can be found in a duck blind.
FirstBank has been named as one of Middle Tennessee’s Top Workplaces by The Tennessean for four years running, winning the 2018 Hall of Fame award. To be a Top Workplace, FirstBank met high standards for a healthy workplace culture as ranked by its own employees.