Best in Banking

The most respected Middle Tennessee leaders and lenders from institutions large and small

After a few years where most bankers were pretty much holding on for dear life, 2011 saw the beginning of a shakeout. We didn’t see the wave of mergers and acquisitions some have predicted for a few years — the first few months of this year saw that change a bit — but it became clear as the year progressed that some lenders had done a much better job managing their Great Recession problems. How to find them? They were growing, taking key people and market share from competitors and making moves to grab more business as growth strengthens.

The ones who didn’t make that transition back to growth? You won’t find many of them on this list. For the second year in a row, we’ve pulsed and polled the region’s finance community to piece together for you a group of bankers that covers the bases in terms of both management and sector specialization. No more complaining about the lack of lending capacity or will. If you’re looking for money to help you grow, the Best in Banking is a great place to start.

Don Abel
President and CEO
Fifth Third, Tennessee

Mississippi native who rose to lead Middle Tennessee region for former National Bank of Commerce. Moved to Fifth Third in ’05 as commercial banking chief and was promoted three years ago. Has aggressively added to lending team, especially in health care and mortgage, and grew Tennessee loan book and core deposits by 15 percent in 2011.

Karen Ahern
National Healthcare Group
Fifth Third

Responsible for leading lending team that has national reach. Joined Fifth Third in November 2008 from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and also headed up health care finance at National City. In 1996 became first finance professional elected to Nashville Health Care Council board.

John Barton
Specialized Industry Executive

Formerly head of $4 billion Regions group focused on hospitals, middle-market providers and medical office buildings. Was promoted in December to current job, which oversees bank’s health care team as well as lenders serving transportation, restaurant and technology/defense sectors. Jumped to Regions in 2009 after spending almost entire career at SunTrust.

Sam Belk
Regional VP, Regional Manager of Commercial Banking
Wells Fargo

Oversees commercial banking for Wells in Tennessee, northern Mississippi as well as – since summer 2011 – Alabama and Louisiana. Left Bank of America in 2005 after 26 years to launch regional middle-market office, predating Wells’ buyout of Wachovia by several years.

Holly Bell
Senior Vice President, Entertainment Division
City National

SunTrust and Fifth Third veteran who left Wells Fargo’s private banking group in late 2010 to lead California-based City National’s Music Row charge. Oversees offices here and in Atlanta that have quickly grown to about 20 people.

Melanie Blank
Executive VP/Consumer Banking Executive

Heads up Regions’ Middle Tennessee retail network of more than 90 branches. Sewanee graduate who has been with Regions and predecessor AmSouth for more than a decade. Known for passion and rapport with front-line employees.

Pat Campbell
Senior Vice President

Has since 1999 led SunTrust’s not-for-profit and government banking group, with the former taking up about 80 percent of business. Started with SunTrust in 1980 as teller and worked in both personal and commercial banking departments during the ’90s.Vanderbilt math major and member of bank’s Regional Leadership Council.

Wallace ‘Buzz’ Carter
Executive Vice President
Bank of Nashville

Moved in early 2011 from downtown neighbor FirstBank to newly created director of commercial banking post that oversees Bank of Nashville’s middle-market, business banking, private-client and treasury management groups. Had been commercial business line manager at FirstBank since late 2007.

Kent Cleaver
President and COO
Avenue Bank

Longtime lieutenant to Ron Samuels at Union Planters and Regions and co-founder of Avenue. Added president to title in April and now oversees day-to-day operations and business development for bank that employs almost 100 people.

Randall Clemons
Chairman and CEO
Wilson Bank & Trust

Low-key but effective leader of $1.6 billion community bank where profits topped $10 million in 2011. Branch network now reaches into seven counties but is built around 42 percent share in core Wilson market.

Ron Cox
Senior Vice President

Ohio-born bluegrass banjo player and former road musician who played with Conway Twitty and was Curb Music Publishing staff writer. Helped launch Avenue in 2007 and now oversees bank’s music and entertainment group, which has amassed more than $150 million in assets.

Dan Crockett
Chairman, President and CEO
Franklin American Mortgage

Bought then-struggling young brokerage operation in September of 1994 and has since built company into top 20 national player with more than 30 retail branches and about 1,000 employees. Six-time Inc. 500 honoree that took on Music City Bowl title sponsorship in 2009.

Ron DeBerry
President and CEO
Commerce Union

Former Bank of America liability risk management executive who six years ago built a team to revive storied Commerce Union name from Springfield base. Has since grown bank to more than $200 million in assets — growing loan book by 30 percent in 2011 — and posted a profit every quarter since mid-2009.

Renee Drake
Senior Vice President
Fifth Third

Commercial line of business head for Fifth Third in Tennessee. Veteran commercial banker who jumped from SunTrust in fall of 2011 after 16 years. Willing and able to work with $20 million companies or megacorporations with more than $1 billion in sales.

Mike Hardwick
Churchill Mortgage

Co-founder of the former Franklin National Bank who launched Churchill in 1992 and has aggressively ramped up operations and recruited senior talent. Building up regional network with Sumner County, Jackson and southern Kentucky offices while growing farther afield as well. Also owns 45 percent of Escrow Services of Tennessee.

Lisa Harless
Senior Vice President

Nashville’s most visible sports and entertainment banker thanks in part to multi-year advertising campaign. Works with clients on estate planning, retirement planning, investment management, education planning and personal insurance and oversees daily operations of Regions’ Entertainment and Sports Division in Nashville.

Richard Herrington
Franklin Synergy

Former Franklin National and Cumberland Bank leader who in late 2007 opened the doors to Franklin Synergy, which has been continuously profitable for more than three years. Has built lender to more than $500 million in assets in large part through old-fashioned hometown mortgage lending and plans to open fourth office later this year.

Chris Holmes

Named to post at state’s No. 9 deposit holder in April and overseeing growth push that will flesh out Middle Tennessee retail network over next few years. Also recruited senior Regions Bank commercial exec Allen Oakley and his team. Former National Commerce exec who joined FirstBank in 2010 from South Carolina-based South Financial Group.

Kevin Lavender
SVP, Managing Director of Health Care Finance
Fifth Third

Former Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions commissioner who joined Fifth Third in 2005 as head of corporate health care lending. Promoted in early 2009 to oversee international and large corporate finance in addition to national health care finance. Co-founder of MediSphere Health Partners.

Rob McNeilly
Chairman, President 
and CEO
SunTrust, Nashville

Tapped in mid-2005 to succeed Woody Woodring as regional boss of SunTrust’s 1,500-employee operations. Joined SunTrust in 1984 and rose through organization to lead bank’s operations in Alabama before coming to Nashville in 2001. Rebounded in 2011 from high-profile departures to be ranked No. 1 among SunTrust’s regions based on loan and deposit growth and customer satisfaction.

Cindy Oliva
Senior Vice President

Jumped to Pinnacle early this year after spending 10 years at SunTrust, most recently as first vice president of private wealth management and client advisor for its legal specialty group. Focused on marketing Pinnacle to law firms and attorneys.

Joseph ‘Pepe’ Presley
Chairman and CEO
Cumberland Trust & Investment

The dean of Nashville trust banking who launched Cumberland Trust in 2001. Firm now runs four Tennessee offices as well as outposts in Atlanta and Austin. Past president of the Estate Planning Council of Nashville, the Tennessee Bankers Association Trust Division and the Planned Giving Council of Nashville. Began finance career in the early 1970s at the former Third National Bank.

Doyle Rippee
Middle Tennessee 
Regional President
First Tennessee

Onetime Bank of America Tennessee president who has helped breathe new life into First Tennessee’s local operations. In 2011 cemented No. 5 spot in deposit market share, which is at highest since 2007. Previously led corporate banking at Regions and was key to building up Morgan Keegan’s area business in the early 2000s.

Howard Safer
Argent Trust

Former local boss of Regions Morgan Keegan Trust lured this spring by Louisiana firm to build Nashville office. Founder and president of Bradford Trust from 1993 until parent company J.C. Bradford was sold to PaineWebber in 2000.

Ron Samuels
Chairman and CEO

Nashville’s most out-and-about banker who was regional leader for Union Planters and Regions Bank before gathering $75 million to launch Avenue in 2007. Posted first quarterly profit within three years and grew asset base more than 10 percent in 2011, when he also paid off TARP money while getting on board with Treasury’s Small Business Lending Fund.

Jim Schmitz
Middle Tennessee Area Executive

Executive VP leading the local charge for Middle Tennessee market leader, which still controls 17 percent of area deposits. Named to current post in 2007 after holding same role in North Florida. Looking to have Regions play offense again — NOW initiative featuring check cashing and prepaid card has been well received — after parent paid off TARP obligations.

Kirk Scobey
Vice Chairman
Equitable Trust

One of the senior statesmen in Nashville’s trust banking scene, helped organize Equitable in 1991 and was its president until early this year. Oversaw personal trust and investment management at Commerce Union and then C&S Sovran.

Tom Snyder
Managing Director, 
Private Banking
Nashville Bank & Trust

Helped open doors to Nashville Bank & Trust in 2004 after spending three years as EVP at National Bank of Commerce. Before that spent almost a decade in private-client group at SunTrust. Started in finance at First National Bank of Louisville in 1972.

John Stein
Tennessee President
Bank of America

Local mainstay of nearly four decades who also heads up bank’s national for-profit health care team. Has overseen deposit share boost of three percentage points since 2008 that now has BofA on the heels of Regions. Veteran of commercial, trade finance and international banking who took current post in early 2002.

Tony Thompson
Executive Vice President
First Tennessee

Bank’s top business banking exec who relinquished regional presidency in 2009 to refocus on commercial lending in Davidson and Williamson counties. Funded loans from his group have doubled in large part by focusing on health care and public finance work. Moved here from East Tennessee in 2007.

Claire Tucker
President and CEO

Former First American and FirstBank exec who raised more than $80 million to launch CapStar in 2008. Led bank to first quarterly profit in early 2011 and has since ramped up organic growth while striking deals for American Security Bank & Trust and Cool Springs office of struggling Community First.

Terry Turner
President and CEO

The face of Nashville’s new homegrown banks who has launched Pinnacle’s ‘third chapter’ following recession and hiccups from mid-decade acquisitions of Cavalry and Mid-America. Last summer fired up recruiting machine and has since brought in high-level execs that could add $375 million in loans over time.

Ken Webb
Chief Lending Officer

Ramped up CapStar’s already-strong loan growth in 2011, when bank’s book went to $424 million from $308 million. Longtime First Tennessee business strategy exec widely respected not just for experience but also as gentleman banker.

Ed White
Senior Lending Officer

Executive VP who leads Pinnacle’s growing client advisory group. Former city president for First American who during 35-year career has migrated between commercial, retail and private banking in three states. Seen as cool head key to Pinnacle’s rebound from credit quality issues.