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A Conversation with CEO, Sammie D. Dixon, Jr.
Sammie D. Dixon Jr.
Vice Chairman, President and CEO
Prime Meridian Bank
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine
Published – February 28, 2022
CEOCFO: Mr. Dixon, what is the philosophy of banking at Prime Meridian Bank?
Mr. Dixon: Our philosophy goes back to good old-
We are sitting today at $841 million in assets – just under $1 billion. We are a liability-
The philosophy of some banks, for instance, is to be a leader in technology. Our technology is excellent but being first in the pool on some of the fintech products is not necessarily a good idea, especially as a sub-
CEOCFO: How does relationship banking manifest itself and how would working with your clients be different at another bank?
Mr. Dixon: Our entire culture is surrounded by a one worded question: “why?” Anybody in the Bank – teller, personal banker, literally anyone -
If you allow people to question what is going on, they learn the “why” and develop a better understanding of what we are doing. On the flipside, if someone asks me or any of our management team why we are doing something -
Of course, everybody wants transparency right up to the point when they have to look at themselves. But if you can achieve that open, transparent relationship with your team, it translates into a better relationship with your clients and prospects.
We cannot do everything our clients and prospects want us to do. And if we cannot, we are going to sit down with them and go through the numbers and explain why.
We have a saying on everybody’s desk and in front of the teller line that reads, “Let’s think of a few good reasons why it can be done®.” Then we apply a three-
1) is it right by the client?
2) is it right by the Bank?
3) is it legally, morally, and ethically correct?
If all three of these answers are, ‘yes,’ then there is nothing we cannot do.
If number three is a “no” (legally, morally, and ethically) then we are done. If one or two are a “no” then we backup and figure out if there is another way we can do this. Having that relationship-
CEOCFO: What geographic area do you cover?
Mr. Dixon: Today we are in north Florida in Leon and Wakulla Counties. (Wakulla is an adjacent county to the south of us). We are also in central Florida in Lakeland/Polk County. All markets are doing well. The real estate market remains strong and there is a lot of liquidity in the system due to the stimulus programs.
Florida never shut down. We are completely different than, say, New York or California. Having the comeback was not that difficult. We just keep our head down and hands on the plow and keep moving forward. We will work things out as we go along. The markets are holding up nicely.
CEOCFO: What is the customer mix at Prime Meridian Bank and would you like to see it change?
Mr. Dixon: No, we like where we are right now. As a commercially-
CEOCFO: Do you do much outreach or how do you reach out to potential customers?
Mr. Dixon: Shoe leather. It is all about going out to see people. It is about constantly sticking with it and we go build that relationship. There is no mass marketing. There are no gimmicks in banking. Sure, there are banks that pull some advertising gimmicks. We’re just old-
CEOCFO: Are people surprised you still do that today?
Mr. Dixon: Oh, yes ma’am. When people come into our offices, they are immediately greeted from about three or four different people. We make fresh cookies in the Bank every day. We offer bottled water and hot coffee. Our overall philosophy is when someone walks in the Bank, we want them to feel they are walking into our living room. That kind of hospitality goes a long way.
We have more people than you’d think that come through our branches just to see our team. We know their name, but it is all about relationships and the culture you create with your team. My number one client is my team. If I take care of them, they will take care of our clients.
CEOCFO: What is different about how you treat your staff and what is it like working at Prime Meridian Bank?
Mr. Dixon: It is open and honest. If you are looking to come in and hide behind a desk, this is not the place for you. If you are willing to learn and grow and can take constructive criticism, you are going to love it.
I believe in managing by walking about and spending time with the team. This allows people to ask questions on anything we are doing the same way the rest of our executives and management would.
Someone once said to me he did not understand how we had grown the Bank and were the fastest-
He asked how we did it. I said, “are you asking me what our secret sauce is?” He said, “yes.” I told him I never thought about it that way, but it is very simple: we do not take ourselves that dadgum serious. If you treat everyone with humility, and respect, there is nothing you cannot achieve. It’s really a simple concept. We keep our heads down, our hands on the plow, and just keep moving forward.
If you go back into the 70s and 80s, we had people depositing checks every day. You heard all these people talking about branches going away. Well in the last few years, J.P. Morgan Chase built three branches here in Tallahassee alone. My thing is pay attention. Keep your head on a swivel and watch what is going on around you. Do not try to be a loss leader. But don’t stick your head in the sand either. Stay nimble enough to act.
We have a saying around here that was spoken by retired Army General Eric Shinseki. The saying is framed on the wall of every conference room and board room. It says, “If you do not like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” That is the way we operate around here. If we run across new information and change is required, we change. New information: new decision.
CEOCFO: What might have changed in your approach over time? Did you start with this philosophy day one?
Mr. Dixon: I am an open book. I love people. I love being around people. I love helping solve problems. My career started with NationsBank in credit underwriting, and I received phenomenal training in Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale with a great group of people. I helped start a bank in Naples and then went and took over a small bank.
Later I started to put Prime Meridian Bank’s business plan together. Everybody starts with, “Okay, what are we going to do?” I love studying bank business models. I had been a lot of places and saw the way the other banks did it. Instead of following those models, though, I decided to start with what we do not like and throw that out. Doing that let us build a model people could grab hold of and feel they had ownership. In my opinion, the more you give someone the more ownership they feel.
CEOCFO: Do you see the need for additional branches?
Mr. Dixon: Over time, yes, as we expand into other markets, whether through acquisition or de novo branching (starting a branch from scratch under our flag). Our strategic plan is to continue to grow organically, look at acquisitions and at de novo branching in different markets.
CEOCFO: Are you open to whatever works?
Mr. Dixon: Someone once asked my favorite type of loan? My answer has always been, “a good one.”
CEOCFO: What is the competitive landscape with other community banks in your area? How do you stand out?
Mr. Dixon: It goes back to relationship banking. Being empathetic. Not taking ourselves too seriously. Treating people with humility and respect. Everyone is going to go through bad situations, and as long as they tell us the truth, we are going to do everything we can to work with them. We are patient. We are big on, “hurry up and wait,” and constantly being able to reassess.
We are like that defensive back on a football team that keeps their head on a swivel, to make sure they do not get blindsided. We all run about the same speed. So, if you just pay attention to the details, and do the big things right, you’ll just keep moving forward. We do not judge ourselves against our competition. We judge ourselves against our potential -
CEOCFO: How have you helped your clients as well as your staff through COVID, and in general how do you help your clients when they are having a hard time?
Mr. Dixon: We did 1,376 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Of those, 645 were to non-
Of those 645 non-
One of those loans turned out to be a very strong relationship. I asked him why he went to a different bank before he came here? He said they moved over during the banking crisis to “too big to fail.” I asked why they were moving to us? He said, “because during the COVID crisis that other bank was too big to care.” The silver lining of all this is that it has been very beneficial because we stayed nimble and did what others could not.
We had a client who had a serviced-
On the flipside, we had a client that lied to us and we went after that individual aggressively. As soon as you lie to me, we are done. But, if you tell me the truth, I will work with you for as long as it takes.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about your recent earnings and how Prime Meridian is doing these days?
Mr. Dixon: Earnings for 2021 were $8.4 million -
Our credit quality continues to be very strong. We have no problem loans pending on the balance sheet. Past dues are next to nothing.
Going forward, the challenge is to backfill the $3-
CEOCFO: Does the potential increase in interest rates concern you or do you see it as necessary?
Mr. Dixon: Inflation is real and this whole transitory myth was more politics than it was true economic data.
We are currently asset sensitive and run our asset liability models monthly and use them to make decisions. Our goal is to stay neutral no matter where rates go. We are not making a bet on anything. Rates do not have anywhere to go but up. We have been told for the last ten years rates are going up. It is going to depend on what the Fed does and how they look at it and if they go simply data-
However, most of that is going to have to be borrowed, so, in that case do the politics take over and rates stay artificially low? We are looking at it and trying to stay in front of it. With our philosophy of managing our balance sheet to a neutral stance that has been very beneficial. Today we are well-
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about community involvement for the bank and how you decide where to focus your efforts when there are so many places that need help?
Mr. Dixon: The first thing you have to do is find the passion within the Bank. What does your team -
We are very passionate about the Boys and Girls Club and have a lot of volunteers who go and volunteer. We financially support the United Way and Big Bend Hospice and the local hospital (TMH). It goes with the passion and where you are volunteering or giving your money. There are an awful lot of great organizations out there that need financial support. However, you cannot give to everybody. The first criteria for us is do we have someone in the Bank truly passionate about the endeavors of the not-
CEOCFO: Why choose Prime Meridian Bank?
Mr. Dixon: We are a relationship-
We are very respectful of our resources and our expenses. We value relationships and the trust our clients have in us. And, finally, we try constantly to move the Bank forward. It is a combination of looking at your client and your shareholder. With the number of banks left from an investor standpoint the scarcity value becomes more and more promising.
Prime Meridian Bank | Sammie D. Dixon Jr. | Community Bank Stock | Tallahassee Florida Banks | OTCQX: PMHG | Approaching $1B in Assets, Prime Meridian Bank’s Culture Leads the Way -
“If you treat everyone with humility, and respect, there is nothing you cannot achieve. It’s really a simple concept. We keep our heads down, our hands on the plow, and just keep moving forward.”
Sammie D. Dixon Jr.