Mollie Hale Carter doesn't dislike bank acquisitions. She just wants to make sure that her $1.7 billion bank can get more growth from purchasing another bank than it could through growing without an acquisition.
Carter, president and CEO of Salina-based Sunflower Bank, was in Wichita on Friday.
As the two-time recipient of US Banker magazine's "25 Most Powerful Women in Banking" approaches her five-year anniversary at the bank that's owned by her family, Carter sat down with The Eagle to discuss her philosophy of bank growth, the relevance of Wichita to Sunflower and her short- and long-term goals for one of the state's largest banks.
Carter is the first in her family to work as a full-time employee of the bank.
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"We have been raised to go and set our own path," she said.
The youngest of six Carter children, she attended Ivy League schools — Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School — and began her career as a credit officer at John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance in Boston.
When her parents neared their self-imposed mandatory retirement age for service on Sunflower's board of directors, she was asked to take a seat on the board.
"So monthly I was flying out for board meetings," Carter said.
Several years later, Carter decided to move closer to home because she and her late husband, Larry, were planning a family.
"We loved Boston," said Carter, who has two daughters, Jocelyn, 10, and Libby, 11. "We just knew the Midwest was a better place to raise our family."
And then Jim Berglund, the bank's CEO for 20 years, decided to retire.
"As the chairman (of the board), I was working with him to develop a successor," she said. "And at one point he had me in his office and said, 'I think I've identified my successor.... I think it's you.'
"While it wasn't something I was thinking was going to happen, it really made a lot of sense in terms of being a privately held, family owned bank. At a certain point it's really important to have a member of the family more closely involved to kind of keep that stability going."
Under Carter's tenure as CEO, Sunflower has grown by nearly $600 million in assets. That's largely been through internal, or organic, growth, not through acquisitions.
"Why I emphasize organic growth is because when a company focuses on growth by acquisition, you're only focusing on the next acquisition and you're not focusing on the customers you have," she said. "It's important for us to be relevant to our customers, and if you're relevant to your customers then you grow your customer base."
Carter said Wichita is key to the bank's overall growth and performance.
"Wichita is our largest market, therefore it's our market of greatest opportunity," she said. "It's got a strong business community, and we're primarily a commercial bank, so it fits very well into what we do well."
She said Wichita is also a market "we'd like to continue to invest in" but there are no immediate plans for expansion.
Carter said the bank would like to grow its asset size to $3 billion in 2011.
"Now, we set that goal before this market" went into a recession, she said.
"But I know this $3 billion number for us right now has been very effective because it's enough of a stretch that we have to be thinking about how we're doing. We're not going to get there by doing exactly the same thing that we've been doing."
Carter said this has been a tough year for all banks. She said earnings at Sunflower are down 30 percent, despite an 8 percent increase in assets from a year ago.
She said the lower earnings come from higher Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. fees and an increase in loan loss reserves.
"Everything we're doing we're doing for the long haul," she said. "So it doesn't bother me so much that we are building reserves right now. I'm confident we'll get a lot of it back in (the economic) recovery."