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Plan Like You’re Dying

October 2, 2013
By: Julie (Douglas) Deering, Top Producer Managing Editor
The Callaway Bank Bruce Harris
With a long legacy of family members at the helm of The Callaway Bank, Bruce Harris (left) set up the rural bank for future success with the support of his father, Overton Harris, and uncle, John C. Harris.   

Strength of rural communities hinges on succession

The doctor says, "you have Stage 4 cancer and about three months to live." Those words set the succession planning wheels in motion for Bruce Harris, former president of The Callaway Bank—the oldest independent community bank in Missouri.

At the age of 52, Harris quickly came to terms with his mortality and asked the bank’s board of directors and employees to do the same. "He was very pragmatic about the process," recalls Kimberly Barnes, who now serves as president and CEO. "Bruce asked the board to outline and implement a succession plan with his input."

With a long history of promoting individual growth within, the board of directors quickly began an internal search to find Harris’ successor.

Since the late 1800s, a Harris family member has held the bank’s reins. This caused a great deal of chatter in the rural community and among employees about who the next successor would be and what would happen to the bank.

"After hearing some of the chatter, Bruce sat the bank’s employees down and said, ‘the bank is bigger than the Harris family; it’s you, the employees, whom our customers have come to know and rely on,’" Barnes says.

The board set aside the premise that Harris’ successor had to be a family member, even though a few are still employed by the bank.

"It’s not healthy for so much to revolve around one person," Barnes says. "The organization needs to be self-sustaining." It was important for the board to lead the process and be transparent, which illustrated that the bank was more than one person.

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"When a company relies on a community to keep its doors open, it owes them; it must give back."

In the end, it also provided people with confidence in the outcome because it was a process. In its search, the board was very realistic, analytical and calm, Barnes says. They reviewed the candidates’ backgrounds, resumes, skill sets and future abilities.

Barnes, who at the time served as chief operating officer and executive vice president of Callaway Security Banks Inc. (the holding company), was selected to be Harris’ successor.

From that point forward, Harris and Barnes were joined at the hip.

It was her job to absorb as much information as possible, and Harris quickly moved into the teaching role.

"We had regular meetings on the calendar to discuss priorities," Barnes says. "We both set aside our egos and became one; we spoke with one voice within the company and externally." While she acknowledges they both knew they would handle certain situations differently, they agreed it was important to speak and act as a team.

Accept Change. "It was Bruce’s attitude about the transition that helped everyone be comfortable with it," Barnes says. "Change was OK. When Bruce wasn’t there because of treatments, there was no one wondering what was going to happen or what should be done—it was a seamless process."

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - October 2013

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