People make mistakes. We all do and it’s not often what you do that creates mistrust, but what you do after the mistake."
Be inquisitive and never stop learning.
Those were two pieces of advice Bob Jones, CEO and President of United Bank, shared with Harbert College of Business students on Monday, October 14. “Things change so quickly that what you learn today, by the time you get into the workplace, it’s going to be dramatically different. If you think you know it all, and you stop, it’s going to blow by you in a heartbeat.”
United Bank is a full-service community bank in Atmore that serves southwest Alabama, and parts of the Florida Panhandle.
Jones, a former accountant and U.S. Navy veteran who holds a degree from the Harbert College of Business, became United Bank’s CEO in 1992. He discussed the merits of community banks, community development, learning to evolve professionally, and what he considers “credibility capital” (earning trust and respect).
“People make mistakes. We all do and it’s not often what you do that creates mistrust, but what you do after the mistake,” Jones, who spoke with students in Harbert College’s Student Center for Public Trust, an organization sponsored by The Center for Organizational Ethical Cultures. “If you look at history, whether it was Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon or any of the marquee failures that we’ve seen, instead of owning up to it and taking responsibility, you try to cover it up. You can never overcome that.”
One thing I find is that fear of failure causes you not to do things. But failing and overcoming failure – knowing that you can come back from it – helps ... you will make a decision because you have confidence that you can get through."
This is where credibility capital comes into play. “Having a good reputation, and I mean that’s all you have at the end of the day, will open doors with people of stature that you probably otherwise wouldn’t. As a CEO, oftentimes there’s nobody to turn to but yourself and you’ve got to have enough confidence in your judgment to make that decision and stand behind the decision. The other way is when you screw up, you’ve got to be willing to say ‘I screwed up.’ Because people won’t respect you.”
Over time, Jones evolved from a numbers guy to a decision maker.
“I was an accountant, which means I was a numbers guy,” he said. “Early on, if I were facing a problem, I would dig into it and try to understand the numbers behind it. I worked for a guy one time and because I was so analytical, he said, ‘you know, at some point the numbers will run out. You’ve got to go with your gut.’
“What I learned over time was, because of experience, somehow you assimilate that information and you can form an opinion. When you look back at your decision, you've reached the same decision that you probably would when you were more analytical, but you just learned how to do it differently.”
With experience comes instincts, Jones said. But what about failure?
“I believe in work, hard work. I think the Auburn Creed is very unique and it never needs to be lost. It needs to be instilled into the DNA of the students."
“One thing I find is that fear of failure causes you not to do things,” he added. “But failing and overcoming failure – knowing that you can come back from it – helps. You don’t want to do it too often and you don’t want the same one over again, but you’re faced with a circumstance and you will make a decision because you have confidence that you can get through.”
Long before Jones was a banker, he was a Tiger. Not only was he a Tiger, but it’s become a Jones family tradition. He met his wife, Meg, at Auburn. His daughter, Claire, earned a degree in accounting at Auburn, and his son, Alex, earned an MBA at Auburn.
“It’s a special place,” Jones said. “I believe in work, hard work. I think the Auburn Creed is very unique and it never needs to be lost. It needs to be instilled into the DNA of the students.”
The Auburn Student Center for Public Trust, sponsored by the Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures, focuses on the importance of not only ethical leadership but also the necessity for accountability, integrity and trust across all avenues of business. For more information, contact O.C. Ferrell at email@example.com