“Super banker to the rescue.”

“Super banker to the rescue.”

Reopening this shuttered Navy shipyard was a massive project with thousands of jobs at stake. Working with their “super banker,” a group of Charleston business leaders pulled off what no one thought was possible.

“If this shipyard closes, we’re looking at double-digit unemployment in our community.”

That’s what Danny Rowland was told when the Navy announced it was closing the Charleston Naval Shipyard in the mid-90s. It had operated since 1901 with up to 26,000 people working there in a sprawling campus of nearly 1,000 buildings. Now facing closure, city and state officials combed the world looking for someone who could give it life again.

Danny and his partners, Loy Stewart and Dick Gregory, heard the call and made the deal.

They planned to re-open the shipyard right away and formed a company, Charleston Marine Manufacturing Company LLC (CMMC). Detyens Shipyards would develop and use the drydocks and piers, and CMMC would develop the rest for leases to smaller manufacturing and support companies. They called it Navy Yard Industrial Campus, and a contract with the Navy to layberth ships was going to seal the deal and help make it successful. But they needed help.

Danny had always had a good relationship with big, national banks. But now that the shipyard was closed and he was on what some people saw as an uncertain venture, they wouldn’t give him the time of day.

“High paying jobs in this community were going to disappear, but they still put the clamps on us. We couldn’t do anything,” he said.

“If I was a banker, it would be a no-brainer. The U.S. Government is guaranteeing payment on this particular contract, and we wanted to create jobs. But the big banks wouldn’t hear it. So when Mary showed up, I was ready to listen.”

Mary Garcia was with a smaller regional bank, but Danny could tell she had big things on her mind.

“When you start out in business, you’re scared to death of bankers. Some of them act like you need to get down on both knees and beg to borrow money. With the credit side, I’ve always had this image in my head of a guy with a visor in a dimly lit room thumbing through huge volumes.

“But Mary came into my office – cold called me – and I could tell right off the bat I liked her. She wasn’t a normal banker. She understood and had done her research. She knew where we were and wanted to help.”

But Danny had his doubts. He’d already been waiting six weeks for an answer from a big bank, and he thought Mary would give him more of the same. Nevertheless, Danny handed her the Navy contract and said that if she could make a deal quick, she’d have his business.

“She left, and I said, ‘I’ll never hear from her again.’ Less than 24 hours later, she called with a yes.”

The shipyard grew quickly, and Danny and Mary continued to work together. After 10 years had passed, Danny and his partners had the opportunity to end the lease and buy the shipyard outright.

“Mary had moved on to a tiny bank in downtown Charleston,” Danny said, “and I knew they wouldn’t have enough to lend us. But still, I said, ‘Let me call my super banker just to see what happens.”

Danny was right: Mary’s new bank couldn’t lend him that much money. But once again she reached beyond the abilities of the bank she worked for. She promised a commitment letter within 24 hours and said, “I don’t know how we’re going to do it or where the money’s going to come from, but we’ll get it done.”

So Mary put together a field trip. She loaded a bus with 10 bankers and credit analysts from five other South Carolina banks to tour the shipyard, meet Danny, Loy and Dick, and come together to give them a deal.

“When no one else would stand up, Mary did her homework, got everyone together and stood up. Just like she did in the beginning,” Danny said. “Super banker to the rescue.”

Another 10 years past, and by now Danny and Mary were good friends. They served on boards together and kept in close contact. Mary had left the community bank and went to work for BNC Bancorp, soon to be Pinnacle Financial Partners. And Danny, looking for what was next, started to get a big bank treatment from what used to be his community bank and was now a bigger, regional one.

Mary continued to keep in contact from BNC, and when Danny called looking for another deal, he noticed a big difference.

Mary had finally found a home that could more easily deliver on her aspirations.

“Mary not only gave us what we wanted,” Danny said, “but she went above and beyond to give us a credit platform unlike anything else I’ve seen before. It wrapped up everything together in a way that gave us incredible flexibility. Pinnacle has helped put us in a position to be in growth mode because of the way they’ve structured this loan.

“With Mary, you work with the person who makes decisions. She comes in talking about your business and puts herself in your seat to see what you need. Mary can look past the balance sheet and financial statements to see the people she’s dealing with. That’s what makes her a super banker. She is my super banker.”