Happy Anniversary: Pinnacle’s 20 Years of Vision, Endurance and Joy

Happy Anniversary: Pinnacle’s 20 Years of Vision, Endurance and Joy

By Terry Turner, president, CEO and co-founder of Pinnacle Financial Partners

October 27, 2020

“There’s got to be a better way.”

That’s what we told ourselves back in early 2000, standing in the wake of a merger that took our city’s biggest and best homegrown bank away. We were determined to build a better way to do business, a home for the very best bankers and for business owners who wanted a different kind of relationship with their bank. We would build a home for people who had the same vision we did and saw potential and possibilities that others couldn’t.

For 20 years, Pinnacle has been our home.

In that time, it may seem like we’ve had a charmed run. We’ve gone from 38 associates to 2,600; one office to 111; one major market to 12 in five states. We’ve been one of the fastest growing bank stocks in the nation. Won dozens of national, regional and local workplace awards. Set the standard for bank service nationwide, with third-party research and awards to prove it.

Despite that success, we have been consistently underestimated. Our early competitors thought we were an inconsequential startup from a small Southern town. Some didn’t believe our model was suited for long-term, major-market growth. Others didn’t think we could compete against much larger institutions with multimillion-dollar marketing budgets and hundreds of offices.

We knew better then and know better now because we can see what they can’t. We know that success like ours doesn’t come from charm or luck. Don’t misunderstand, we all feel very fortunate to be where we are, to have what we have. We just know that it’s didn’t come easily or by chance.

Pinnacle has succeeded in the face of great adversity since the very beginning. We’ve always felt like underdogs because we didn’t choose an easy way to run our business and because every time we started to hit our stride, the world threw obstacles in our path.

But that’s OK. We at Pinnacle count it as joy when we encounter tribulation because we know it leads to endurance. And endurance leads to perfection.

Before we even opened our doors, we hit the kinds of roadblocks that have derailed other startups.

To start, we wanted to raise $25 million in our IPO. This was in mid-2000, right as the dot com bubble had popped. The market tanked, and we thought our vision for a better way was dead on arrival. To give you an idea of how dire it was, the investment firm handling the offering was sold twice before our deal was done. Everyone was giving up, and ours was the last IPO of 2000.

Despite all that, we made it. We didn’t hit $25 million, though we came close at $19 million – which was a record for a de novo public bank at that time. We endured through a tough startup because we believed in our vision of a better way, and we found others who shared it.

We finally set up shop at 211 Commerce Street in downtown Nashville on Oct. 27, 2000, and accepted our first client, Don Kennedy Roofing. Things took off very quickly. Our optimism was validated by world-beating numbers. Where we expected to break even in three years, we hit it in 13 months.

Just before that happened, though, America was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. We mourned with the rest of the nation and watched as the economy once again tumbled. Just as we were really getting started, the country was again wracked by economic uncertainty.

I kept optimistic because I knew what people on the outside didn’t. I knew each of our original 38 associates and trusted them with the future of our firm. I knew they were the best and would get the job done, and they did. We endured and came through that recession ready to grow.

In 2006, we made our first acquisition and became the largest financial institution headquartered in Nashville. In 2007, we made a de novo expansion into Knoxville and another local acquisition. We were preparing to go statewide and quickly growing our capabilities and asset base.

Then, of course, 2008 brought the Great Recession and a fresh round of doubt and economic pessimism. Many predicted calamity in our balance sheet, particularly in residential real estate.

We, however, knew better and still saw what others couldn’t. We believed strongly that our hiring model and our people would carry us through.

Because we hired only the best, most experienced bankers in our markets who brought over only their best clients, we knew our credit quality would far exceed our competitors. We also knew that our hiring model had a long tail for growth. Bringing those clients on board from another bank takes time, which means we could continue to acquire new clients and grow our balance sheet while others slowed down new business development.

We were right. On the other side of the Great Recession, Pinnacle had just a third of the loan losses that our major competitors saw. Our model and our people once again endured in the face of adversity.

By 2015, we were finally ready to go statewide. In quick succession, we merged with banks in Chattanooga and Memphis, and then another in Nashville the next year. It was a lot of change in a very short time, and our people had to be quick on their feet to adjust. It’s never easy to integrate another bank and acclimate its people to a brand new culture and way of doing business.

Yet that’s exactly what we did. Wherever Pinnacle laid down roots became home. We found more of those likeminded people who share our vision for a better way to do business. No matter where we went, that idea took hold because it was needed everywhere.

That was also true in early 2017 when we announced our biggest move yet. We merged with BNC Bancorp, which took us from one state to four and four markets to 11. With one deal, we nearly doubled in size, by far our biggest bite yet.

Predictably, many believed it wouldn’t work. They couldn’t see our model of people, service and advice scaling to that size. And again, we knew better. We successfully integrated BNC and hit all of the targets and goals associated with it. We became a top 50 banking franchise in the United States and the biggest overall bank in our hometown of Nashville.

To look at it from the outside, it’s difficult to imagine that all of this started just 20 years ago in one office, with one client and 38 associates. It’s been an incredible journey since then, one powered by our collective faith in a vision for a better way, our hope in tribulation and our ability to endure.

As our country faces economic uncertainty once again, I remain as optimistic as ever. I believe in our model. I believe in our vision. Most of all, I believe in our people. They are the best, and they will carry us onward into future success.

People who think we’ve had a charmed run don’t see how difficult and fraught our journey has been. They can’t see the hard work and dedication that it took to get to this point, just as they couldn’t see the potential in our vision 20 years ago.

If I’m being honest, it has been charmed. Not because we’re lucky or haven’t had to work hard. It’s charmed because despite the difficulties and adversity, we’ve loved every minute of it. We love the work we do. We love the clients we serve. We love the people we work with. That makes it a joy to come into work every day.

That’s the secret of making a better way to do business. Build it with love, find others who share it and make it a reality. It’s exactly what we set out to build.

In times of great change - and the many changes we've seen over two decades - Pinnacle is a comforting home because our vision has never changed. The buildings, number of associates and asset size have changed, but we're the same company we were in 2000, and we operate the same way.

That’s comforting. It makes our firm feel like home, no matter where we are. It helps us endure in the face of tribulation, to actually find joy in tribulation. That’s the path to perfection, and the reason why Pinnacle is still, after 20 years, the best place to work and the best place to do business in the Southeast.