Vicksburg native Paul Murphy Jr. plans to remain active after successful banking career

Published 5:28 pm Friday, August 11, 2023

In 2010, Vicksburg native and Warren Central High School graduate Paul Murphy Jr. joined a group of investors to buy an institution called Cadence Bank.

He served as Cadence’s chairman and chief executive officer and later executive vice chairman after Cadence merged with BancorpSouth before announcing his retirement from Cadence in April to serve as a consultant to the bank.

On Wednesday, Murphy returned home to speak with Cadence’s advisory board.

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Murphy has had a successful career in the banking industry, one marked by successful acquisitions and mergers. He said it’s been an interesting career, but then, it seems his career choice was predestined.

“I’m from a family of bankers,” he said, pointing out that his grandfather Robert Preston Wailes was named president of Merchants National Bank in 1934. “He had five children and there’s a photo of him that hangs in (Church of the) Holy Trinity because he led the initiative to build the new parish hall.”

He said Wailes’ son, Robert Preston Wailes and Murphy’s mother worked at Merchants National Bank.

“So I grew up around banking and majored in banking and finance at Mississippi State and moved out to Houston in 1981, and I just kind of got settled in,” he said. “I interviewed at Mississippi State with banks that were coming on campus; Deposit Guaranty, First National and First National Birmingham. Uncle Preston said, ‘I’ve got a friend at Allied Bank of Texas, Gerald Smith. You ought to go out there and interview with them.’

“He got me the interview and my job offers in Jackson were $13,000 and $13,500,” Murphy added. “Allied Bank of Texas was $18,500, so I went to Texas for the big money.”

Murphy went through the bank’s training program for employees, which exposed him to the different bank departments to find a match for his interests.

“I went into the commercial lending business with my first area of focus and responsibility and then our bank sold to First Interstate in 1987,” he said.

In 1990, Murphy and a co-worker left First Interstate and started Southwest Bank of Texas.

“My Uncle Preston always told me, you know, in banking you can do well; you can make a good living but you need to have some ownership,” he said. “And the way to get in an ownership position is to kind of get in on the ground floor.”

Murphy and his partner operated Southwest Bank of Texas for 16 years before selling it to Zions Bank “and one of my favorite numbers is the original investors were up 36 times their investment over a 16-year period. That’s pretty good.”

He said starting a bank was motivational and a little bit scary.

“I went from First Interstate Bank, which was the eighth-largest bank in the nation, to a little one branch, you know, $75 million bank with 20 people, so it’s like night and day difference,” he said.

He remembered talking to someone at First Interstate about leaving the bank and being told people were not going to leave the eighth-largest bank in the country for his small bank.

“I said, ‘I think it’s all about building relationships with people and I think that they will.’ And it turns out I was right. We built a great bank and we had a good run and we went public and made eight acquisitions,” Murphy said. “We went from $75 million in assets to about $8 billion in assets when we sold.”

He’s carried the lessons he learned from starting his own bank.

“It’s all about building relationships with people,” Murphy said. “I like to say at Cadence Bank our motto is for a same-day service call by 8 p.m. You’ve got to come in early, you’ve got to stay late, you’ve got to read the footnotes but you’ve got to be responsive.

“You know, many business owners/operators, might not realize they need a new lathe until they need it next week,” he said. “And they can’t call and say, ‘Well, I need a new lathe if can get my loan approved in a month. You need to get my loan approved ASAP. So being responsive is really important.”

From a management standpoint, Murphy said people should be treated with respect.

“People are smart and they’re hardworking and they do a great job; give them a chance to be successful and they will,” he said. “Banking is one of those industries where we have a lot of rules and a lot of regulations and you just don’t want your bankers to be bogged down in the bureaucracy. You want them to be trying to figure out how can they help customers, not how can they say ‘no.’ It’s an empowered team of bankers; it’s much more effective than a group that’s not.”

Murphy stayed with Zions for four years until 2010, when he was approached about acquiring some banks.

“There was a lot of stress in the banking industry at that time and we thought there were going to be some failed banks,” he said. “We raised a $1 billion for a startup entity and the first bank we bought was Cadence Bank. And so we then bought a failed bank from the FDIC and then we bought a bank in Houston called Encore Bank.

“And then we did buy a failed bank called Superior Bank, and then we bought another open bank and we hired a lot of people and we did a lot of core growth over the years,” Murphy added. “We went from, really, initially we had two employees, me and my executive assistant. Today, we’ve got about 6,500 employees and that led to the merger with BancorpSouth a couple of years ago.”

Murphy served as CEO and chairman of Cadence Bank Corp. until the merger, when he became executive vice chairman and Dan Rollins, the CEO of Bancorp South, became CEO of the combined Cadence company.

He retired from Cadence in April and is now a consultant for the bank.

However, Murphy said he doesn’t consider himself retired.

“I’m retired from banking but I think the concept of retirement is not for me,” he said. “I have family members; a son who has a business partnership that he’s created and he’s looking for a business to buy so I’m going to be very active working with him to help him get his business career at launch. I won’t be doing anything in banking, but I’ll be doing something.

“I’m a young 63; I want my work-to-play ratio to change,” he added. “I’m going to be able to travel more and do some things — running a public company or pretty much to the grindstone. I don’t want to just play golf five days a week. I’d be, totally bored with that.”

And he’ll be available if Cadence calls. While he was in Vicksburg Wednesday, he was with bank representatives calling on customers and prospects; making the rounds to help the bank grow.

“I’m still a big shareholder and I want to see the company do well,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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