Kay Ivey

Alabama Banking School Commencement - July 24, 2017

Kay Ivey
July 24, 2017— Mobile, Alabama
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Thank you all so, so much. What an honor to be here. Scott—introduction's appreciated. He read it just like I wrote it. [laughter]

Graduates, we salute you. We appreciate your attention to all you had to go through the last three years. It's not easy. It wasn't easy 40 years ago and it's not gotten a bit easy.

And to all of you students who are approaching your junior year and your freshman year and so forth, you'll be graduating before long. Alabama as a state and our economy appreciate you.

Now when Jason [unclear] and Scott Miller, your registrar, came to see me to invite me to be your commencement speaker and to talk with me about what did you want to hear, they assured me it had nothing to do with the progress Alabama's making on any front. They wanted to know, what was it like way back then? So join me today with some very relaxed words about traveling down memory lane.

The whole story can be titled, "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." I finished Auburn University 1967 as a high school teacher in secondary education, majored in English and speech and social studies, and in California was where I did my first teaching. Imagine that—an imagine that, an English teacher in Rio Linda Senior High School. My husband was in the military and we were out there at McClellan Air Force Base, poor as church mice, lived in base housing, and as a captain he wasn't making much money and so I needed to go to work. So I finally got a job at Rio Linda Senior High School teaching English.

But guess what? Part of what I had to teach was one semester of civics, another semester of economics to my seniors. I knew nothing about California government. Only thing I knew when we got there was the bumper stickers on the cars. Ronald Reagan was running against Pat Brown for governor and the bumper sticker said, "If it's Brown, flush it." [laughter]

Necessity is the mother of invention. What was I going to do? I didn't have time to learn California government or California civics yet I was going to have a class to teach for a semester. Well, necessity is the mother of invention.

So I got down the yellow pages of the telephone book. Now remember I'm from Wilcox County, Alabama, going to teach English in the public schools of California. Yeah, that itself was sort of striking to those folks out there. Yet they were using the same civics textbook that I used at Wilcox County High School back in Camden, Alabama, so they're not all that special either.

But anyway I got down the yellow pages of the telephone book and started finding any business leader that I could find, whether it was a banker or car dealer, investment banker, anybody that had any wisdom to share with my seniors about how to be practical about managing your money. So I brought in city leaders from around Sacramento, California, and the community to teach my students civics. Today you and I would know that is teaching them financial literacy.

Fast forward. Several years later, we transferred…we got out of the military and moved to Mobile and started a veterinary practice and therefore we didn't get to Mobile in time to start teaching in the public schools in time. So I went to work at the vet clinic and it didn't take me long to figure out that was not where I needed to be, married to one of the partners and dealing with the other partners. So I needed to go get a job.

If you can't teach, what can you do? What job do you go after? Necessity is the mother of invention.

Simply because of being an English teacher, speech teacher, I thought surely I could do something in the field of public relations, though I didn't really know what that was. So I approached the bank that we were doing business with near the vet clinic, went to the personnel department and presented my resume, etcetera, and said I'd like to join your public relations department. They smiled and said, "We don't have a public relations department."

I smiled and said, "You're the largest bank sitting in the middle of the school system in state of Alabama. Y'all ought to be growing customers."

"Growing customers?" they said.

I said, "Yeah. These children in these school are going to be borrowing money one day and they wanna have a bank account and might even have a savings account. One of these days they might have a credit card. You need to grow customers."

Again Clarence Keller from Personnel smiled and said, "Well, we don't have that kind of department."

I smiled and said, "Thank you," and left. I still didn't have a a job.

Fast forward several weeks, and the bank called back and said, "Would you come talk to us about growing customers?"

I said, "Certainly."

So I went back down to Merchants National Bank and met with them and described for them the experience I'd had at teaching in California. The idea is to take bankers into the public schools, into particularly the math teachers and the English teachers, and teach those students why learning math is important. You've got to balance a checkbook, might want to borrow money, you might want to learn how to add up your investments and calculate your interest. And also you need to learn some English. Might want to have a letter of resume. Today we would call that financial literacy.

So that was my proposal to the personnel department at Merchants National Bank—to grow customers. Send the bankers, one or more, into the classrooms upon invitation. Well, they sort of shook their heads, you know. But they said, "Well, come on we'll try."

So being a teacher I was ready to go. And I was planning on going to high school, at least nine-, ten-, eleven, twelve-graders. And so the bank officers there communicated with all the educators in the community and so forth and described the service what we were going to do—and nobody called. Nobody called to invite me to come to their classroom.

But we were patient and finally a teacher in Pritchard, Alabama, invited me to come and teach the sixth grade assembly. Sixth grade? There will be a hundred students there. Now, I've prepared for the senior high school, you know. What do you tell sixth graders about banking?

Again, necessity is the mother of invention. This was my first and only invitation. I had to make it make it good.

So I came up with some kind of little presentation, got me some posters. The posters were going to describe a house, and I took a match, you know, I was going to light the house until it was on fire and squirt it out with a water pistol, and show them that banks have safety, like safe deposit boxes.

But here again, sixth graders. But ok, I'm ready to go. So I told Clarence Keller and Lowell, his assistant was with us, so I said, "I'll meet y'all down the hall." So when they turn the corner and pick me up, I had my CeCe, my little poodle, black poodle, dressed up. Because CeCe would do tricks and I thought, okay, now this'd be my key on how I keep the attention of the students. If they'll behave and listen, they'll get to see tricks by the dog.

When I waiting on the corner of that street and Mr. Kelly drove up and I got in with my dog, I know right then he thought, "Oh my goodness, Merchants National Bank's gone to the dogs." He was holding his breath the whole time.

So off we go to Pritchard. And we get there and sure enough, six graders. CeCe was well trained and so I'd put her on stage and bring her on stage and let her wave and then she flip and I'd send her back off stage and I said, "Y'all get to see the dog if y'all listen." So that's how we went through that first experience teaching students about banking. Safety, banks, safe deposit boxes, and the dog and I kept their attention.

So long story short, I've been hired by the bank to start this school program and that was still my only invitation. So we kept working on it and finally it caught on, and so the senior high teachers began to invite me and that was good, and so I left the dog at home and we talked about other things about banking that would be relevant to high school students to help them understand the importance of banking.

And the whole idea is if they got to know somebody from quote Merchants National Bank, then when they got ready to do banking, they might go Merchants National Bank to open an accountant of whatever to do their business. So we would growing customers was the idea.

Well that worked out for Merchants National Bank quite well. At the same time there was an organization called Alabama Young Bankers. Does that still exist—Alabama Young Bankers? And so they picked up the idea of a school relations program, and then the other banks in Mobile picked up on it and I shared with all of them my curriculum—the different subjects that I was prepared to teach per class, shared it with them—and so for several years our banking education program went statewide and we were trying to grow customers through doing a good series for our teachers and our students.

And then finally the idea caught on board with the American Bankers Association and I was on loan to American Bankers Association for a year. We had a pilot program in three states as I recall. And we set the program up in those three states.

But long story short—my banking career began because necessity is the mother of invention. And Merchants National Bank gave me the start and I'm always grateful to Merchants National Bank and the "MNB where you're the MIP." You're the most important person at Merchants National Bank.

So that's the way we did, and then I matriculated in the bank to the marketing department and continued to work there for a little over ten years. I was one of the first women in Alabama banks to become assistant vice president.

In banking, I noticed when I was in marketing, the teller line—y'all, that's the first contact any customer has with the bank, is the teller. And yet it is my observation that they were the last to get trained about how to do business development. So I started a program in our bank to teach our tellers all of the services of the bank and what customers might say or indicate that would give them a clue so the teller could recommend to the customer that "you go over here to this installment loan department over here and meet with Billy or meet with Mary."

But that was sort of a unique situation at the time. Whoever thought the tellers needed to know anything except how to cash a check and make change. But I say to you again in real-life Alabama today, whoever is the first line of contact in whatever business you're in is the most important person. So be sure you pay attention and put some of your training experience in those frontline contacts.

So we're working along, Alabama Young Bankers, and we're out in the schools doing student relations program. And you know young bankers just like Alabama bankers has offices and rise through the ranks, so I became president of Alabama Young Bankers. We hosted our first—or my first—convention that was held over here at Gulf State Park when we had the first convention in what used to be the Gulf State Park Lodge. The hurricanes got it and now we're building a new one down there in that same location. At the convention we had Paul Harvey as our main speaker and so that young banker convention will always be remembered in special way for sure.

But then Alabama Young Bankers…after I was president then I was appointed to chair the Banking Education Committee. At that point in time, y'all may remember that the president of Alabama Bankers was Mary George Waite of Centre, Alabama, Cherokee County, and she had the Red Hot team. Hot Glass was a vice president and Red Barrett was a vice president, so she said she had the Red Hot team. And then she appointed Kay Ivey as chairman of the banking education. And Mary George at that time was the first female president of any bankers association in the United States.

Start a banking school—hmmm. I'd never done that before. Bottom line is, at that time everybody knew about LSU Graduate School of Banking, and LSU was for those folks who absolutely knew they were going to stay in banking for their full career and had some intentions of going up through the ranks to become a senior officer and/or president or CEO.

But that path of ascension didn't necessarily apply to all of us in banking and I said we had a need for a school in Alabama that would focus on operations and some marketing and some of those things that are absolutely essential to running a bank even though you're not going to necessarily be the senior vice president or the executive vice president and CEO. So that was sort of the initiative of the ABS, Alabama Banking School, so it fell my job to flesh it out and work with the respective committees that Scott mentioned.

And one of the things was, we had to have a location. So we put out notice through the Alabama Banking Association that we were thinking about starting a banking school. The University of Alabama applied and Auburn University applied, as I recall, and also the University of South Alabama.

Now here I am a banker down here at Merchants National Bank in Mobile, so obviously everybody said, Oh well she's…Mobile, you know…she's picking a home favorite. Well that's not how Kay Ivey does business. Bottom line is I was charged with doing the very best we could for the Association and the students, so I interviewed each one of the three campuses and heard their proposals, et cetera, et cetera. Long story short, University of South Alabama gave the best proposal in my view. It was also the most cost-effective, never mind. We started over there—what do you call it, Brookley Field?—and it wasn't very plush at all but it was what we could get by with, we needed it, it was sort of an isolated area, it wasn't crowded with any other competing interest. And so I selected University of South Alabama location to start the Alabama Banking School.

Interesting experience. That was my first eye-opening experience about the difference in the role between the president of Alabama Bank Association and the executive director. I thought the president of the association was in charge and that the executive director of the association, you know, carried out whatever the president wanted. I learned quite quickly that the executive director at that point in time was very strong in his own view of what ought to happen related to the association, and he was very much for the University of Alabama. That's fine—wonderful institution.

But folks, it was my job to make the recommendation based on the criteria and I thought cost-effectiveness, affordability, etcetera. So anyway I learned clearly the distinction between the executive director and the president of the organization, something you all maybe won't still be aware of.

But anyway so the board that was making the final decision went with my recommendation to locate the school here at the University of South Alabama, and I believe you're glad we did. I think it's worked out well for you. [applause]

So when you think about being a success in banking, remember your customer always comes first.

Banking has changed in 40 years, no question. It's going to change even more in the next 10 years. The economy and technology makes things ever-changing.

So with this school, I hope it helps you adapt to those things and I am very delighted and proud to be a part of this institution. I had the privilege of attending banking school and also serving on its first board of directors. So I'm invested in your school with you. I'm proud of you.

And the milestones…I mentioned about being one of the first women in banking to be assistant vice president and the first female chair of the Alabama Banking Committee. And now, as the 54th governor of the great state of Alabama, I'm the first Republican woman and the only second woman in Alabama's history to serve as governor.

I am honored to be here today. I'm honored to serve as governor and I look forward to applauding these graduates as we say, Well done.

And remember—necessity is the mother of invention. [Applause]