FIRST ADVANTAGE BANK LEVERAGES STAFF IN TOUGH TIMES

Earl O. Bradley, III

Earl Bradley is CEO of First Advantage Bank, a Clarksville bank that recently converted from a savings institution to a commercial lender.

 

by Brian Reisinger
Nashville Business Journal

 

If you think rescuing a struggling savings bank and turning it into a commercial lender sounds complicated, you’d be right. Earl Bradley won’t deny it’s a difficult, multi-faceted task, but he’ll also say his go at it came down to one simple truth of business: people.

“Any organization would just about have to say, ‘It’s getting our people working together and understanding,’ ” he said. “You do it one person at a time.”

The CEO of First Advantage Bank credits building the right foundation of people as the guiding principle in the Clarksville lender’s evolution. Recently converted to a commercial bank, the institution formally known as First Federal Savings Bank - with $5.1 in revenue in 2011 - says it's on a path to growth despite various trials in recent years.

In 2005, Bradley brought a new management team into a troubled savings bank. Originally designed mainly for home loans, the arguably outmoded savings institutions were seeing their narrow industry slip away, and First Federal had delved into commercial lending.

The idea - spreading into a new market to gain some heft - wasn't bad, but Bradley said the bank executed badly. Its bank didn't have the expertise, and the bank lacked the basic internal controls and systems. Workers weren't even using voicemail or computers, let alone sophisticated enough lending practices.

But there were some good people, Bradley said. And he and his new team focused on bringing personnel up to speed, spending the time to train existing staff and hire new people with care.

The plan: Give them the knowledge and skills, with a singular vision they can share for motivation and focus. This was the baseline necessary as Bradley and his team worked on cleaning up the bank's troubled loan portfolio, dealt with regulatory scrutiny and got the institution on track to offer stock.

Now the bank and its parent company, First Advantage Bancorp (Nasdaq:FABK), have management feeling strong and ready to leverage the new regulatory status as a commercial lender. It allows the bank to do more lending in businesses, and, Bradley hopes, continue to motivate its staff of about 100 people.

The staff is ready to continue pushing the bank forward, he said, and "hopefully, celebrate victory" on a regular basis.