Suzie Symcox thinks community banks have gotten more than a bad rap since the housing subprime mortgage lending crisis of several years ago.
Investment houses misleadingly are being called banks, Symcox said. “But since when can you open a checking account at Goldman Sachs?” she asks. “Calling them a bank blurs the line with rhetoric.”
Conversely, Oklahoma City-based First Fidelity Bank, for which she serves as executive vice president, originates mortgages, but promptly sells them, Symcox said.
“Like any profession, few banks are doing wrong and yet the whole industry has been demonized,” she said. “Community banks are still trying to recover their image, even now.”
It's a natural observation for a marketer-turned-veteran banker. A journalism graduate from the University of Oklahoma, Symcox has worked in banking for 27 years, the past six as chief administrative officer for First Fidelity, which has its roots since 1952 in the family of her husband, and First Fidelity chief executive, Lee Symcox.
Suzie Symcox, who's 5-foot 1-inch tall, has a big job with the bank.
She manages retail, marketing, human resources (the bank employs 380), training, product development, special projects and consumer lending.
From the bank's fifth-floor corporate offices at 5100 N Classen Blvd., Symcox, 56, sat down with The Oklahoman on Tuesday to talk about her professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I grew up in Tulsa, in between two brothers, three years older and five years younger. My father was a computer programmer for Texaco and mother taught second grade for 28 years. I lost them both when I was in my early 30s. My mother died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at 55, and my father died 18 months later, at age 60, of heart disease. They were college sweethearts at OU.
Q: What were the highlights of your childhood and school years?
A: I grew up doing gymnastics, ballet and tap, and was a cheerleader in junior high. When I attended Tulsa Edison High School, there were no sports for women. Last hour, I took gym where I did synchronized swimming. I didn't love it, but it was fun and the only thing they had for girls then.
Mainly, I worked. I started at age 15, at the since-closed Stewart's & Extension 1. The Tulsa-based, family-owned clothing stores also had branches in Midwest City, at Crossroads Mall and in Norman, where I continued working 40 hours or more a week throughout college at OU. I'd go to class in the morning, and then work from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. All the social things didn't start until later anyway, and I had Sundays off, because stores weren't open on Sundays then.
Q: How did you meet your husband?
A: We were in the same class at OU, but didn't meet until the summer after we graduated. The girlfriend I roomed with and her boyfriend, who was Lee's buddy, individually invited us to watch the July Fourth fireworks at a park in Norman. Then that day, after Lee was already at our house, they called at the last minute from out of town to back out. They so did it on purpose. We were engaged two months later and married that January. It was the most impulsive thing I've ever done. We were really good friends, and I just knew he was it.
Q: Did you have a career before banking?
A: I earned my degree in advertising, and, for three or four years, worked in journalism. My senior year at OU, a few of my professors talked me into buying an interest in The Cleveland County Reporter weekly newspaper, and my dad cosigned on the loan with me. As the youngest publisher in the state at the time, I did everything — from write articles to sell advertising to paste-up, frequently working 'til two or three in the morning. I sold the newspaper when I got pregnant with Lauren.
Q: What led you into banking?
A: The oil bust. The bank had to let go its advertising agency, because they were cutting expenses any way we could. Lee came home and asked if I'd handle the advertising for free. At first, I went in for a few hours, while the kids were in preschool. Then, the bank started getting demanding, wanting me to have set hours. I said they'd have to pay me. I worked part time for about a year before coming on full time. And, as time went on and I learned the business, I started taking on more projects, like starting our call centers and adding branches. Today, we have 28 locations.
Q: How is it working with your husband?
A: We take different cars to work and, unless we're in a meeting, we see each other only five to 10 minutes a day. Now that the kids are out of the house, we do talk business for about 30 minutes in the evening about our respective work days and any issues. We have different styles that complement each other. A processor, Lee typically thinks through every angle before he takes a position on something. Conversely, I'm a debater. I like to throw out what I think we should do, then beat it up and modify it.