Oklahoma City banker Mel Martin and his wife, Julie, a year ago decided to move into a maintenance-free, gated community in west Edmond. Their two children had gone off to college, and Julie continued to commute to El Reno, where she helps run her family's feed, seed and hardware store.
The couple knew if they stayed in their northwest Oklahoma City home of more than a decade, they were facing major needed renovations. Neither could stomach the arduous undertaking — especially Martin, who already was busy with his own corporate building project, as president of First National Bank of Oklahoma.
His branch, in a 4,200-square-foot building at 5625 N Western, is moving five blocks south to a two-story, 11,000-square-foot building under construction at the southwest corner of NW 50 and Western — where it will enjoy greater visibility, a larger boardroom and vault, more teller windows and an extra drive-thru lane.
“Our satisfaction levels are tremendous, so much so that we've exceeded our expectations and continue to grow,” Martin said.
Since it was acquired in August 2002, the bank — which now has three branches in Kay County and two in Oklahoma City — has seen its assets grow from $55 million to $271 million, he said.
The new 5101 N Western building was designed by longtime bank customer RBA Associates and is being built by bank customer Ward Construction. Its grand opening tentatively is scheduled for late May — about the same time Martin will be celebrating his 50th birthday and 10 years with the bank.
Martin sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: What did your dad do?
A: He worked for the Department of Justice, and retired as a warden of the federal prison in El Reno where I graduated high school. I spent my first five years of life in Long Beach, Calif.; the next five in Bowie, Md., a suburb of D.C.; three years in Leavenworth, Kan., outside Kansas City; and then three years in Ashland, Ky., before moving here my sophomore year in high school. We lived on the prison property, in government housing provided to the warden. My parents, who are both originally from southwest Missouri, are retired and live in Edmond. And my older sister is director of rehab at the OU Medical Center.
Q: Was it rough moving to a new city and state, when you were just starting high school?
A: Not really. My take was I had experiences that others didn't. As a toddler, I remember going to Disneyland and, in elementary school, I went on field trips to Harpers Ferry, W.V.; New York City and Philadelphia, and watched the July 4 fireworks on the mall in D.C. I didn't much care for having to take Oklahoma history with eighth-graders because I needed it to graduate. And I knew nothing about diagramming sentences, but I knew how to write an essay.
Q: What led you into banking?
A: I had an uncle who was a senior officer at the Federal Reserve Bank, and watched his career evolve when we lived outside of Kansas City. But when I graduated with a finance degree from OSU in '86, the banking industry was facing difficult times. I went to work as a bank examiner for the U.S. Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). For the next four and half years, I — every 30 days — was in and out of Oklahoma banks, from Interstate 35 west. For many, we were the last exam before they were closed by the FDIC for insufficient capital. It was the best banking training I could I have, almost like going to graduate school. And I made countless connections. For the next several years, I decided to take what I learned in compliance into the private sector — first as a management team member for Stifel Nicolaus investment banking and then with American Bank Systems, which provided software and consulting services to banks.
Q: And your transition to conventional banking?
A: Patrick Rooney, working chairman and chief executive of First National, then ran Charter National Bank on the west side of Penn Square Mall and approached me in 1997 about a vacant vice president's position. I had a lot of respect for Pat — who'd been a banker in Muskogee and also a former OCC examiner out of Tulsa, and jumped at the opportunity to be a full-time banker, with a single organization.
Two years later, we (I owned a small piece) sold to Kansas City-based UMB Bank, but I continued working there five more years, overseeing lending activity in Oklahoma City.
Q: Tell us about your career with First National.
A: Rooney, who's the majority shareholder and acquired the bank in 2002, recruited me in 2004, when we opened our branch on Western. I came on as president, shareholder and member of the board. We have four other branches: a NorthShore office at 10900 Hefner Pointe, which opened in 2011; the original Tonkawa office, which was chartered and opened in 1917; and two branches in Ponca City, one opened in the 1990s and a new branch opened in 2009.
Q: What distinguishes your bank from others?
A: We are a community bank, and like and know our niche in the banking sphere — deposits and lending for commercial customers and professional practices, such as doctors, lawyers and CPAs. We can be responsive and creative in assisting our customers because we know them.
Our Oklahoma City opening in 2004 has allowed our bank to grow and prosper, as we help provide the lending catalyst to advance many worthwhile projects that have contributed to the city's continued renaissance.
We have a saying here — “fewer customers, larger relationships” — and remain lean by design, with only 22 employees in Oklahoma City. Our growth has come from referrals, which is a fabulous thing.