Friends in High Places
Alan B. White’s PlainsCapital is the second-largest privately owned bank in Texas
|JET SETTING: PlainsCapital Chairman and CEO Alan B. White at the airport in Lubbock, where he’d flown in the company jet to help open a new bank branch.|
The quarter was ending, and PlainsCapital Corp.’s Dallas bank needed deposits.
Founded in West Texas, the successful company had moved its headquarters in 2001 from Lubbock to Big D, a much more competitive market. But PlainsCapital Chairman and CEO Alan B. White had an ace up his sleeve in Lee Ann Fowler, who worked at the Dallas bank and soon would become his wife.
A native of Monette, Ark., Lee Ann had befriended a number of influential Dallas residents, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his wife, Gene, who also hailed from the Natural State. And Gene had introduced her to T. Boone Pickens, the legendary Dallas oil magnate.
“Lee Ann called up and said, ‘It would really help if you could move some money over to PlainsCapital,’” Pickens recalls. “I said, ‘OK,’ and so we did. I think it was very timely, and I heard later that it helped them out.”
In fact, Pickens transferred a whopping $177 million to PlainsCapital, Alan White says, giving the bank a major boost in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.
White, 58, has used a number of connections like that over the years to build one of the most formidable financial-services companies in the state. Today his PlainsCapital Corp., which has more than 1,500 employees, offers asset management (through Hester Capital Management), residential mortgages (through PrimeLending Inc.), and banking (through PlainsCapital Bank). The latter has become Texas’ second-largest privately owned bank (after the First National Bank of Edinburg), with $3.17 billion in assets and 30 locations in North Texas, Lubbock, Austin, and San Antonio.
While the bank’s operations in Lubbock and Weatherford focus on traditional retail customers as well as commercial ones, White’s bread-and-butter targets are high-net-worth individuals and middle-market companies with revenues up to $250 million. “They have a very strong focus on small-business banking and a very well-balanced loan portfolio,” analyst John Blaylock, associate director of Sheshunoff & Co. Investment Banking in Austin, says of White’s company. “They’ve got a good management team in place and a good business strategy that they’re executing extremely well.”
James Gardner, chairman of bank adviser Commerce Street Capital in Dallas, says one big reason is that White “has been quite willing to market himself. One thing that does help a bank grow is when the CEO is willing to go out and make calls and meet clients. Everybody wants to meet the decision-maker, but not every bank CEO does that.”
White appears just as engaged inside the bank itself, presiding over meetings at its headquarters on Turtle Creek Boulevard with a mix of brisk efficiency and good-natured humor. The example rubs off. “Usually when people work for you, they begin to think and act like you, and his people are very accommodating,” Pickens says of PlainsCapital. “So our office does a lot of business with them.”
Even so, some in Dallas’ hyper-competitive banking establishment say they’re unaware of PlainsCapital, despite its ranking as the 15th largest privately owned bank in the country. “I’ve never really run across them,” says veteran local banker Joe Goyne. “They’re a Lubbock bank, aren’t they?”BRINGING IN ‘THE MONEY PEOPLE’
White’s corporate jet, a nine-year-old Citation Excel with PlainsCapital’s buffalo logo emblazoned on the tail, is soaring across West Texas one recent morning at 36,000 feet, headed for Lubbock. The CEO is to help open a new branch there, where PlainsCapital is the biggest bank in town. It’s also the place where White grew up, the only child of an insurance salesman and a housewife.
“My dad was a sidekick to me. He was my best friend, not like a father and son,” White remembers in his soft drawl, relaxing in a plush, high-backed leather seat by the plane’s window. “I went to Texas Tech [University], but as a freshman I didn’t do too good. I was having too good a time—out drinking beer and raising hell. So my dad said, ‘You’re going to work.’”
White wound up working part-time at Lubbock National Bank and, following graduation from Tech in 1972, stayed on as a teller. Two years later he married Lisa Maedgen, the daughter of the bank’s owner. (The two divorced in 1999.)
He was eventually promoted to executive vice president, and the bank was sold to Dallas’ Republic Bank in 1982. White was named president and later CEO, but he resigned in 1986—“I didn’t like the way they were doing things,” he says—to start up PlainsCapital Corp. In a few months, he says, he’d raised more than $16 million from 130 investors to buy Plains National Bank, then the fifth-largest bank in Lubbock. When the bank opened under the PlainsCapital name in Lubbock in 1988, it had $174 million in assets. A long period of steady growth followed, with PlainsCapital opening branches and operations in Dallas in 1999, Austin (in 2001), Fort Worth (2003), San Antonio (2004), and Weatherford (2006).
Much of the bank’s success in North Texas, White concedes, can be traced to the friendships and connections forged by his second wife, the former Lee Ann Fowler, whom he married at Dallas’ Mansion on Turtle Creek in 2002. Divorced from a prominent Dallas plastic surgeon when White met her, Lee Ann had a knack for entertaining, marketing, and creating relationships with wealthy, influential people. One of them was Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, chairman of Valhi Inc. “Lee Ann and my wife were very good friends,” Simmons says. Lee Ann “is a very popular person with all the girls, and the men, too. Everybody likes her a lot.”
Alan B. White, PlainsCapital Corp.
|Personal history: Born in Roswell, N.M., in 1949; moved to Lubbock in 1959. Married to wife Lee Ann since 2002. Has two daughters, Erin and Amy, and one stepson, Michael.
Education: BBA in finance, Texas Tech University, 1972.
Community activities: Has served on the Texas Tech University President’s Council, Texas Tech School of Business Chief
Executive’s Roundtable, and as
chairman of the Texas Tech Board
of Regents. Has also served on the Texas Hospital Association Board, on the Covenant Health System Board of Trustees, and as chairman of the Methodist Hospital System Board of Trustees. Board member of Cotton Bowl Athletic Association.
Sports interests: Rabid fan of Texas Tech
Red Raiders. Was an excellent golfer in high school, but says, “that was 40 years and about 200 pounds ago.” Still plays some, but has stopped recently pending knee-replacement surgery.
On his job philosophy: “My job is cheerleader. I’ve got to keep people pumped up and focused. Everybody else has to execute.”
On his work habits: “I’m hyper. I’ll work long hours for seven or eight days straight, then crash, then start over again.”
Hobbies: “I watch TV. But other than that, my hobby is working.”
In addition to Simmons, White was introduced by his wife to Jerry and Gene Jones. “When Gene first came here, she didn’t know many people, and she became a good friend of Lee Ann,” White says. Lee Ann “ran with the right crowd. She just had a lot of friends, and I met them all through her. We like the same things, so we make a pretty good team.”
Two incidents in particular illustrate the value of Lee Ann’s connections. The first involved a Dallas reception she arranged in 1998 for Cap-Rock Winery, a Lubbock winery that White’s bank owned from 1998 to 2003. Lee Ann was working for Cap-Rock at the time in a public relations capacity. “I gave her a $10,000 budget for a party of 300 people at the Dallas Country Club,” White remembers. “But pretty soon she said, ‘I’ve got a little problem; I’ve got 1,100 people coming.’ She’d told people, ‘You’ve got to come, or my job’s at stake!’
“When I got the bill for the party, it was for $75,000,” White says with a laugh. “I thought, hell, if we can generate that kind of business with wine, to hell with the wine—let’s [do it for the] bank.”
The second occasion underscoring Lee Ann’s role came in 2002, when PlainsCapital brought Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, to Texas. Giuliani, an especially hot commodity in the wake of 9/11, appeared on behalf of the bank in Lubbock and at a dinner for 125 high rollers at Dallas’ Hotel Crescent Court. “That was kind of my wife’s deal,” White says. “We were trying to think of ways to bring all these money people together. [Giuliani] cost me $150,000. He charges $100,000 a day, but he gave me a deal” for two days’ work, White says wryly. “It really built a lot of credibility. People saying, ‘Who are you?’ was the biggest problem I’d had. That’s what established me on who we were. We really took off. It was just marketing.”FREEWHEELING CULTURE
Thanks to such marketing, PlainsCapital has done business over the years with a virtual who’s who of the region’s business and cultural elite. Among them are Simmons, whose wife, Annette, moved $10 million into White’s bank; Paul M. Bass Jr. of First Southwest Co.; beer distributor Barry Andrews; former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach; auto dealer J.L. Huffines Jr.; Hillwood owner Ross Perot Jr.; and hotel magnate John Q. Hammons. Mike Moses, a former Dallas schools superintendent, works for PlainsCapital as a consultant. Stanley Korshak owner Crawford Brock is a director, and Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight is an investor.
Like all community banks, PlainsCapital likes to explain its success by touting the personalized, responsive nature of its customer service. It’s been able to hire a number of key executives away from rival banks. And it fosters a relatively freewheeling corporate culture characterized by, among other things, quirky, intra-company sales contests. For example, the sales team that loses one of the bank’s latest competitions, called “Shoot for the Moon,” could receive the rear end of a real buffalo mounted on a wooden plaque. (The winning team gets $50,000.)
The buffalo goof plays off PlainsCapital’s corporate symbol, which White himself came up with when he and Jerry Schaffner, the bank’s president, were drinking one night at a tavern in Santa Fe, N.M. White persuaded the nightspot’s owner to sell him a buffalo head mounted behind the bar, and the company’s logo was born on the spot.
White is “always thinking very creatively, and he has a lot of energy,” says Charles E. “Stormy” Greef, a longtime friend who’s co-head of the financial institutions group at the Dallas office of Hunton & Williams, a law firm. “He’s always working, and he’s continued to be entrepreneurial, even though the bank has grown. A lot of times the bigger you get, you lose the entrepreneurial spirit.”
This year, several ambitious moves will test White’s ability to maintain that spirit. In the fall, PlainsCapital will relocate its headquarters from Turtle Creek to 48,500 square feet of space at One Victory Park in Dallas’ Victory Park development. It will also open a retail location there in the Cirque, a 28-story, mostly residential high-rise building. In addition, the bank plans to debut its fourth Fort Worth branch in a new facility on Camp Bowie Boulevard. And it’s aiming as well for its first location in Arlington near the new Cowboys stadium, where it says it might literally shine a beam of light high into the night sky to mark “The Center of the Metroplex.”
While the bank’s growth so far has been funded mainly out of earnings, White says that could change in the months or years ahead. “We could sell [to another bank], but a deal would have to be the right deal for my shareholders and customers, and the right opportunity hasn’t come along,” he says. “We could also go public—or I could do a private-equity deal. That’s something I’m having to look at all the time. If you’ve got about $10 million, let me know.”