Some people know exactly what kind of career they’re going to pursue from the time they’re children; others sort of stumble into it by chance. After a successful 40-year career in the banking industry, J.B. Schwiers, the president and CEO of the Greenville-based GrandSouth Bank, cheerfully admits to starting out as a stumbler.
“It was an accident,” Schwiers says. “It wasn’t like I knew all of my life I wanted to be a banker. I had no idea what I was going to do when I graduated from college, and it just so happened that the chairman of the board of trustees at The Citadel where I was going to college told me one day that if I decided not to go into the military that he’d like for me to come by and apply for a job at the bank. And so that’s what I did. They offered me a job, and 40 years later here I am.”
Luckily, Schwiers proved to be a good fit with the banking industry, and he’s served as GrandSouth Bank’s president and CEO for the last four years. And at a time when other local financial institutions like Greer State Bank have been absorbed by larger banks or are merging with each other like BB&T and SunTrust, GrandSouth is thriving.
“We’ve had a great strong local economy, and we’ve expanded into new markets,” Schwiers says. “We went into Columbia, Orangeburg and Charleston, so it has been a pretty good four-year run, to be honest with you.”
Growth in a shrinking industry
That level of expansion is no small achievement given how the industry has shrunk over the last two decades.
“I think I have my statistics correct here,” Schwiers says, “but in 1990 there were 118 banks headquartered in South Carolina. If you fast-forward to 2020 there are 46, and two of the 46, CresCom out of Charleston and South State out of Columbia, have recently announced that there are merging with other banks. So that that list of 46 is going to shrink to 44.”
But in a climate of consolidation, GrandSouth has bucked the trend, ending the fourth quarter of 2019 with a 28.06% increase in net income over 2018, according to Yahoo! Finance.
“Obviously, there are a lot of great markets in our state that you would want to be in,” he says, “but what drives our decisions is where we can find the right banking talent. This business is all about relationships, and the banks who are the most successful at recruiting, hiring, retaining, training and motivating top talent are the ones that are going be the most successful. Those are the ones that will have the high growth rates.”
A community bank at heart
But it also helps that GrandSouth’s approach involves sticking to their strengths, and remembering that they are, at heart, a community bank, with an emphasis on the word “community.”
“What GrandSouth does is stick with what we’re good at,” he says. “And we focus on small business banking. We take very good care of those customers, we provide exceptional service and we’re very responsive because decisions are made locally. Community banks tend to know their market pretty well, and they tend to be very good corporate citizens. So there are advantages that we have in being a community bank.”