Tennessee Bankers

A Balancing Act

By Roger Shirley

If anyone could be genetically predisposed to becoming chairman of the Tennessee Bankers Association, it would be Lee Moss.

His great-grandfather and grandfather were both bankers in Lewisburg, Tenn., with his grandfather, James Lee Moss, holding the distinction of being Tennessee’s longest-tenured active banker—serving as chairman and CEO for over 40 years and on the board of First National Bank of Lewisburg well into his 90s and living to be 103 years old.

His father, Chase Moss, was a correspondent banker at the former Third National Bank and later became chairman of its holding company, Third National Corp., before his death in 1974. Chase Moss also served as president (now called chairman) of the TBA from 1969 to 1970, and he was actively involved in the compromises regarding bank holding companies and branching that maintained a unified association.

And, by the way, Lee’s cousin on his mother’s side, John Muse of Farmers State Bank in Mountain City, is the TBA’s chairman-elect.

Despite his pedigree, Lee Moss says it was not certain that he would go into banking as a career and that he did not feel pressure to follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps.

“Actually, when I was growing up, I was either going to be a high school football coach or a minister,” said Moss, who became president of Franklin Synergy Bank after its merger with MidSouth Bank in Murfreesboro, which he previously led as chairman and CEO. “But as I would listen to dad and granddad talk about being a banker, I realized it was all about working with people and solving problems, and I enjoy doing both of those. So, when I headed to the University of Tennessee, I went in as a banking major.”

That Moss may have wound up being a high school coach or a minister is not surprising for those who know him well. Growing up in Nashville, Moss attended Hillwood High School from 1966 to 1969, lettering in football, basketball, and track. He remains passionate about sports and still plays golf, runs 15 miles weekly, and has completed 12 half-marathons and spends many summer weekends at Center Hill Lake with family and friends.

As an outlet for his sports passion, Moss refereed high school basketball for 26 years as a member of the TSSAA officiating crew. He was chosen as a referee in two state basketball tournaments—a big honor since those selected are essentially on the “all-star team” of officials from across the state.

“I wanted to do it on the college level, but I determined I couldn’t make it work with my life due to the extensive travel,” Moss said. “I would probably have been divorced and fired from my job—and those are not very attractive alternatives.”

Being a referee has helped Moss professionally, he says, as managing a basketball game and a bank operation have similarities.

“During a game, something is constantly happening, and you have to make quick decisions on whether to call something or not; and if you call it, you have to immediately live with the consequences. You have to forget that half the fans are going to love the call, and half are going to hate it. My job was less about implementing the rules and more about controlling the flow of the game. It was about keeping the game under control, and also about controlling my emotions when I had 5,000 people giving me their clear vocal opinion.”

Being involved in his church is also important to Moss. He’s on the administrative board of the First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro and is a longtime Sunday school teacher—something he says has provided him with insight that he uses in his professional life.

“I’ve been teaching Sunday school for more than 35 years—with the last 20 years being adult classes. One of the things I say to parents is that you can control your children from birth to about 7 or 8 years; and then from that age to about 12 years, you can influence what they do. After that, all you can do is love them.

“So what does that say about how we work with adults? I think quite a bit. I may be a CEO or president of an organization, but I can’t make you do anything. What I can do first is to understand what motivates you and then be an effective influencer on how you can use your God-given talents to the fullest. And then the concept of love in that example is to reinforce you and make sure you know how valuable you are to the organization.

“I’ve tried to use that as my philosophy at work,” Moss said. “I try to be a situational leader—more of a leader than a manager. I’ve worked with a lot of talented people who know what to do and how to do it; so the last thing they need is someone telling them how to do it. What a situational leader does is understand an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, making sure they are focused on the right initiatives with the right level of coaching from me and that they have the resources they need to accomplish their objectives. That’s what I see as my role, whether it is at the bank or at the Tennessee Bankers Association.”

 

STRATEGIC DECISION

 After graduating from UT’s College of Business Administration in 1973, Moss landed his first career job at the former Valley Fidelity Bank in Knoxville. A year later, he and his wife, Susan, decided to move back to their hometown of Nashville after the death of his father.

“I joined Third National Bank in 1974, went through the bank’s management training program and then ended up managing three different branch offices, overseeing the commercial offices, and then ran the middle market up until SunTrust’s acquisition of Third National in 1995,” Moss said.

Moss became SunTrust’s Murfreesboro Regional President, a position he held until the end of 2003 when he left to help organize MidSouth Bank with legendary banker Jack Weatherford and his son, Ben (now Rutherford County president of FirstBank), along with Dallas Caudle.

The elder Weatherford, a former TBA president who Moss said “has been like a father to me,” began his career in the 1950s at Murfreesboro Bank and Trust Company, where he rose through the ranks to chairman and CEO in 1970. After Third National acquired the bank in 1985, Weatherford continued as CEO, and later became Third National’s vice chairman before retiring after the SunTrust merger.

“Jack felt strongly that Murfreesboro needed another community bank, and it was his idea to start one,” Moss said. “He talked to Ben and me to see if we were interested, and we agreed to work together on it.”

After a year of organizing the bank led by the Weatherfords and Moss, the new Mid-South Bank was chartered in January 2004. “At that point in time, we believe we raised the largest amount of capital to start a bank in Tennessee—$30 million, which has subsequently been surpassed,” Moss said. “We ended up with 1,800 investors in Rutherford County.”

Ten years later, MidSouth agreed to be acquired by Franklin Financial Corp., the holding company for Franklin Synergy Bank, which closed in July 2014.

“Coming out of the recession, we had a strategic decision to make,” Moss said. “Do we remain MidSouth and do some acquisitions, or do we look at other partners? The board charged me to begin the process of exploring partnerships since I had been active in the TBA and knew a lot of bankers throughout the state. As it turns out, one of our shareholders was also a shareholder in Franklin Synergy, and he encouraged both of us to talk.

“Richard Herrington (chairman and CEO of Franklin Synergy) and I had known each other for years. We talked and it didn’t take too long for us to realize that we could capitalize on the two fastest growing counties in Tennessee, and that the two markets—Williamson and Rutherford counties—were so complementary. We had no market overlap, and Williamson County was a wealthy white collar market while Rutherford County was what I called a very healthy gray-collar market—a good mix of white collar and blue collar jobs.

Moss has embraced his transition from chairman and CEO of MidSouth Bank to president of Franklin Synergy and is looking forward to helping the bank continue to grow. Moss maintains offices in Murfreesboro and Franklin, with a focus on Franklin Synergy’s M&A activity.

 

FINDING THE BALANCE

There’s no doubt that Moss has a full plate of commitments and responsibilities above and beyond his “day job” at Franklin Synergy and his tenure as TBA chairman, but in looking back over his career and his record of community involvement, that is par for the course.

Moss has been active in UT Alumni boards at the local and national level and has served as national president of his college fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, and has chaired the boards of organizations such as the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, United Way, American Heart Association, and Discovery Center. In 2012 he was named the Rutherford County Family YMCA’s Humanitarian of the Year, in 2006 the Chamber’s Business Person of the Year, and in 2004 MTSU Business School’s Champion of Free Enterprise. He is a 1996 graduate of Leadership Rutherford and 2011 graduate of Leadership Middle Tennessee.

Moss is the most recent past chairman of the St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital board of directors, while also serving on St. Thomas’s statewide board, for which he is slated to become chairman next year.

He has especially gravitated toward working with young people, something he finds both rewarding and inspiring, and a way to stay in touch with generational changes.

His involvement in church, civic, and business activities and his role along with his wife as parents of four children and grandparents of six grandchildren, are part of Moss’s personal operating philosophy.

“It is critical to find effective balance in life. When I die, I don’t want to be known as Lee Moss, the banker. I want to be known as an effective and loving father/grandfather, a loving husband, a Christian, and someone who gave back to his community and helped young people see the kind of life they can have based on wise choices.

“When I come to work, I give it 100 percent effort, but when I come home, that’s my focus, and I’ve always felt a responsibility to be involved in things that make our communities better. You have to make time for that. Too many people, including a lot of people in the banking industry, allow themselves to become workaholics, totally absorbed in their jobs and careers, and that’s so unfair—to them and others.

“Life is about balance.”