Conversations with Innovators — Q&A with Ben Cunningham of Liberty Capital Bank
This week we are talking with Ben Cunningham, Founder and CEO of Liberty Capital Bank in Addison.
1. Tell us how the bank got started
Work began in 2007 to charter the bank literally from scratch. Liberty Capital Bank was founded on September 15, 2008 – which was the same day Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy marking the start of the financial crisis. LCB was one of the last banks in America to get a charter as the financial crisis practically stopped the flow of new bank charters. The founders were all friends and family and with $10 million in start-up capital the bank has grown to $200 million in assets after its first 8 years.
Senior management are all big bank “refugees,” understanding the needs of larger, more complex and sophisticated clients. They have a private banking model focused on servicing the needs of privately held businesses, entrepreneurs, family offices, commercial banking and real estate. We are about 1/3 split between private banking, commercial Banking and real estate.
2. Banks and innovation aren’t often thought of together. What’s the secret to Liberty Capital Bank’s success?
Some banks do compete on innovation. We don’t, unless you call “intensely focused customer service” innovative. Each of our staff members is a very experienced banker with over 25 years average experience. We have almost no turnover so we get to know our customers and their habits and transfer that customer knowledge to customer service. Being small, we can outmaneuver our competition. Since technology is about the same with any bank, the difference is in the people and we frankly have great people.
One thing that is unique about us is that we are building the bank to keep, not sell. Thus everything we do is with a long-term mentality. We don’t need to stretch because at some point, that will catch up with you.
3. The bank’s core values are prominently listed on its website. How are they implemented into the bank’s management and culture?
We don’t take our core values lightly and have had to make some tough decisions to make sure we protect them. I’ve been sometimes referred to as the Chief Culture Officer so I take our values very seriously. It starts at the top. If you don’t have a servant’s heart, you won’t fit in here. Egos aren’t allowed. We have a word for it: Servant2. We are a servant to our shareholders, our customers, and each other.
4. Liberty Capital Bank has won Dallas Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” 3 times. What’s the secret to that success?
That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many facets to winning the contest. We don’t do any one thing that would stand out. But what we do, every day, is protect the family. There is a genuine concern for each other and making sure everyone who works here knows how much we value them. We all work very hard but we also take time to decompress and engage with one another. Every morning everyone gets an inspiring quote of the day and also get something humorous – after all, one of our values is to have fun.
5. What piece of advice would you give to a first-time entrepreneur starting out?
I know when I started the bank I had no idea how much work would be involved, almost to the point of it being unhealthy. There’s more to do than you realize. When you start from scratch, never underestimate the amount of time and resources it will take to make your vision come true. And don’t forget, you can’t do it all yourself so surround yourself with great people!
I have a saying: “the devil’s in the details” and if you’re not paying attention to the details, watch out! If you don’t understand something, get help. Don’t assume the little things aren’t important, they are very important.
6. What’s your “one thing” that most drives each of your professional successes?
We’re obsessed with doing things the right way. If something can be done the easy way in 10 minutes but you cut corners, taking 20 minutes to do it the right way will save you in the long-run. That attention to detail has kept us out of a lot of problems.
Ben Cunningham, Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Ben Cunningham started his banking career with Republic Bank in 1973, then moved to InterFirst Bank Addison in 1976 where he worked his way up to President. He spent 18 years with Compass Bank before starting Liberty Capital Bank in 2008. He has his undergraduate degree in Finance from the University of Texas at Dallas and is a graduate of the Southwestern Graduate School of Banking at SMU in Dallas.
He has been very involved in the North Dallas / Addison area and has served as Chairman of the Metrocrest Chamber of Commerce, past president of the Addison Business Association and is a member and past president of the Carrollton / Farmers Branch Rotary Club. Ben is also a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow. He was named by the Metrocrest Chamber of Commerce as the 2013 Citizen of the Year. He is also on the board of the WaterTower Theatre. In addition to his involvement in the business community, he is also connected with Trinity Christian Academy where his 3 children attended and his wife and daughter now teach.
Ben has been married to Patty Cunningham since 1974. He is active in his church where he’s attended since 1975 and has served on the elder board, chairman of the Finance Committee and is presently chairman of the church’s defined benefit plan’s Board of Trustees. He serves as a mentor to young men in the church and currently works in the special needs ministry for kids with a disability. He also helps with the annual deacon development program for new deacons. Ben and his wife are actively involved with the Joni & Friends organization and volunteers his time each summer to serve at JAF’s family camp for the disabled.
About the Firm:
Klemchuk LLP is a litigation, intellectual property, transactional, and international business law firm dedicated to protecting innovation. The firm provides tailored legal solutions to industries including software, technology, retail, real estate, consumer goods, ecommerce, telecommunications, restaurant, energy, media, and professional services. The firm focuses on serving mid-market companies seeking long-term, value-added relationships with a law firm. Learn more about experiencing law practiced differently and our local counsel practice.
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