William D. Sones is not your average small-town banker.
The incoming president of the Independent Bankers Association of America has better connections in Washington than any of his previous counterparts in recent memory. He's friends with fellow Mississippian Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, and sits on two boards that dispense advice to Fannie Mae and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
In other words, when the president and chief executive of State Bank and Trust, Brookhaven, Miss., is sworn in Saturday, he'll be well-prepared to become community banking's top ambassador.
"It puts me on the cutting edge and not just as the president of the trade group," Mr. Sones said. "I've got a great advantage running my bank, because I hear about stuff happening in Washington before most other small- town bankers do."
Not only does he have an edge, the 48-year-old possesses a certain panache one would not expect from the president of a $110 million-asset bank. He answered a recent call on a cellular phone while skiing down a slope in Park City, Utah. Back in Brookhaven, he gets around in a shiny black Mercedes sedan.
The IBAA is going to need Mr. Sones' combination of poise and Washington savvy this year. Fighting an uphill battle in Congress, the IBAA is arguing that combining banks and nonfinancial companies would lead to massive financial conglomerations with undue influence.
"We have the most successful delivery system of financial products in the world. I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Mr. Sones said.
Despite his connections inside the Beltway, Mr. Sones said his role as a community banker is to help improve the town of 14,000 people where his bank does business. He teaches Sunday school and volunteers on economic development boards. He helped convince Wal-Mart to open a new store and distribution center in Brookhaven, bringing hundreds of jobs to the community. His institution has earned an "outstanding" Community Reinvestment Act rating. His Mercedes even sports a personalized license plate that reads "GOBROOK."
Still, Mr. Sones stresses that his wife and five children come first.
"I'm out of the bank for 50% of the next year, so I've just got to carve out some time for my family," Mr. Sones said.