Category: $3B to $10B in Assets
Nashville, Tenn.
Assets at June 30: $5.35 billion*
No. of employees: 747
President and CEO: Terry Turner

For a brief moment in 2001, Brad Dunn wondered whether his career prospects would burst like the water balloon his 7-year-old son had just tossed at the boss's wife during the new bank's first company picnic.

But Dunn had joined Pinnacle Financial Partners, a bank where youthful hijinks have not clouded the bigger picture on recruiting and retaining people like Dunn, a financial adviser and area executive in the Nashville, Tenn., suburb of Brentwood.

"The things we said we were going to do 13 years ago before we opened, we're still doing 13 years later," says Dunn, who has been with Pinnacle since it began in 2000.

Those things included building a great place to work. It was a goal back when the bank had fewer than 50 people on staff, and has remained so as the company has grown to nearly 750 employees, who work from more than 30 branches around Tennessee.

"I don't think we've ever been tempted to give up on it," says Terry Turner, Pinnacle's president and CEO. "It's still a much talked-about objective of the company."

And it's an objective that has been met, based on the study determining American Banker's Best Banks to Work For. Not only did Pinnacle place first among banks with $3 billion to $10 billion in assets, it had the highest score in any size category, making it the overall No. 1 in the ranking.

One strategy for building a strong workplace, Turner says, is a longstanding practice of mainly hiring veteran bankers with at least 10 years of experience. "Underneath that idea of hiring tenured people was really to hire people that somebody in the company knows, that somebody has seen be successful," Turner says.

The bank also strives to treat employees with respect, he says. In establishing a dress code, for instance, the bank dispensed with elaborate rules. Says Turner, "What we basically said is, we want our associates to wear the right thing. The right thing is defined by you, the associate."

Because they are awarded restricted shares of bank stock each year, employees feel invested in their decisions, Turner adds. "I've been in big regional companies, trying to convince associates that we need to do something to help shareholders. They give you a blank stare," he says. "Here, they know what the impact is."

To ensure it is heading in the right direction, the bank holds informal sessions where employees can air their concerns with managers. The bank also regularly surveys employees on their level of engagement.

One question on the survey asks whether employees have a good friend at work. While that may seem beyond a manager's control, it isn't at Pinnacle, Turner says. Managers—not human resources executives—have authority over who is hired and can ensure new employees are a good fit for their teams. And managers, Turner says, can "control whether it's fun to be in your work environment." Another ingredient in the bank's culture is a relatively flat hierarchy. No one is more than three levels away from Turner and other top executives.

As a result, managers may have up to 20 people reporting to them. But the bank eases the load where it can, for example by streamlining performance reviews with an online tool that lets managers keep notes throughout the year.

The flat hierarchy allows Dunn, the Brentwood area head, to operate as something of a player-coach. He is a manager, but he remains on the front lines of client service.

"It's a good fit for me," says Dunn, who was initially attracted to Pinnacle by the chance to return to his native Nashville.

In previous banking jobs, Dunn had moved around to advance his career. Pinnacle made clear that his salary and responsibility would grow even if he chose to stay put in Brentwood, he says.

"Even though it looks like I've been in the same place for 13 years, in terms of salary, responsibilities and scope of job, it's grown immensely," Dunn says, "even more than I would have expected."

Next: CapitalSource Bank

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