R. Scott Jones takes over as president of the American Bankers Association on Monday, determined to turn the industry into a more potent political force.
"Our experience this year showed us in bright and living color that our grassroots system needs to be reinvigorated," he said in an interview. "I'm talking about getting bankers more involved. We are incredibly poor at doing this job."
The experience Mr. Jones referred to is the banking industry's bruising battle over legislation to ease limits on credit union membership. After a victory in the Supreme Court, bankers suffered defeat at the hands of thousands of credit union volunteers who flooded lawmakers with calls, faxes, and visits.
Mr. Jones has designated James E. Smith, president and chief executive officer of Union State Bank and Trust, Clinton, Mo., to head a task force devoted to exploring how the ABA can improve its grassroots lobbying. Mr. Smith, the departing chairman of the ABA's government relations council, will be joined by several other bankers, three state association executives, and some ABA staff members.
Mr. Jones' other cause is establishing a school for CEOs at banks with between $200 million and $5 billion of assets. "ABA has done a great job in most of its educational offerings, but there is a missing piece, and it's at the top of the heap," Mr. Jones said.
The ABA has teamed up with the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University to create a two-year program for no more than 40 bankers to learn about everything from using technology to improve delivery systems to financing growth through capital planning.
"The biggest emphasis is going to be on peer group interaction," Mr. Jones said. "This group will be able to hear new ideas and theories of operating our business and talk about common problems."
The school will start in February, he said.
Mr. Jones is a fourth-generation banker. The comptroller of the currency in 1934 asked his grandfather to run Goodhue County National Bank, an ailing bank in Red Wing, Minn. Reluctantly he agreed, moving the family from Montana to 50 miles south of the Twin Cities, along the banks of the Mississippi River.
The Jones family gradually gained majority control of Goodhue County National, which Mr. Jones joined in 1975 after seven years with First Bank in Minneapolis, where he was a commercial loan officer.
Today, Goodhue County National is part of United Community Bancshares of Eagan, Minn., a three-bank holding company Mr. Jones created in 1993 by joining forces with his close friend Galen Pate. Mr. Jones is chairman and Mr. Pate is president of the $750 million-asset company.
Goodhue County National competes with Norwest, the Red Wing Credit Union, and a smaller state bank.
"I worry about them all, but not as much as I worry about the Edward D. Jones representative and the Equitable Insurance representative and the ReliaStar representative," Mr. Jones said. "They are the ones I worry about the most, because I can't compete with them directly."
Mr. Jones got involved in the ABA about 14 years ago and was ready to quit in 1995 after a year running the group's government relations council. But then-ABA president Howard L. McMillan Jr. talked him into getting in line for the group's top job.
"What you see is what you get with Scott, and what you get is pretty good," Mr. McMillan said last week. "He's articulate, very bright, and has that little twinkle in his eye that makes him very appealing and highly credible."