Scott Dueser, the chief executive of First Financial Bankshares (FFIN) in Abilene, Texas, has been rewarded for changing his ways.

Dueser held fast to his belief that keeping multiple charters was the right move for his $4.4 billion-asset company. He ultimately relented and First Financial consolidated its 11 separate bank charters into one at yearend because the status quo was so costly and time-consuming.

Showing that kind of flexibility, even when it directly clashed with a firmly held business philosophy, was one reason Southern Methodist University's Southwestern Graduate School of Banking recently gave Dueser its distinguished alumnus award.

Though the chartered entities used the same name — First Financial Bank — each maintained a separate board of local business leaders. As a result, First Financial had "150 directors in multiple locations," says Scott MacDonald, the chief executive of the banking school, which is a department of the Cox School of Business. Board meetings were spread out all across Texas, from the oil fields of Odessa in west Texas, to the cotton fields of Hereford in the Panhandle, to the piney woods of Huntsville in east Texas.

Dueser felt that "having those local boards really made a difference for those communities," MacDonald says. But increasing regulatory burdens and associated higher costs "forced him out of that business model."

Dueser, who has been an executive at First Financial since 1991, was traveling this week and unavailable for comment.

First Financial's pristine finances also helped persuade the school to give the award to Dueser, a 1981 graduate of the school. As of March 31, First Financial reported a 51% efficiency ratio, a 15% return on equity, and a portfolio where only 0.6% of total assets were nonperforming.

"You can't really argue with those results," MacDonald says.

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