Roughly once a quarter senior executives at Community Bank in Brandon, Miss., take a select group of up-and-coming managers on a three-day retreat.
The trips — which have involved visiting the bank's branches, playing basketball and skiing in Colorado — are part of a management training course known as the Falcon Program that took flight in 2012.
"The underlying theory in the Community Bank business model is that good people in a happy workplace are the most effective instrument a bank can have," said Charles "Chuck" Nicholson, the chief executive.
This is the second year in a row that the $2.8 billion-asset Community Bank ranks among the Best Banks to Work For, in part because of efforts to help employees develop their leadership skills.
The Falcon initiative was created by Nicholson along with board members Thomas Colbert, senior chairman, and Freddie Bagley, chairman.
Employees who show aptitude, dedication and promise are selected to take part. Participants are required to read leadership books, such as "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, and share feedback that has parallels to Community Bank, among other activities.
"This program is a succession plan for the next wave of leadership for the bank," said Justin Martin, who was named president and CEO of Community Bank's Ellisville location in 2015. He was among six students in the inaugural class.
"Mr. Colbert, Mr. Bagley and Mr. Nicholson are huge mentors of mine," said Martin, who is 35. "For them to spend time with young bankers in this organization is frankly pretty cool. We learned so much."
Prior to Martin's current post, he served as assistant vice president (Community Bank of Mississippi), executive vice president (Community Bank, North Mississippi) and chief operating officer (Community Bank, Ellisville).
He said access to senior executives helps make the bank special. "Some bankers may never see their CEO or their chairman, but I can pick up the phone and have a conversation with them at the drop of a hat."
Martin, a Mississippi State University graduate who joined the bank in 2007, has long placed a value on continuing education. To this end, he is also a graduate of the Mississippi School of Banking at the University of Mississippi and the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.
But unlike prior educational experiences, the Falcon Program allowed Martin to work alongside senior executives on developing strategy.
"Any ideas we had, they were willing to listen," Martin said. "We know millennials are the next target market, so a lot of our ideas and conversations centered on processes and technologies —from person-to-person payments to our mobile app."
Martin also appreciates that the senior executives were open to offering advice and career guidance.
"The top leaders in our company spend ample time with us. They get to know us," said Martin. "They share their success stories, their failures, strategies and lessons learned — all to enable and empower us to be our best."