Charlie Crawford: Buckhead’s Banker

Editor’s note: You may have recently read the news of a merger involving Private Bank of Buckhead. Buckhead.com takes this opportunity to tell you not only a bit more about that deal, but also about the man behind the bank who is a Buckhead and an Atlanta fixture. Meet Charlie Crawford, who we think is one of our community’s most interesting people.

It would be easy to make a case that Charlie Crawford is as recognized for his community-service resume as he is for his impressive business track record. In his own words, “you can’t call yourself a community bank without having a leader who is involved in community service and who fosters a culture that values civic pride and philanthropy at all levels.”

Indeed. Charlie, who is the President, CEO & Chairman of Private Bank of Buckhead, is a Director of the Buckhead Coalition, for which he serves as Treasurer, and is on the Board of the Georgia Tennis Foundation. He’s also past chair of the Atlanta Track Club is a member of the Board of Advisors for the J. Mack Robinson College of Business (Georgia State University) and is on the Board of Councilors for The Carter Center. We could fill a page with his hands-on community efforts.

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Crawford in the Vault. Photo credit Robin Henson

Still, a quick look at his community resume helps underscore the many relationships Charlie has built over the years. Genuine connections that help community organizations run and which help his bank best serve its communities.

The serial entrepreneur has been involved in the startup of three banks, the significant expansion of another and an unprecedented entrepreneurial mortgage division relaunch. His formula for success in addition to building relationships seems to involve perseverance, an eye for building great teams, an affable nature and a knack for actually bringing to play the often-talked about, rarely practiced work-life balance.

The self-professed “B” student in high school established goals that saw him through dual bachelor’s degrees from an Ivy League university and the Wharton School of Business. (Charlie would later add an Executive MBA from Georgia State University to the mix.)

The former college cheerleader started his banking career in New York in 1985 with Bankers Trust Company, and later spent 10 years with Bank South in Atlanta. Still, the bulk of his 30-plus-year career and, obviously his heart, has been in community banking. In 1996, he started The Buckhead Bank and, in 2001, Riverside Bank of Buckhead. In Fall 2005 Charlie had a vision for another bank. He met with outstanding business people, both familiar and not. Eleven other people signed on to be organizing directors with Charlie and in December 2006 Private Bank of Buckhead opened its doors.

“We developed a ‘high-touch, high-tech’ service model combining the approach that ALL clients deserve the higher level of service some banks reserve for only a certain few consumers, with market-leading technology like banking ‘apps,’ remote-deposit functionality and no-cost ATM access,” Charlie says, noting that he is pleased to surround himself with bankers who are “fanatical” about service. Not a word you normally hear from a banker. “Heck, we’ll even go to our clients’ home or businesses if need be.”

The formula has worked and the market has responded well. So well that the bank expanded as others were still contracting. In 2012 the Private Bank of Decatur division was added and in 2014 the bank re-launched its mortgage division, PrivatePlus Mortgage, which quickly gained approval to originate mortgages in 50 states plus the District of Columbia. That hybrid, entrepreneurial approach is unique but one that Charlie-the-entrepreneur and his team knew was worth the fresh approach.

Along the way Charlie has garnered awards, from being the fastest CEO in his category at the Kaiser Permanente corporate run/walk to being a finalist for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s Business Person of the Year and was the Buckhead Business Association’s “Bullish on Buckhead” recipient (2010). Recognition came to the bank too. Private Bank of Buckhead was among the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Pacesetter Award winners and in August was included on Inc. magazine’s 35th annual Inc. 5000, which recognizes the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.

“Our team members, business partners and clients are the reason for our success,” Charlie says. “And, as excited as I am for the recognition of our growth, I’m most pleased that we were able to accomplish such milestones while remaining true to the high-touch service proposition that’s at our core. Growth is great, but quality remains our chief strategy.”

And the smart growth continues. On August 31 National Commerce Corporation, the parent company of National Bank of Commerce, headquartered in Birmingham, and Private Bancshares, Inc., the parent company of Private Bank of Buckhead, announced the signing of a definitive agreement providing for the merger of Private Bancshares with and into NCC. Simultaneously with the holding company merger, PBB will merge with and into NBC, but will continue to operate under its current trade names (Private Bank of Buckhead, Private Bank of Decatur and PrivatePlus Mortgage) and existing management team. The merger is expected to be complete in January of 2017.

As is often the case with Charlie, relationships were a key ingredient. “Having known Charlie Crawford for more than 16 years, we are pleased to reach this agreement,” says John H. Holcomb, III, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of NCC. “PBB’s clients, like ours, appreciate the benefits of working closely with talented bankers who understand their markets and have the authority to make decisions.”

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Ansley and Charlie Crawford

For his part, Charlie says, “our affiliation with NCC will allow us to continue being the bank of choice for the communities we serve. This is the right next step for us and the people we serve, and we believe this is an optimal way to approach our 10th anniversary in December in a position of strength, stability and customer focus.”

By the numbers, the transaction is expected to result in a combined institution with approximately $2.0 billion in assets. Under the terms of the definitive merger agreement, each share of common stock of Private Bancshares issued and outstanding immediately prior to the effective time of the merger will be converted into the right to receive either 0.85417 shares of NCC common stock or cash in the amount of $20.50. Under the agreement, the total amount of cash payable in the merger will in no event exceed $8,321,000 (representing a cash payment in exchange for approximately 15% of the maximum potential outstanding shares of Private Bancshares common stock), subject to NCC’s option to increase such cash payment to an amount representing a cash payment in exchange for approximately 20% of the outstanding shares of Private Bancshares common stock outstanding at the Effective Time. As you might imagine, the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including receipt of regulatory approvals.

In the meantime, Charlie continues to work his winning formula, including the aforementioned balance, part of which he exercises by…literally exercising. He is an avid tennis player and runner, having completed 14 marathons, and enjoys blending healthful undertakings with business and family. In fact, you can often find him playing tennis or running alongside coworkers and family.

One run is quintessentially Charlie and tells a good story of him and of the bank. A winter storm had closed businesses for a few days, so, undeterred, Charlie literally ran down to the bank to check on things and to make sure some key pieces of paperwork were moved forward so a client could do back-to-back dual closings on time. It was definitely one of those times that bank associates notice that Charlie is not asking them to do anything he would not himself tackle. He was demonstrating fanatical service and, in true Charlie fashion, having fun doing it.

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Charlie Running to the Bank

Still, at the end of the day and after many successful bank deals, those who know Charlie are not surprised that his proudest role is as husband (of 25 years) and father of three (high school student, college student and near-college grad). Yes, he is an oft quoted expert about banking and related topics, in the Atlanta Business Chronicle and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and industry trades, but Charlie will tell you it’s about the journey. Can you keep up?

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