WHO'S WHO - BEN F. LOVE
Ben F. Love, the father of entrepreneurial-style banking in Texas, led Texas Commerce Bank through 65 consecutive quarters of earnings increases. When asked what qualities make for an able leader, the 72-year-old Love offered this: "You start with integrity. I think that you combine with that a disproportionate amount of productive energy. You have to have a vision for the people or institutions who follow you and you must maintain an accurate tracking or monitoring statistically of what has been accomplished relative to that vision. And then last—you’ve got to have optimism and perseverance."
After graduating from the University of Texas in 1947, Love co-founded Gift-Rap, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of specialty gift-wrap that he merged with Gibson Card Company in 1962. What he had learned in running a profitable business, he reasoned, could be applied to banking. He tried out his theory initially at River Oaks Trust where he was named chief executive in 1965.
There Love doubled the size of his board of directors and encouraged them to personally promote the bank in the community. He created a budget and set quantifiable goals. Within 18 months, deposits were up 75 percent, and profits had nearly tripled. Texas Commerce Bank (TCB) recruited Love in 1967 as a senior vice president in charge of the metropolitan division. By 1969, he had ascended to president and within three years became chairman.
Love started making the same changes at TCB that he had at River Oaks. "All of our officers were required to make calls so that we brought banking into the factories and retail stores to make certain that our bankers understood the business that they were prospectively trying to finance," he said. When Love joined TCB, it had less than $1 billion in assets. By the time he became chairman, it was a $1.5 billion bank. By 1981, TCB had grown exponentially, merging with 42 banks and starting 28 new banks. At his retirement in 1989, TCB held $17 billion in assets.
Love remembered the decision to merge TCB with Chemical Banking Corporation of New York in December 1986 as the most critical moment of his career. When earnings dropped by more than two-thirds—from $183 million in 1984 to $52 million in 1985—he began to worry. "The main thing I was thinking about was our shareholders. I would picture the people who had put their faith and money in Texas Commerce—they were a responsibility in regard to risk that preoccupied all of my thinking," Love said. The decision, although criticized at the time, effectively saved the bank. While most other Texas banks were declaring bankruptcy and watching their stocks become virtually worthless, stock in Texas Commerce held at $25 a share.
Marc Shapiro, Love’s successor at TCB, credited his mentor with transforming the Texas banking system." His integrity made him a great banker—under his leadership I can’t think of a time that the bank did not act with perfect integrity, and I think that is the single most important characteristic you can attach to a bank," Shapiro said.
Benton F. Love, who led Texas Commerce Bank to prominence and became a fixture in Houston civic and philanthropic circles, died of cancer on January 13, 2006. He was 81.