One could easily think that as the fifth generation of family leadership at First National Bank of Fort Smith, Sam T. Sicard's professional fate was determined from an early age – that he would automatically take a job in finance and follow in his late father Sam M. Sicard's footsteps.
But as the younger Sicard explained to members and guests of the Family Enterprise Center on Thursday morning (June 13), the decision to join the family business was entirely his with no pressure from his father, who he succeed as president and CEO of First National following his untimely death two years ago.
He said while he was a young 34-years-old when his father passed, he felt better prepared to accept the position bestowed upon him by the bank's Board of Directors than if he had done so at a younger age, as his father had done.
"His father had a stroke when dad was only 29-years-old and Dad had to step in a leadership role. And my grandfather lived for another eight years, actually, passed away when Dad was 37 and become president and CEO officially."
He said his father's experience, while drawn out over several years, helped he and his father to be better able to transition when the unexpected happened.
"I think a lot of the reasons Dad made the transition so smooth is the experiences that he went through and the understanding of what can happen, so he was always trying to prepare for that, to prepare me for that."
In order to prepare for the eventual transition of power, Sicard began helping at the bank when he was only 14 and continued working at the bank during breaks from school and eventually joined the staff after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Arkansas.
"We didn't talk about it. Dad was a very reserved man. But he was very receptive to letting me try to do things. He never really held me back. He gave me some direction and always told me what he thought. But he gave me the opportunity to be involved at a very young age in a leadership position, in a management position within the bank. And I made plenty of mistakes and learned from it. And did some good things, too, and I learned from that, as well."
The time, Sicard said, was vital to his development as not only the next president and CEO, but as a person.
Even though he set himself on the path to a successful career in finance, Sicard admits that the road, especially in his younger years fresh out of college, was not without a few bumps.
"Being a young person, sometimes I needed to be tempered a little bit and sometimes I my values weren't totally aligned where they needed to be. And Dad was patient with me through that process. I think you all see that, whether in yourself when you first got out of school or your children. And he was patient with me and I certainly learned from those experiences."
Through the years of working with his father, Sicard said he learned that successes in life cannot always be about personal achievement, but should be about some sort of collective achievement, as well.
"Your aspirations really have to be more for your people, your staff, your customers, and that really leads to success in my opinion because people buy into what your values are and what your purpose is. And I think that's what I learned from my father. He wasn't real goal-oriented from the standpoint of metrics, but he knew he had a very strong vision and a very clear purpose of what he wanted to accomplish with the bank and serving the community in creating value, not only for our shareholders, but also for our customers and our employees, as well. That's something that took some time for me to learn from him, that transition, and he was patient with me again on that."
Sicard made several other points in his speech to the Family Enterprise Center, a division of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's College of Business tasked with providing "families in business with programs and resources that will help make family in the business a strategic strength." Among them:
"It's fine to dare to be great. You know, it's fine to want to achieve great things. But I think it's real important to desire to be grateful for what you have before you desire to be great. When you're not grateful, I just don't think it's sustainable. It's hard to have people buy into what you're trying to achieve if your not grateful first for all the opportunities your given – you're not grateful for your customers, you're not grateful for your shareholders that support you, your employees and all those things."
"The other thing I think is so important is that you not be afraid of conflict. Be afraid of losing your composure. And those are two different things. I don't want you to think that Dad and I everyday we always agreed on everything. We never had a bad word with each other. We never disagreed with each other. We had plenty of heated debates and strong disagreements and arguments. Usually, he'd bend a little bit on his side and I'd bend a little bit on my side and usually the conclusion is where we needed to be. But I think it's a real mistake to avoid conflict. Fear of conflict always makes you worse. It always makes you worse. It limits you, it limits your growth. It limits your ability to expand your perspective. … The key is again not to lose your composure. If you can keep it on a respectful level, there's no damage done to your personal relationship, I think that's so important."
"I would also add that the transition has been relatively smooth and I have a lot of people to thank for that. We have a senior management team with a lot of experience. Dad was a strong delegator. He once said to me, I can remember when I was younger, I was real worried. He had had triple bypass when I was in college and knew the family history. And I said, 'Gosh Dad. What's going to happen if something happens to you?' And he just sort of nonchalantly said, 'Oh, the bank’s been in business 130 years and they'll be fine without me.' And that was kind of his perspective. The reason for that is he had delegated things and got strong leadership, strong management in place with people he trusted and empowered them to do their job. And that applied to me as well. He gave me that same empowerment, as well. So that made the transition pretty smooth."
Concluding his remarks, Sicard said the smooth transition and the path the bank is on has little to do with what he has done since the passing of his father. As he says, "In my opinion, it has almost nothing to do with it." Instead, he said the success was due to what he had done before his father's passing.
"The relationships I built with our staff, our customers and our board members and our shareholders. I know, it was too late, or would have been too hard, if I didn't have that sense of respect or accountability to them and them to me if I was trying to do that (after my father's death). At a young age, I knew that."