Then & Now: Working with dad fits easily for Blanchard

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 467 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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When a parent is a boss, things can get complicated.

The primary objective of any business is to make money, and fathers and sons often struggle to preserve their close relationships while protecting the business’ bottom line.

Charles “Chip” Blanchard is keenly aware of the dynamic. For 20 years, he has worked in the Arkansas banking sector in multiple markets.

But for the past 11 years, he has worked with his father, Charles H. Blanchard, to help grow Russellville-chartered First State Bank.

“The funny thing about working with family is you never know how it’s gonna go until you do it,” Chip Blanchard said in a recent interview. “You can’t take a test that says whether a father or son or father and daughter, two brothers or whoever will be compatible. There’s a risk with it. But this situation has worked out and worked out great.”

Blanchard, 42, is president and COO of First State Bank. He joined the bank as a senior vice president and board member in 2011. His father, the chairman and CEO, started the bank in 1999 after purchasing an existing charter from another bank dating back to 1934. There are multiple shareholders, but the Blanchard family maintains the controlling interest in First State Banking Corp., the bank’s holding company.

First State Bank has $516.1 million in assets and five full-service branches, three in Russellville. The newest location represents a new chapter in the company’s history. On Aug. 29, First State Bank officially opened a full-service branch in Fayetteville just off West Van Asche Drive. It’s the company’s first branch in Northwest Arkansas, where it established a loan-production office three years ago.

Blanchard isn’t a stranger to the regional market. He graduated from the University of Arkansas in 2002 with a degree in finance and marketing and went straight to work for Metropolitan National Bank in Little Rock.

Three years later, he moved to Northwest Arkansas with MNB’s push to open a dozen branches in Benton and Washington counties. In 2008, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal honored him as a member of its annual Forty Under 40 class.

Blanchard said gaining banking experience and creating his path away from First State Bank was not an intentional strategy. But the time did come to eventually join his father’s bank in a leadership role.

“It looked like that was planned from the start, but that was never the plan,” he said. “But to continue as a community bank with independent ownership, there was a point in time we needed a succession plan. If I was going back home, it needed to be then [in 2011]. It was actually one of the outside directors who first approached me. Dad didn’t want to feel guilty if we tried working together, and it didn’t work.”

Blanchard said there are no imminent plans for a leadership change at the bank.

“What we’re doing is working great, and there is no reason to change anything right now,” he said.

The financials back that up. First State Bank has grown assets by nearly 75% in the past three years. Blanchard credits heavy technology investments. The most visible example is replacing the bank’s ATMs with ITMs [interactive teller machines] in 2019.

“Fast-forward six months, and COVID hits,” he recalled. “People were closing branches left and right, but we could continue serving our customers face to face, just behind a screen.

“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but it sped up customer buy-in. Banks significantly larger than us come here regularly to see how our ITM department is set up and learn some of those nuances.”

First State Bank is Russellville’s largest by deposits, and Blanchard enjoys the role of a visible and involved community banker. His civic involvement is lengthy, and he’s coached his daughter (11) and son (8) in numerous youth sports.

“A lot of times, I don’t know any more about the sports than the kids out there playing,” he joked. “But it’s been a great experience and a great opportunity. My dad and granddad instilled it in me to invest in your community with my time. They were great examples of that.”

Blanchard’s grandfather is the late William H. Bowen, one of Arkansas’ famed lawyers, bankers and businessmen and the namesake of the school of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.