Story by Susan O'Connor, Photos by Dero Sanford
Brad Edwards will join a distinguished group of community leaders when he assumes the board chairmanship of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce this month.
“The Chamber has a long, distinguished list of past chairmen — people who have served unselfishly,” Edwards said. “From Lucinda McDaniel most recently to those who have preceded her. I have the utmost respect for those who have volunteered their time and talents in this community.”
One of the many challenges of serving as board chairman of a vibrant city’s Chamber of Commerce is the huge time commitment necessary. But Edwards, president and CEO of First Security Bank of Jonesboro, is not new to challenges. Since he assumed his position at First Security in 2006, he has started a bank from scratch in Jonesboro’s extremely competitive banking market.
“Everything is tough when you start from zero because there were so many things to do: securing branch locations, construction, staffing, security, technology, etcetera, etcetera,” Edwards said. “Establishing two temporary locations while constructing two permanent locations was quite the challenge — something I had never experienced before in my career. While it was easy to fill my schedule with these issues, the most important task was to grow our customer base (after all, we didn’t have any). To do that well, we needed to create a culture that focuses on customer service and business development. I’m very proud of the people who have joined our team. They’ve done a great job in growing our bank in a very competitive environment.”
Edwards is uniquely qualified for the challenges that await him as chamber president. He is a business and community leader. And he has been business-minded since childhood.
“My mother would tell you that I began reading the real estate section of the newspaper at an early age. I was also fascinated as a child by a bank. Money handling was very fascinating to me. There was a bank branch near my home and I took great satisfaction in going to the bank to make a deposit in my passbook savings account.”
At age 10, Edwards mowed yards for $5, towing the mower behind his bike. In high school, he worked in the mailroom of a bank in his hometown of Searcy. During college at Arkansas State University, Edwards worked as a loan officer at Mercantile Bank. After graduation, he served as a loan recovery officer managing foreclosures, repossessions and other collection efforts. From there, he began working in commercial lending. Edwards worked a total of nine years at Mercantile/Union Planters, and another eight at Regions Bank, where he was senior lending officer for the Northeast Arkansas region.
“My parents were strong, Christian people who taught me the value of working. From then on, work has been a big part of my life.”
Edwards is a leader in community organizations, as well, and sees Jonesboro as a city with a true spirit of volunteerism.
“We do a better job of creating volunteers and inspiring people to volunteer than most communities,” he noted.
Edwards’ list of community involvement is to be respected. It includes:
• St. Bernards Development Foundation - member of executive committee and secretary treasurer;
• ASU Red Wolves Club board member;
• ASU Chancellor’s Cabinet;
• East Arkansas Planning and Development District – loan review committee;
• Deacon and Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church;
• Graduate of Leadership Jonesboro in 1993.
“One of my principles is you lead by example,” he said with conviction. “I really believe you can’t ask someone to do something you are not willing to do yourself. When you do that, you earn the respect of those you work with and your organization will become successful because of that.”
His vision for Jonesboro is proactive and multifaceted. He plans to streamline the board meetings, with a significant portion of time devoted to goal-directed planning. He said the board will address infrastructure needs, education needs, the need for a convention center — anything that will promote the city and the betterment of the business climate.
“We’ll create a new long-term strategic plan that the chamber will develop and present to the city and county officials for support. I feel like it is important to have a new plan so that 20 years from now, we’re where we need to be,” he said.
Edwards noted that approximately 20 years ago, Jonesboro leaders developed a plan that targeted the food processing industry for recruitment. The foresight of these leaders is noteworthy, as the city gained three major manufacturers, Post, Nestle and Frito Lay.
“The growth we have today is a direct result of that prior planning. I hope we can create a plan during the year that will have similar results.”
Also, Edwards said he’d like to see the city become more connected with Arkansas State University and partner in areas such as small business development and assistance with the promotion of knowledge-based jobs created through the Biosciences Institute.
He also sees the need for new leadership in Jonesboro.
“A lot of our patriarchs … Ben Owens, John Troutt, Wallace Fowler … played a key role in shaping our community” he said. But today, “there is a need for new leaders to emerge.”
Brad Edwards is one of those leaders. And like anyone in his position, he couldn’t do it without a great support system. His wife, Michele, is his biggest supporter.
“To say that she is understanding and supportive would be a huge understatement. We make decisions together, so she has always been supportive of my career and activities. She very much believes in volunteering her own time with school activities and various community events. She never lets her family take a back seat to work or other activities.”
When the Edwards are not working, almost every moment is filled with the activities of their two sons, Will, 12, and Sam, 10. The boys are involved in football, soccer, golf, baseball and they love to hunt and fish.
“The boys are our world now,” he said with a smile. “It’s a good time for us.”