“I didn’t factor in that I couldn’t stand the sight of blood,” he recalls with a chuckle.
Tipton’s effusive personality has served him well in banking and tough economic lessons learned in his native state of Texas helped him dodge the crisis that resulted in Georgia leading the nation in bank failures.
Born and reared in San Antonio, by a single working mother and divorced parents, Tipton attended Tulane University on an academic scholarship. When his interest turned from medicine to business, he obtained a Master’s of Business Administration in accounting and finance from Baylor University.
“My first lending experience was a 10-year loan for college,” he said. “I paid it off on time and never missed a payment.”
After graduation, he got a job with Texas Commerce Bank in Houston during the time when soaring oil prices resulted in an economic boom for the state.
“The Texas economy was very robust at the time and people were optimistic,” he said. “It was the best of times that was rapidly becoming the worst of times.”
Tipton painfully recalls 1986, the year of the oil price collapse in Texas.
“I had the opportunity to witness an economic meltdown first-hand,” he said.
In 1988, when Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union National Bank expanded into Atlanta, Tipton received a job offer to move and become a group president. Rodney Hall, whom Tipton met at Texas Commerce Bank, also moved to join the bank.
Tipton stayed with the mega-bank for 14 years, leaving as executive vice president and head of commercial banking. When the bank merged with Wachovia in 2000, Tipton and Hall used the opportunity to take severance packages and fulfill their dream of starting their own bank.
With $13 million raised from 120 shareholders, Georgia Commerce Bank opened in July 2003. The two had a clear mission: to focus on privately held, owner-operated companies in the professional executive market.
They purchased a 10,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Overton Park office building on Cumberland Boulevard that became the first branch and headquarters.
Today, the bank has $750 million in assets and seven branches. For year-end 2012, the bank reported slightly more than $7 million in profits.
It was also the first bank in Georgia to pay back TARP (the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds.
“People ask me how we were able to tiptoe through the minefield here with this economic downturn,” said Tipton. “The school of hard knocks is the best teacher.”
“The lessons we learned in Texas helped us navigate these stormy seas,” he said. “It prepared us.”
He says they intentionally did not focus on real estate. “You can’t over-concentrate in any one asset class. Almost all the failures were over-concentrated in real estate. We learned that lesson in Texas – you have to have a diversified portfolio.
“We are not any smarter, but unfortunately a lot of community banks had the wrong business plan.”
In 2010, $21 million was raised from shareholders to purchase two banks in Forsyth and Cherokee counties from the FDIC. “Strategically, this made sense for us … Our market is the northern arc and that is the market we are focused on.”
The bank has grown from 11 employees to 112 in the 10 years since it opened. Three of its seven branches are in Cobb.
Tipton says the bank has been profitable since its 13th month of operations. “We remained profitable during one of the worst downturns we have ever seen.”
He also says more growth is on the horizon. In 2012, the bank raised another $25 million in capital to acquire more banks. “With Dodd-Frank coming down, we think it is important for us to grow. There are only a few community banks in Georgia over a billion dollars in assets and we are close.”
Tipton is also a past chairman Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta. Janice McKenzie-Crayton, president and CEO of the organization, describes Tipton as talented and highly competitive, with a heart of gold.
“I have witnessed firsthand his unequaled passion for helping this community.” she said. “We are a better organization because of all he has given in work, wealth and wisdom.”