by Mike Sharkey
It won’t be difficult for First Guaranty Bank CEO and Chairman Jay Fant to seek the wisdom of his predecessor. All he has to do is pick up the phone and call his father, Hickory. Or wait for the retired chairman to stop in for a cup of free coffee.
At a Thursday morning board meeting, Hickory Fant stepped down as chairman of the bank established by his father more than 61 years ago.
Moments later, Jay Fant took over as chair, becoming the third Fant to serve in that capacity.
The bank didn’t run Hickory Fant out. There’s an established bank rule that says the chairman must step down when they turn 70 years old. Earlier this month, Hickory Fant reached that milestone.
“I’m the one who instituted the age of 70 for board retirement,” said Hickory Fant, who has been with the bank for 46 years.
He also said he was the who proposed the rule 30-40 years ago and never thought he’d stay on full time much past age 70.
“The fact is, I would have retired anyway,” he said. “There are good people here to run this place and they need to be unleashed to run it.”
Jay Fant has been the bank’s CEO since 2003 and a member of its board. In taking over as chairman, Jay Fant said he will continue to assign some of his duties as CEO to members of upper management.
“In addition to the everyday work, my responsibilities now include policy-making for the company,” said Jay Fant, who also has a law degree from the University of Florida.
Jay Fant said he’s up to the challenge of serving as the trust bank’s CEO and board chair and the fact he’s a third generation Fant running the bank his grandfather started would likely make the founder proud.
“I suspect he would have been mildly surprised his namesakes are still in the business,” said Jay Fant, who started at age 14 working with the bank. “I have sat at the foot of people who knew what they were doing. Given the current economic climate, the celebration was muted a little. I am young enough to say, ‘bring it on.’”
Jay Fant said he got his law degree, but in the process of doing so, realized banking wasn’t just in his blood – it was also in his heart. He said time in England studying for the law degree helped him appreciate the business world better and his family’s legacy in local banking. The legal education itself has proved useful.
“I honestly think the law degree helps better than a business degree,” said Jay Fant, adding learning to think like an attorney has helped him become a better businessman. “I would not trade it.”
Hickory Fant will stay on in an advisory/consultant role. He and Jay Fant both said his presence is important because of the longtime business and personal ties the Fant family has developed for more than 61 years. They also both believe strongly in making sure banking remains a people-oriented business, both from an employee and customer perspective.
An example of that devotion to customer that has paid off for six decades is a loose-knit group known as the Park Street Pioneers — a group of families and business people who have been with First Guaranty since 1947.
“We are unique in Jacksonville in that we have three generations of clients,” said Hickory Fant. “Only one bank’s old enough to have three generations of clients. There are still over 100 of them (Park Street Pioneers) and we value those relationships. We have walked the talk since 1947.”
Jay Fant has two sons and two daughters. He said there is no pressure, and never will be, on any of them to become the fourth generation of Fant to run the bank. However, Jay Fant said, they will all learn about the First Guaranty mission, purpose and belief system.
Hickory Fant will continue to attend Meninak meetings and pop in to say hello and offer a little advice. Other than that, his time is his.
“I’ll play a little more tennis and travel a little more. I’ll have less of a presence here for sure,” he said. “I’ll have more time to read and more time to relax.”