President and CEO of Planters Bank
By Becky Gillette • Photography by Johnny Jennings
Ruleville native Alan Hargett, president and CEO of Planters Bank, is considered a consummate banker by those who have worked closely with him. He has been employed with the bank since college, and is particularly well versed in the intricacies of ag financing.
“I had my eye on Alan when he was a student at Mississippi State,” says Randy Randall, former Chief Operations Officer at Planters and a member of the Board of Directors. “I hired him and encouraged him to come home to the Delta. Planters Bank has benefited from his countless contributions. He is knowledgeable and is intentional in all that he does. He is a good businessman but, more importantly, he is a man of Godly character.
“He has the respect of his fellow associates here in the bank, the respect of his customers, the respect of his industry peers, and the respect of his friends in his hometown of Indianola. With our recent acquisition of Memphis, our first acquisition outside of Mississippi, I feel extremely positive about the future of Planters Bank under his leadership.”
Tom Gresham, secretary\treasurer, Gresham Petroleum, has been very impressed with what Hargett has done as CEO of Planters Bank.
“He has been able to build a great culture around his team,” says Gresham. “He is a very thoughtful, quiet leader. Alan was born and raised in the Delta, and really understands the business and ag communities. A big supporter of youth sports, his footprint is all over Northwest Mississippi. If you need something done, Alan is the go-to guy. He can make things happen and get things done.”
Hargett became CEO Sept. 1, 2019, shortly before the pandemic hit. Hargett said the pandemic was new to everyone, so the biggest challenge was not having any precedent to help guide them through these turbulent times.
“It also happened to be an opportunity for everyone in our bank to rise and utilize their leadership skills in our system or in their local branch market environment,” says Hargett. “I am extremely proud of our entire bank during this process. It was very gratifying to watch all my employees sacrifice for the betterment of their customers, communities, fellow employees and our overall bank.”
One of the most pressing needs was understanding the Paycheck Protection Program loans. He said their entire team jumped in and learned the system and process and executed over 2,500 loans totaling $123 million of PPP loans for their customers and their communities.
“Our lenders worked literally around the clock the first weeks and weekends,” says Hargett. “We had one of our loan officers in Greenwood get stopped by the police leaving the bank at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night to inquire about what he was doing. He was, in fact, inputting a stack of PPP applications for our local businesses. They were determined to get the money out into their community as soon as possible and before the money was exhausted. Their commitment to their customers and community are the things that makes a new CEO very proud.”
The pandemic assistance programs made a huge impact in the Delta. The economy, which was being constrained by all the restrictions, was able to survive by the excess of funds being thrown back into the local market. Hargett said this allowed people to continue to spend money, which supported local businesses that were struggling with slowdowns and shutdowns.
The agricultural industry always has challenges and is a higher-risk business sector. However, Hargett is optimistic at this time due to two factors: One, they have seen great yield results with improved technology, irrigation and precision farming efforts. Two, commodity pricing right now is above average allowing the normally very tight margins to ease.
“Better prices are bringing some well needed relief to our agriculture industry,” he says.
Hargett, who has been employed with the 101-year-old bank for thirty-two years, is very concerned about population loss in the region. He points out that this problem is not unique to the Mississippi Delta, but being seen across the country in rural areas.
“Young people have migrated to larger Metropolitan Statistical Area markets in search of more career opportunities, along with more options for their family,” he says. “We have to find a way to retain those families and also attract new families to the Mississippi Delta. I think it all starts with employment opportunities, which is tied to economic growth. Delta Strong, which is a branch of the Delta Council, is working tirelessly to attract businesses, but it is very competitive. I am hopeful that when we get a few businesses locating in our area, then we will start to see some other opportunities and improvements that will be an attraction for families to settle here.”
Hargett grew up in Ruleville and attended the North Sunflower Academy. His father got him a job in high school working at crop dusting service. He spent two summers working in the Mississippi Delta heat (mostly in rice fields) flagging airplanes all day.
“When the plane left me in the middle of the rice field to reload, I had a lot of time to think of a nice air-conditioned job for the next summer,” recalls Hargett. “I never sold myself so hard to get that summer job the next year at Planters Bank in Ruleville. That summer I fell in love with banking. Just being the center of the business community and being able to interact with everyone gave me a sense of impact. I felt like the bank was a place that I could help and make a difference. I worked part-time during my college days at a bank in Starkville, as well.”
Going to work for Planters right out of college, he said he was so fortunate to learn from the likes of Henry Paris, Jimmy Clayton, Randy Randall and Weldon Aultman.
“These are legendary bankers who sound like a hall of fame of banking list,” says Hargett. “Just rubbing shoulders and listening to them gave me such an advantage. They offered me an opportunity at twenty-nine to oversee the Ruleville office. So, a mere ten years after I sold myself to be a teller, I had the opportunity to be the local Market President in my hometown. I jumped at this option and learned more in those six years of banking than any of my other years in banking. I had the insight from my mentors, but in Ruleville I gained practical experience.”
He also credits the great and experienced staff in place who knew he needed help and mentoring. “Thanks to them, those six years were a success,” says Hargett. “I was asked to come back to Indianola, our headquarters, and help be a Senior Lender in anticipation of the bank creating a new bank-wide position of Chief Credit Officer. I fell into that role a few years later and really got involved with Jimmy Clayton and Randy Randall in the bank leadership. With Randy and Jimmy approaching retirement, management transition plans were developed and put into place, with the last one being my role as CEO which started Sept 1, 2019.”
In addition to the mentoring of the bankers listed above, Hargett says he learned from dad, Herbert Hargett, how to work hard and always do things the right way. He used to say, “It may not be the easy way, Alan, but you sleep well knowing it was the right thing to do.”
Another quote he remembers from his dad was, “There will always be someone smarter than you, but you determine if someone can work harder than you.”
One of the bankers mentioned above, Weldon Aultman, had a particularly big impact.
“He and his wife, Debbie, adopted my family when we came to town and we remain very close,” says Hargett. “There is not a kinder, more compassionate and caring person in the world than Weldon Aultman. His Christian influence on my life and my family’s life cannot be measured. Getting to work with him and watch him interact with everyone was life changing for me.”
Hargett’s top goals in his current position are developing strategy for the bank and then communicating that effectively to his team. What he likes most about the job is working with people–investing in people and watching them develop.
He and his wife of thirty-two years, Leigh, have two sons. Luke, twenty-seven, works with Kimmel Aviation in Greenwood and sells aviation insurance. Maddox, twenty-four, is married to Chris Suddoth of Leland and they are expecting their first child. Maddox is serving in the Army and is stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana.
For recreation, Hargett has played tennis for many years and is heavily involved in the U.S. Tennis Association league. He is currently on a 40+ Mississippi team that qualified for Nationals in October. That tournament will be held in Oklahoma City.
Hargett is also a board member of Delta Council and chair of the deacon body at
First Baptist Church Indianola. He is a Delta State University Foundation Board Member, and a member of the Mississippi Economic Council Board of Governors Council. He also belongs to the Indianola Rotary Club.