The view from Ford Sasser’s sixth-floor office offers a wide expanse view of the expressway traffic running beneath it.
Rio Bank’s new office tower looks out over Expressway 77/83 in McAllen since its opening in October. The city’s hospitals and medical district are just across the way. Sasser, Rio Bank’s president and chief executive officer, is a fixture on local television with a signature and folksy line.
“Your kind of bank, your kind of banker.” Sasser has said for years in television commercials. It’s the tagline of the Rio Grande Valley-based community bank company. What began in 1999 as two locations and $30 million in total assets is now up to 14 locations and $670 million in assets.
The six-floor office bank tower also houses top leadership administrative offices for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Sasser’s vision for a new bank headquarters was something big, distinctive and looked “like something from the Valley.”
“I didn’t want to build something dinky,” Sasser recalled telling his board when it became clear Rio Bank had outgrown its former 23rd Street main office in McAllen.
A Move For Growth
A location along the expressway was preferable, but that would be hard to find given all of McAllen’s development. As luck and good fortune would have it, Sasser was able to find four continuous tracts of land in McAllen. The sites once housed a restaurant and an insurance office. Pair that with an architectural design that Sasser describes as having a Spanish style, and Rio Bank has a presence that cannot be missed.
“It’s amazing how we’ve been blessed,” Sasser said of his bank company’s growth. “We’ve had good solid growth in picking up some good customers and banking right here in the Valley.”
Sasser is a San Antonio-area native and Texas A&M University graduate who first came to the Valley in the late 1970s as a bank examiner. He worked for a succession of community banking companies in the Valley in the 1980s and 1990s. This is when he became discouraged with the constant changes of ownership of banking groups.
“It seemed like every time I looked up, I was getting sold,” Sasser said of the banks where he worked. “I was thinking of getting out of banking.”
Staying In Banking & Leading
A group of McAllen businessmen then convinced him to join them and buy ownership stakes in Rio Bank. It was 1999, and the bank was having regulatory problems, therefore needing to be recapitalized, Sasser said. He drew upon his contacts in Valley banking and hired executive talent that was available due to industry turmoil. Sasser was able to stock the leadership below him with capable managers.
“I tell people I’m not that great of a banker but I am really good at surrounding myself with really good bankers,” he said. “We were able to pick up some really good talent.”
Modesty aside, it’s apparent in visiting with Sasser that he provides both stable and firm leadership steeped deep in sound banking practices that has been a force behind Rio Bank’s growth. His management style is one that pushes decision making down to his managers.
“I want them to be problem solvers. I don’t want a customer walking out after being told, ‘well, let me check with my supervisor and I’ll get back to you,'” Sasser said of his managers. “I’m giving you the authority to solve a customer’s problem. If a mistake is made, we’ll learn from it.”
In referring back to his television commercials and his public identification with Rio Bank, he smiled and said in jest, “I’m really the mascot of the bank.”
Sasser has an office view that says otherwise. It highlights the success of a community banking company that has proven to be the Valley’s kind of bank.