Bennett Honored for Financing Small Business

Thomas Bennett III has built his banking career around finding ways to help small businesses grow.
As president of ONB Bank’s Midtown Division, 2424 E. 21st St., Ste. 100, and manager of the bank’s Government Guaranteed Lending Division, he has helped grow the bank to being the largest volume Small Business Administration lender in Eastern Oklahoma with nearly $45 million in government guaranteed loans.
Bennett’s drive to help entrepreneurs led to him being named the 2008 Small Business Financial Service Champion by the Tulsa Metro Chamber presented its Small Business Champion awards April 29.
A co-founder and senior officer of the bank, Bennett has been a key player in the growth of ONB Bank to more than $600 million in assets and $495 million in loans since it opened in January 2000.
His loan portfolio, which includes large numbers of loans guaranteed by the SBA and USDA as well as credit enhanced loans made through Oklahoma’s Cimarron Capital Program, tops $84 million to more than 300 small businesses.
ONB President and CEO Mike Bezanson credited Bennett’s “seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy” with helping hundreds of small businesses to obtain financing through Government Guaranteed Lending Programs and traditional commercial channels.
“He uses his creative mind to help find out of the box solutions for business needs that result in a great service to his customers and a high quality loan for the bank,” Bezanson said in his nomination letter for Bennett.
ONB Chief Lending Officer Roger Freeman wrote, “Undeniably, Tom has been the hardest working young man I have ever met. Tom’s affinity toward hard work is matched only by his desire to help others. His customers regard him as if he is family and their immense loyalty to him is without question. He takes customer service to a new level and frequently talks to his customers after hours or on weekends.”
Bennett believes it is part of a bank’s duty to its community to find a way to take the risk of financing entrepreneurs.
“Most banks shy away,” he said. “Half of a banker’s job is to figure out how can we say ‘yes’. Particularly in SBA lending, a lot of folks don’t even do it because they think it is a hassle and they assume that because it’s an SBA loan there is so much risk inherently in the credit that we aren’t even going to look at it.”
“But you have to sit down with them (entrepreneurs) and go, ‘OK you have this idea, and it’s a cool idea, and you have this product, and you have these projections. Alright how are we going to make this work?’” Bennett said.
He said lending for a startup business usually is going to come in the form of an SBA loan, but “as they become stronger, they become bankable on their own two feet, and they don’t need government assistance to help them do it.
Bennett believes a thriving town has to have bankers who are actively lending money.
“Fortunately, here in Tulsa we have had a lot of progressive people who help entrepreneurs find access to capital so they can grow their business,” he said. “Tulsa is actually replete with a stories of folks who have done that from Dr. William Ben Johnson, founder of Dentsply, Tulsa Dental Supply, the largest endodontics supply company in the world, to B.J. Dumond, CEO of Simple Simon’s Pizza, one of the 15 largest pizza companies in the U.S.”
Bennett said the bank was created with small business as its target market since its inception in May 1999. He and his father, Tom Bennett Jr., were driving to Colorado for a ski trip after he had graduated with his bachelor’s degree in economics from Oklahoma State University when they came up with the concept for the bank. His father had just retired as president of the Tulsa division of Stillwater National Bank.
“We were talking about what I wanted to do. I always wanted to be part of something that was a startup and had a lot of energy,” Bennett said. “I am sure it was north of Wichita and before Denver, Dad goes I know banking and I knew some of it because I grew up in it., so lets try to start a bank.”
ONB Bank grew from the dead last among the 308 banks headquartered in Oklahoma to the 12th largest last Sept. 30. It has eight locations, including six in the Tulsa area, one in Edmond and one in Stillwater.
Tom Bennett Jr. retired this year as CEO while his wife Sue Bennett retired as the bank’s director of marketing.
The bank consolidated its operations with Community Bank & Trust Co. last year. Both banks are part of Jefferson City, Mo.-based Central Bancompany.
Bennett said the merger with Central brought a large influx of capital and expertise in consumer products.
“Central has a ton of money. All of a sudden the cap is off, so we can compete for a lot more of the mid-size and larger stuff in town that we were not able to compete for before,” he said. And from a consumer standpoint, “we have a broader product offering for people.”
Bennett said ONB would remain a community service driven bank.
With the retirement of his father, Bennett said his role “is to continue to have a lot of the energy and a passion for Tulsa – small business lending and keeping us true to who we have been since it began.”
“The good thing is, I know the story. I know how we got here,” he said. “I think where I get to help is being the person who pushes, and makes sure we don’t forget who we are. We can grow in size, but if you grow in size and start focusing on being big, then you miss the point, and that’s not, in my opinion, why we got this going.” ?



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