CFO Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael C. Hutsell

Michael C. Hutsell is a man who learns from experience.

A particularly harrowing experience was the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. It was so harrowing that Hutsell still counts it as one of the challenges he has overcome in his career.

“I went to work at Searcy Federal Savings & Loan in 1978,” he said. “As you know, the ‘80s were tough on savings and loans. Interest rates went sky-high and savings and loans just had a mix of long-term assets — 30-year mortgages — and short-term liabilities — money market accounts — and it became apparent that they were not going to survive that situation.”

Hutsell, now 60, was still with Searcy Federal S&L when it was merged into First Federal of Arkansas, “and I saw that that wasn’t where I really wanted to stay.”

Hutsell, born in Walnut Ridge but raised in Searcy, graduated from Arkansas State University at Jonesboro in 1973. He began his career in financial services as a CPA, working for Russell Brown & Co. from 1973-76 and then for Angel Humphrey & Co. from 1976-78.

He said “banking chose me” with the offer to join Searcy Federal Savings & Loan. But by the late 1980s, Hutsell was ready to leave the turbulent S&L industry. He approached Reynie Rutledge, CEO of First Security Bank, about a job there, “and shortly thereafter he hired me.”

That was in 1989, and Hutsell, now president of First Security Bank, continues to consider the move a wise one, as well he might. First Security is one of the largest banks in Arkansas with deposits growing 19.6 percent in 2010-11 and profit of $62.9 million in the first three quarters of this year.

First Security has 760 employees, and Hutsell has a simple but effective management philosophy: “Employ the best people and listen to what they have to say.” Although many executives might parrot that advice, Hutsell stresses the listening part.

As for the secret to his success, that’s also simple but effective: “Give your employer more than he is paying for.”

First Security’s success has been well documented, but asked how personally responsible he thinks he is for the bank’s growth, Hutsell deflects the question with praise for his co-workers. “I like to believe that I’m part of a good team, really,” he said, “a team of people who work together really well.”

Learning how to hire the best people and to listen to them also comes with experience, Hutsell said.

“I just think as you get older and as you’ve been through the hiring process and you work with people, the more experience you have at it, the more you realize that hiring someone — you should look at it as probably a permanent move,” he said. “If you’re going to work with that person for the rest of your career, you really can’t afford to make a mistake. It’s difficult to correct a mistake you make in hiring. I don’t think we’ve made very many mistakes.”

In other words, he tries to get it right on the front end.

As for his plans for the immediate future, those are to “bank better” at First Security Bank. And what does “banking better” entail?

“We like to believe that banking better is giving the customer excellent service so that they truly feel like that they’re banking with a better bank than they could someplace else,” Hutsell said.

Banking has its satisfactions, even in difficult times.

“The thing about banking that’s nice is that you get to see the bank being able to provide resources to the customer and see their customers flourish, see their customers succeed,” he said. “The banking relationship really needs to mutually benefit both parties.”

But Hutsell’s life isn’t limited to work. He has served on the board of Main Street Searcy and is a past president of the Searcy Chamber of Commerce and the Searcy Kiwanis Club.

Ask him what his greatest achievement is, however, and that’s an entirely different matter.

“The thing I’m most proud of is my family,” Hutsell said. “For my wife and I, that’s the thing we’re most proud of, that our son and daughter are both grown, have good positions, married good people and they’re happy and successful. That’s the best thing in life you could probably hope for.”

Hutsell, in fact, said he admires Rutledge for the “great balance” he maintains among family, work and community involvement.

As for career accomplishments, Hutsell allows that “being an executive officer at First Security Bank would be probably more than I actually ever thought, years ago, when I was in the savings and loan industry.” n