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First Financial CEO Chris Hegi’s Golden Rule for Serving El Dorado

3 min read

Chris Hegi (pronounced hey-guy), who grew up in El Dorado, went to work at United Insurance Agency in El Dorado after college, becoming a partner in 1997. In 2002, he joined the First Financial Bank board of directors, and in 2010, he joined the bank as an executive vice president. Hegi was named president of the bank in 2014.

Hegi graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1991 and from Southern Methodist University School of Banking in Dallas in 2013.

In 2015, Chris Hegi was named CEO of First Financial Bank, now a $919 million-asset lender.

What is your favorite part of being a banker?
It’s hard to say. My degree is in accounting, so I really enjoy the numbers and analytics. I spent 20 years in the insurance industry, so I enjoy the business development piece. With First Financial’s entrepreneurial spirit, I am still able to use these skills. Of course, at the end of the day, we are helping people, and that certainly adds meaning.

What are the biggest challenges confronting First Financial?
We face the same challenges that all community banks face. Keeping up with ever-changing banking regulations, staffing, managing growth, cyber-security and top-of-class product offerings are things we talk about daily. There are a lot of moving parts within the framework of community banking, and we work to manage them all while providing a favorable rate of return for our stockholders.

What drew you to make a career in banking?
Prior to joining the bank, I served the bank as a director. That gave me exposure to our people, our business lines and our banking model. First Financial is a special place with strong owners, directors, employees and customers. I felt that my experience as a director, along with the skills I developed in the insurance business, could contribute to the bank’s future success.

Who are your mentors?
I have been fortunate to work for and with a number of strong, successful leaders. Each had different strengths, which I have tried to emulate. But across the board, diligence, hard work, perseverance and doing the right thing all come to mind. These are my “must haves” in my mind. Early in my career, I established a “personal board of directors.” The group has expanded over the years, and most do not even know they are on the “list.” It is a broad group of people with varied ages, careers and backgrounds. These are people whom I respect both professionally and personally. They don’t know it, but their influence on my life is immeasurable.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
While in the insurance business, I found myself in a situation where I felt like I had been treated unfairly. After a long drive to meet with a prospect at his request, the meeting did not go well. During the long drive back, I formulated my plan of attack — mainly centered on a detailed letter to this individual with a number of cc’s. I made it back to the office to report on my day and plan of action. The president of my agency listened patiently to my rant. He calmly encouraged me to write the letter, place it in my desk drawer and read it again the next day before sending. It was good counsel — the letter was never sent. Many lessons were learned that day.

What was your most important mistake that has helped shape your career?
Unfortunately, we don’t always know the circumstances or perspective of the people sitting across the desk from us. Any number of things in life can affect people’s behavior. Prior to writing the letter mentioned earlier or having that difficult conversation, it is best to understand and respect the other side’s interest and perspective.

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