Banker closes books on a career

by Clay Neely


Photo by Clay Neely

End of an era: Phillips readies for retirement after decades in the banking industry. “Sitting on the sidelines was never an option for me.”

In one week, Don Phillips will officially retire after a 40-plus-year career in the banking industry.

Sitting in his office on the second floor at the BB&T headquarters in Newnan, Phillips casually reflected this week on his career and the importance of serving community.

Since his arrival to Coweta in 1989, Phillips has witnessed a period of growth unseen by many communities. In those 25 years, he watched as Coweta’s population almost tripled while businesses experienced tremendous booms and one huge bust.

Regardless of the circumstances, Phillips has remained actively engaged in the community throughout both the good times and the bad.

While Phillips was a young man growing up in Timmonsville, South Carolina, his family stressed the importance of being civic minded and having a strong involvement within the community. It’s a philosophy he practices in both his business and in his personal life.

“Sitting on the sidelines was never an option for me,” Phillips said.

Following his graduation from the University of South Carolina in 1969, Phillips embarked on his career in the banking world. For 18 years, he moved around the Carolinas – learning the intricacies of his industry. And he kept rising from position to position.

Two years after completing his master’s degree from the Stonier Graduate School of Banking, his family moved to Coweta where he took the position of senior bank officer at The Bank of Coweta. Hired by Scott Wilson, Phillips recalled the “smart and wonderful man” who was engaged in the community.

When the inevitable question of Coweta County’s growth is posed, Phillips smiled and recalled when the Burger King was known as “woods.” He feels that the growth in commercial and residential development has been an extremely positive phenomenon for the region.

“The influx of new folks has been a major asset,” Phillips said. “It’s helped our industry and the community at large. The quality of life here has been the best we could ever ask for.”

For Phillips, it’s a two-way street. For all the riches that Coweta has provided its citizens, his ingrained philosophy of civic duty has never wavered. The list of community organizations Phillips has been involved in over the years is a formidable one – the Boys & Girls Club, United Way, Salvation Army, Rotary and serving his church, First United Methodist.

“I think I’ve held almost every position there with the exception of day care,” he joked.

In 1999, he was named Citizen of the Year and served as the chairman for the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce the following year.

While Phillips certainly has a track record of numerous contributions to the community, they are all rooted in his basic philosophy of “being involved.” It’s a reoccurring theme that he feels no longer carries the weight and importance that it once did.

“It’s unfortunate but it seems that community involvement seems to be on the wane,” Phillips said. “When I was growing up, it was part of the culture. Now, it feels that younger generations are less inclined to be as involved. It’s too bad since they’re enjoying such a wonderful community with so much to offer.”

Over the course of his career, Phillips stressed that any success he has enjoyed has always been the cumulative effect of surrounding himself with quality people who are “team players.”

"My style is to be involved with team but allow them to grow,” Phillips said. “As a result of that, we all are rewarded for what our team has done. The approach is successful in both the commercial and retail side of the bank. Good results are a byproduct of a good team.”

While Phillips looks back on his career with satisfaction, he can’t help but recall the devastation that the economic crisis of 2008 played in the community. For him, the economic fallout was extremely difficult to witness, both on a professional and personal level.

“From 2008 to 2013, I saw more devastation during that period than all the years prior cumulative,” Phillips said. “I saw net worths ruined as a result. People really took it on the chin, but it looks like things are beginning to come back around. When your moral fiber and resilience are good, it will make any hardship a little easier to navigate.”

As he readies for retirement, Phillips believes that Coweta County is in the perfect position to make the next leap. Citing the quality of life, restaurants, hotels, educational opportunities and local infrastructure, Phillips feels that it will be “hard to beat.”

“Look at our medical community and the expansion. It’s a huge economic engine that’s good for everyone,” Phillips said. “Piedmont, CTCA – these are first-class organizations with tremendous leadership at both.”

With the emergence of HealthSouth, and the proposed Newnan Behavioral Health Center, Phillips feels that Coweta will be the medical mecca on the south side of Atlanta. “There’s no question about it,” he said.

While Phillips isn’t resigned to “ride off into the sunset,” he is going to use the newfound free time to fall back and enjoy life on his own terms.

“I guess the question of ‘What are you going to do now?’ is inevitable, isn’t it?” he said. “Well, after working 12- to 14-hour days for the last 40 or so years, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do: Relax.”

“I’ve been blessed,” Phillips said. “I’ll eventually discover my next chapter. But, for now, I’m ready to see what life has in store for me.”

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