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Independent Bank's Homegrown Heroism

The following is an excerpt from the Fall Issue of Memphis Crossroads. To see the original article or view the full magazine click here.

After a quick skim of her professional biography and a 35-minute conversation in the midst of her hectic schedule, it’s clearly evident why Independent Bank Co-Founder, Co-Chairman and President Susan Stephenson is a formidable presence in the Mid-South’s financial landscape. 

Throughout her 35-year career in banking, she’s worked in key leadership positions for First Tennessee — where she collaborated with FedEx to develop the largest private check processor in the country during the ‘80s — and Boatmen’s Bank — where, at age 37, she became the first female CEO of a Tennessee bank.

Now, along with fellow Independent Bank Co-Founder Chip Dudley, Stephenson is dedicated to furthering their homegrown institution’s distinctive perspective: one that incorporates heroism into its mission.

“Our mission statement literally says that we support the financial success and dreams of our customers and our community with effective products, innovative solutions and heroic service,” Stephenson said. “Creating an organization that is centered on heroic performance for the people we have the privilege to serve is at the heart of what we do at Independent Bank.”

When asked to define “heroic performance,” Stephenson said it basically boils down to going above and beyond the call of duty to deliver exceptional customer service with a lasting impact.

“It’s really defined by each individual's situation, but I would say that it’s always about being fast, smart, innovative and really thinking about the long term instead of just the short term,” she said. "There are many professionals out there who can help you solve a problem with a short or temporary fix, but our perspective has always been to help create a truly effective long-term solution.”

The pair started the bank in 1998 with $20 million in capital they raised themselves. Since then, Independent Bank has grown to become the second-largest bank headquartered in Shelby County, one of the fastest-growing banks in Tennessee history and named one of the nation’s top 100 community banks by SNL Financial, a global data analysis service.

Interestingly enough, if anyone would have asked Stephenson about her career plans 40 years ago, she would have said banking was out of the question.

“I had no intention of becoming a banker. In fact, I had an active vision that I would never be a banker,” she said. “My mother was a banker and, as a result, I sort of had an impression of what the job was all about. I just knew I didn’t want to do that. But life has an interesting way of taking us down the path where we belong.”

Stephenson describes herself as a person who has lived through a range of financial experiences both personally and professionally. After college, for example, financial obligations forced her to look beyond the comfort zone of her liberal arts education in English and history from the University of Tennessee and get any job possible in order to pay her rent. That job just happened to be in banking, after a friend passed along Stephenson’s resume to First Tennessee. 

“I was invited to be a part of their new management training program, and I fell in love with the business. I’ve had a wonderful time in this industry ever since,” she said. “I learned that as a banker I have the chance to facilitate the most important moments in people’s lives, whether it’s building a business or buying a home or making an investment that allows them to fulfill a dream for themselves or their families.”

Dudley says he couldn’t ask for a better partner.

“She is a perfect example of a highly successful person in business. She possesses a will to win, a tenacity of purpose and ‘stick-to-it-ivity’ beyond compare,” he said. “Couple those qualities with her passion, compassion, ability to take risks and her heroic attitude about service and you have a great leader … and I have a great business partner.”

Those qualities also are present in Stephenson’s attitude about Memphis, where she’s proud to live and work. When she’s not offering financial guidance, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Tom; son, Tommy; daughters Katie and Meg; and stepdaughter, Haley.

“I’m really bullish about our community,” she said. “I think Memphis is fertile ground for people who have great ideas, passion and the commitment to build something that not only changes their lives and the lives of those closest to them, but also changes our community, our region and then the world.” 

Walking that talk, Stephenson is active in several civic organizations, including the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, the City of Memphis’ Hope VI Program and the New Memphis Institute. As a member of the Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, Stephenson says she’s proud to be part of a collaborative effort to make Memphis the best possible place a city can be. 

“The goal is pretty simple: for the Chairman’s Circle to take on the great challenges and find creative solutions to really help build a city that will be recognized as world-class and a great place to live and, in the process, attract extraordinary talent,” she said. “I’m really excited about what the Chairman’s Circle is trying to accomplish for our community and to really see the commitment they’ve made to not just talk about problems, but to tackle those problems and solve them.” 

Photo by: Troy Glasgow
Story by: Erinn Figg

Posted: 12/23/2014 10:06:41 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: bank, Chairman's, Circle, crossroads, i-bank, independent, memphis, stephenson, susan

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (