At 71, Bobby Cox just signed up for a challenge that may be more daunting than managing the Braves from worst to first. Cox is the new chairman of Adairsville-based NorthSide Bank, which has performance numbers way below what he would have tolerated from any of his former players.
The small community bank, with $129 million in assets and three branches, has been a victim of the real estate crash, struggling with serious losses and a lack of capital to cover them. It’s been under a regulatory order for more than three years to improve its condition, highlighted by losses of $3.2 million in 2008, $4.7 million in 2009, $1.2 million in 2010 and $501,000 last year.
Cox never thought he’d be dealing with such numbers when he became one of the original investors and board members in 2005. In his new role as chairman, he thinks he can help attract the capital to give the bank more breathing room as it tries to turn around. Cox said the bank is close to raising $2.3 million in capital and expects to post a profit of between $600,000 and $700,000 this year. He talks about what he learned in baseball that can translate to the business world.
Q: It’s not easy to be successful year after year. The Braves won an unprecedented 14 straight division titles while you were the manager. What’s the lesson for business leaders?
A: You’re right. It is difficult. When you set the bar really, really high, it’s hard to maintain it.
You can’t let complacency set in. I used to tell our guys in spring training that we can’t live off of last year. We have to keep on going as hard as we can. The people at the top have to keep tweaking the business or the ball club — adding because other businesses or clubs are adding.
I know people in the business world who run their businesses sort of like a baseball team. You have your lead-off guy and the guy who can knock the ball out of the park — different roles. I kept it as simple as I could so people could understand it.
Also, we built a solid foundation [of talent] for the long-term. And we got lucky. All plans are not successful.
Q: How do you prevent complacency from setting in?
A: I don’t think you can give a speech in five minutes and expect success. You can’t come in and beat them up. We play 162 games.
I tried to create an atmosphere where people wanted to come to work. It wasn’t going to be a job for them. It was something they were having fun at. They play off their leader. If you put in the hard work, if you are motivated, then the people under you are going to be motivated if you treat them right — the way you want to be treated.
I think you can be successful with good management at the top and letting people work at the bottom, and not meddling so much. Bring people in who really, really want to do it. They have talent or you wouldn’t have hired them in the first place.
Q: Why did you get involved in banking?
A: I got involved when a former chairman asked me to be on the board and to be an initial investor. I thought it would be a great thing for me in retirement, to be honest with you. Come down and drink coffee with the customers and hang around because I have a farm near here. You know community banks are a lot different than other banks. We can have that special touch.
Eighty-three banks have gone down in Georgia since 2008 in the real estate crisis. We’ve bent but we’ve not broken. We’re kind of like [Tom] Glavine in the face of [adversity]. He would start bending, but then he’d bounce back.
I’m thrilled with this new chairman’s job. I’ve got more energy than I had two months ago. This is a new challenge. Just like in managing, I’m going to try to meet it.
Q: How do you see NorthSide’s prospects for survival? Which is tougher — turning around a baseball team or a bank?
A: They’re both tough. You can do it by raising capital here and you can do it by increasing your budget for the baseball team. In both cases, money comes into play.
Actually, we’ve been profitable for the last nine months. We’re starting to turn. We’re dealing with the problem loans. I think I can help raise capital. When you mention bank investing these days, people see you coming and they walk the other way. I think I can help in that area. I think we can be a Cinderella story.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received? How did you get beyond losing critical games?
A: Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t think it’s always going to be good. Keep plugging. Keep pushing.
Also, I think you have to take chances in any business and in running a baseball organization. You have to have the guts to do something.
As for dealing with losses, I was pretty tough on myself after a ball game. But it would be gone the next morning. You’ve got to contain your emotions after a defeat. Honestly, I could be a miserable person after a win, because everything didn’t go 100 percent.
But if I’m miserable the next day, the players are going to feed off of that. You have to create an environment where your people really, really can’t wait to get to their job.
Each week, Sunday Business Editor Henry Unger has a candid conversation, called “5 Questions for the Boss,” with a top executive in Georgia. Some remarks are edited for length and style.