Making Tomorrow Conform To Yesterday's Principles

Making Tomorrow Conform To Yesterday's Principles

Business Profile

August 15, 2002

Editor's Note: This is the third and final part in a series commemorating the 150th anniversary of Burke & Herbert Bank and Trust Company.

Fifty years ago, August 14, 1952, Burke & Herbert Bank and Trust Company celebrated their centennial birthday. It was another year of wartime uncertainty. This time Americans were fighting in a foreign land not under the Stars and Stripes but the international banner of the United Nations.

Coupled with this hot war against communist aggression in Korea was the increasing menace of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Harry S. Truman was in the final year of his presidency just across the river.

Here, in Alexandria, just one year and four plus months short of that birthday celebration, a significant changing of the guard had taken place at the city's premier financial institution — C.S.Taylor Burke, Sr., grandson of founder John Woolfolk Burke, had died on April 7, 1951.

With that event, Burke & Herbert had named the first non-Burke in its 100 year history to assume the office of President. Ralph Bogle, of R.H. Bogle Chemical was named to that position because C.S.Taylor Burke, Jr., at age 30, was too young to assume the role.

He had just been elected assistant cashier and a member of the Board of Directors. Bogle was not involved in daily operations and, therefore, was actually president more in name than fact. Day-to- day management fell to Clifford L. Bussells, executive vice president, and Arthur P. Baldwin, vice president and cashier.

"They were both former bank examiners and, although they did a good job of running the bank, they had little or no personality, and were quite a change from Taylor," said Elizabeth D. Hooff, a present board member and wife of former board member, the late Charles R. Hooff, Jr., whose mother had been a Herbert. He was instrumental in starting the bank's Trust Department.

But that charismatic combination of personality and eccentricity was merely waiting in the wings in the form of C.S.Taylor Burke, Jr. His destiny was to oversee the greatest growth in the bank's history during his 52 year tenure.

BORN IN 1924, Taylor Jr. graduated from Episcopal High School and spent a year at Yale University before joining the army during World War II. In his view, "It was a popular war. You were more embarrassed to stay home. If you had on civilian clothes you had to fake a limp."

Taylor Jr. began his career at the bank in 1945 at age 22. In 1954 they opened their first branch office on Monroe Avenue in Del Ray and he became its manager. In 1963, he became president when Bogle resigned from the Board upon the election of his son Ralph H. Bogle, Jr. The C.S.Taylor Burke, Jr., era was underway.

As his son C.S.Taylor Burke, III, who began his Burke & Herbert career in 1965, summarized it saying, "Dad was more of a contradiction than grandfather. He loved motorcycles and cars and had a great sense of humor. But he was an entirely different person behind the desk than on the street. He used to say that he thought he had lost his lips from saying 'no' so often."

The bank opened its second branch in 1963 and its third in 1968. It now has 15 branches throughout the area. But as Taylor Jr. once described this element of the bank's growth, "We just don't run out and open 26 branches on Sunday. We grow slowly. We put earnings ahead of growth.

"We keep our nose clean and try to make a little bit of money every year, and when the occasion presents itself, sneak up the street and steal a customer from the other bank without attracting too much attention."

TWO ELEMENTS OF that pronouncement which proved to be gross understatements were the references to "a little bit of money" and "without attracting too much attention." Upon his retirement in 1999, the bank's assets had ballooned from a little over $10 million to nearly $800 million during his stewardship. At the beginning of 2002, they were approaching $1 billion.

As John W. Howard, a vice president at United Virginia Bank, once stated, "He's showy all right, but he knows exactly what he is doing." That was buttressed by Taylor, Jr., himself. "I was born and raised to be a banker. I have always known just who I was and what I was going to be doing."

Julia M. Williams, in the book, "Burke & Herbert Celebrates 150 Years," explained, that direction started at age 12, if not before. "When he was 12 years old, he peddled around town on his bicycle delivering mail to about 300 bank customers. In those days letters cost two cents apiece, and Taylor's father paid him a penny for each."

As for the statement, "without attracting too much attention," that never seemed to be in his game plan. "He was a hell-raiser growing up. He was his own boss and did everything kids shouldn't do," said David M. Burke, Taylor Jr's cousin and present Chairman of the Board and CEO of the bank.

"Once he was speeding down Braddock Road on his motorcycle and ran a stop sign. The police gave chase but he managed to escape and then hid the motorcycle. A half hour later he called the police and reported the motorcycle stolen," David Burke related.

Williams noted, "he wore white buck shoes and used words like "gramophone" for record player and "velocipede" for bicycle. He was a jokester with a photographic memory who quoted Shakespeare and Kipling line and verse over a dry martini."

MOST OF THOSE were consumed at the bar in Landini's Restaurant on King Street which he referred to as "Burke & Herbert's waterfront branch." His favorite bartender, Kathy Coombs stated, at the time of his death, "He used to say that he learned more at this bar than in a dozen board meetings."

That sense of humor carried over to the bank's advertisements. Two such examples, which appeared in The Gazette, pictured him dressed as Batman when the bank announced its Burke Automatic Transfer Service or "BATS Account" and as Marley, along with Taylor Burke, III, as Scrooge, in another promotion.

He drove a dune buggy to work in the 60's, owned a Bugatti replica, which he maneuvered through the streets of Alexandria in a leather helmet with goggles and a white silk scarf, and, when the traffic became too heavy on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, arrived at the Old Town waterfront in his airboat.

But, by far, his most memorable contribution "to making banking fun," was his acquisition and introduction to Burke & Herbert Bank of "Runyon," his Amazon parrot. He purchased Runyon on a whim at C.G. Murphy's when they were having a sale on parrots.

According to Williams, Taylor Jr. had wanted a parrot since a child but had been denied that possession by his mother. When he came home with Runyon he got the same reception from his wife so Runyon took up residence in Taylor Jr's office in the bank. He named him after his best friend, James Runyon Tindell.

RUNYON WAS an immediate hit with the customers and soon became the bank's mascot. Following a visit to the bank by a group of school children, one wrote a thank you note with a drawing of the parrot.

He admired the drawing so much "he paid the student $100 for the rights to the drawing and made it the bank logo," E. Hunt Burke, Taylor Jr.'s other son and the bank's executive vice president related. Runyon appears on bank letterhead and business cards with a coin in his beak inscribed B&H.

When Taylor Jr. would leave the bank Runyon would often travel along perched on his shoulder and "leave his telltale markings on my father's back," Hunt Burke stated. Runyon eventually got old and cranky and was replaced by his successor "Harvie." Runyon died in 1997.

One of Harvie's most notorious outings was when Taylor Jr. was called to testify before the Banking Committee of the U.S. House of Representative in 1991. There, as the world watched, was Harvie perched on Taylor Jr's shoulder. The photo was published worldwide and drew comments from Dennis Miller on "Saturday Night Live."

According to Williams, "One of the most revered traditions at the bank is Parrot Day. The tradition began in 1986 and is a true manifestation of the humor and fun that is a part of Taylor Jr's legacy." Parrot Day usually falls on, or near Oct. 31. When Halloween falls on a weekend, Parrot Day is the Friday before.

On that day employees wear costumes to the main office and cash prizes are awarded to the winners. A photo contest is also held with winners chosen in the categories of nature, people, and pets. Winners received recognition in the bank's newsletter, entitled "Parrot Poop" in Runyon's honor.

UNDER ALL THIS frivolity, lay the mind of, what some have called, a genius. As Williams chronicled, "He was the most intellectual person I ever met, but he was never affected by it," Board member Bob Fritton observed. "His true genius was in anticipating the future. He had the ability to see what was happening now, looked at the trends, and predicted what would happen. And was usually right," said Mickey Campagna, a real estate appraiser who works with the bank.

"Early on in my experience with the bank I was talking with one of the officials and they gave me their philosophy as to why it has been so successful," Board member, Bernard M. Fagelson, said. "Our first duty is to our depositors, secondly to our borrowers, and thirdly to our shareholders. It has definitely paid off. Just ask any of our shareholders."

It was Fagelson's cousin, Phil, who provided one of those fun moments in the bank's history. Each Christmas, as throughout Old Town, Burke & Herbert takes special note with decorations and festivities. "My cousin has an odd sense of humor and one Christmas week he showed up at the bank with a suckling pig and turned it loose in the lobby. This is my Christmas pet he announced — a suckling pig."

Fagelson also emphasized, "One of the incredible things about the bank is the familial feeling by every person. In this day and age even the newest employee feels this passion to be part of the family — not the Burke family but the bank family."

To make his point he noted," A couple of years ago I told one of the bright young people who had just gotten promoted, do you realize a terrible thing happened to you today. He looked at me perplexed and I said, 'you'll never be happy anywhere else.'"

In summing up Taylor Jr's years at the helm, Board member and Episcopal High School classmate, Robert E. Lee, IV, said, "He had a way that will never be duplicated. He was one of a kind. But his humor is at the bank to stay. It's part of his living legacy."

Taylor Jr. summed it up himself this way, "Life is something you've got to get through one way or another. You might as well have a good time."

BUT, THAT LEGACY also included what Taylor III recognized as his father's contradictions. He had an intense revulsion for modern technology coupled with the ability to recognize the need for, and ability to usher in human change. His greatest dislike in modern banking was the advance of the computer age.

Burke & Herbert was the last bank in Virginia to become computerized. The day the first computers were brought in Taylor Jr draped the front of the bank in black crepe. When customers asked if someone had died, he replied, "Yes. I did."

When the mainframe wouldn't fit through the door he thought he had been saved by Providence. Unfortunately, in his eyes, it was hoisted by crane through a second floor window after the window was removed from its frame. Williams said, "The computer was named Isabelle, for Isabelle Jasper, a stockholder and customer since 1952 who was one of the most vocal opponents of computerization."

On the human side, Taylor Jr, orchestrated the era of the woman in Burke & Herbert bank history. This applied to both employees and the Board of Directors. And, he oversaw the installation of the bank's first functioning non-Burke President, Charles K. Collum, Jr.

Two women now occupy seats on the Board, Elizabeth D. Hooff and Suzanne S. Brock. Hooff was named two years after her husband's death in 1996. Brock is a recent appointment.

Hooff, who originally hails from Philadelphia, said, "I got the macho treatment from the men at first. Then they left me alone."

She explained that she ended up in Alexandria because her husband came here in 1948 to take over his mother's real estate business after she died. "Everyone was mad at me because they couldn't make me into a southerner. I'm still a Yankee. I insisted that our two children be born in Philadelphia."

BY THE MID 1990s women were advancing in a variety of bank staff positions. It was one of the first banks to have a woman vice president and cashier. Minnie A. Jenkins was given those titles in 1972. She had started with the bank in 1941. Today, a variety of women hold important positions in the bank including six vice presidents and President of the Burke & Herbert Mortgage Company.

Charles K. Collum, Jr., the first non-Burke truly functioning president, started his career with Burke & Herbert the day after Labor Day in 1971. "I went into banking right out of high school because I felt I wanted to work for a while before I went on to college. I liked it so much I never did go on to school," he explained.

"I was with the Alexandria National Bank but felt I was in a dead end position. David Burke hired me. Two years after starting I became cashier when Minnie retired, then assistant vice president and on up through the ranks until 1999 when I was named president," Collum said.

"That was something I never thought would happen to me. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time," he said.

Collum was named to the Board in 1995. He also holds the title of chief operating officer. In the tradition of the "bank family," as Fagelman described it, Charlie's son Joe, is now a loan officer in the bank's main office.

As the bank and its present cadre of officers, managers and employees enter the 21st century in their pursuit of a bicentennial celebration, their old fashioned ways do not seem to be a deterrent to younger customers. If anything, they seems to be a magnet.

They are facing the challenges of the technological revolution while still maintaining the human touch. As David Burke explained, "The bank will continue to operate as a community bank, slowly expanding its perimeters. There are no plans and no desire to sell the bank to a big conglomerate."

This was seconded by Hunt Burke. "We will continue to do what has worked, hire good people and offer superior personal service. At the same time we will continue to offer new products and stay competitive to better serve our customers."

To make this happen a new generation of Burkes is already being seen at the bank. G. Anderton Burke III, a great-great-great grandson of John W. Burke worked at the bank last summer. Hunt's three daughters have all helped at the bank. And others are coming up.

As Robert E. Lee, IV, said, "I see the future as nothing but bright. As long as the heirs continue to run the bank as they have."

Today is the beginning of that future.