Meet TBA Chairman Rusty Rust

Meet TBA Chairman Rusty Rust

Newest leader transitions from championship calf roper to attorney and bank CEO

For TBA Chairman Raymond “Rusty” Rust III, it all started with a Penny – not a copper coin, but a Shetland pony given to him by his grandfather when he was just four years old. As a youngster, Rust viewed Penny as his ticket to see the world. With his mom’s blessing, he skipped first grade and rode Penny every day. He considers the year a “game changing” event in his life, despite bumps, bruises and a broken leg. Penny provided Rust with a number of life lessons that have helped him to this day, including climbing back in the saddle when you get thrown off and learning that, despite your best efforts, you don’t always come out on top.

“Sometimes,” Rust says, “the only thing you get is scratched, bruised and experience. As Will Rogers said, ‘Good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.’”

Every day, Rust saddled Penny and raced his father home from the local bank, which his father ran for more than a decade. One day, several years later, Rust was given a task by the bank’s cashier. He poured out a bag of 50 cent coins for Rust to count. As luck would have it, Rust found a misprinted coin with a head on one side and half a head on the other. He gave the cashier 50 cents and later that day struck a deal with a local businessman, exchanging the coin for $500.

Rust continued to spend many hours in the bank, particularly in the community room, playing with a handheld calculator affectionally called “the shrimp.”

Despite his fond memories of the bank, Rust saw his future in another direction. Who wanted to be a banker when you could be a cowboy?

Rust did become a cowboy — a champion calf roper, in fact — as well as the Spirit Rider at Oklahoma State University. 

Eventually, however, fate stepped in, leading Rust to his long-lasting career in the banking industry, where he would rise to the position of president and CEO of Commercial Bank of Texas in Nacogdoches and, this month, become the 134th chairman of the nation’s largest state bankers association.

A ranching background

Rust grew up in Rush Springs, Oklahoma, an hour southwest of Oklahoma City, on a 600-acre ranch. The family raised cattle and farmed watermelons and peanuts. His father, who he considers his first banking mentor, ran the bank until Rust was in junior high.

His nickname, “Rusty,” was given to him by his older sister when he was born. The name stuck, despite Rust’s efforts to go by his given name when he embarked on his banking career.

Rust, in his quest to be a cowboy, roped calves from the time he was 10 through college. He attended Oklahoma State University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics in 1988.

The economy in the 1980s was slow and banks were having problems of their own, so Rust decided to attend law school at Oklahoma City University. His first job after law school was with a boutique downtown Oklahoma City law firm, where he worked in the area of creditors’ rights and Chapter 11 bankruptcy matters.

In the meantime, his wife, DawnElla, who he had married during his second year of law school, was about to pursue her Ed.D. They had been married for five years but, due to moving back and forth between college and work, saw each other mostly on weekends.

“A friend I traveled with to rodeos met DawnElla in summer school at Oklahoma State and said, ‘You need to meet this gal. She likes cowboys, wears starched wranglers and plays college basketball,’” Rust recalls.

 “We wanted to be able to live in a community where we work — one that is a nice size, but not too big,” Rust explains.

An opportunity came up in Nacogdoches for DawnElla to teach at Stephen F. Austin University, prompting Rust (at his wife’s urging) to quit his job at the firm and pursue a new career.

“I wandered into Commercial Bank of Texas and met Tommy Ellison,” Rust recalls. “We talked for hours, and he ended up hiring me.”

Rust viewed his new job as a short-term opportunity, thinking he would work there for a couple of years and return to the practice of law. Instead, Rust found a mentor in Ellison, and the rest is history.

Ellison, a former TBA director, began immersing Rust in all things TBA, taking him to both the Washington Summit and Austin Bankers Blitz. He made sure Rust continued his professional development, encouraging him to attend the Southwest Graduate School of Banking at SMU as well as TBA’s Management Development Program.

Rust embraced the immersion, graduating as president from Class III of MDP.

In addition, Rust continued to grow with the bank, moving up from assistant vice president/commercial loan officer to general counsel, senior credit officer, executive vice president, chief operating officer and, in 2013, to president and CEO. 

Although Ellison has since retired from the bank, he continues to serve as a mentor to Rust.

History of Commercial Bank of Texas

Commercial Bank of Texas was organized in 1901 by a successful lumberman. One of the initial investors was Secretary of State James Baker’s grandfather, who was a Houston attorney, as he saw opportunity in Nacogdoches for a bank. 

Two years later, the Blount Family purchased controlling interest in the bank with Thomas E. Baker becoming the president in 1928. The Baker family remains active in the bank through Dianne Baker, who serves on the Board of Directors. Since 1901, the main headquarters of the bank has been located in historic downtown Nacogdoches. 

Like many banks, the Commercial Bank of Texas struggled during the 1980s. Ellison became president in 1990 and, thanks to his leadership, by 1997, the bank had not only recovered, but was positioned to expand.

That year, the bank doubled in size with the purchase of a bank in Lufkin. As additional opportunities arose, the bank continued to grow the franchise, buying other banks in the East Texas area and expanding to the Collin County market in 2011.  The bank now has 21 locations in four markets: Nacogdoches, North Texas, Angelina and Rains County.

Thanks to its headquarters being located in Nacogdoches, the bank has a ready source of talent available from Stephen F. Austin University and is excited about the newly created banking degree.

The Bakers remain very supportive of the bank. Mrs. Baker and her husband, Jerry, visit every branch twice a year and take the time to get to know everybody by name.

“She is mindful of shareholder return.  However, she also focuses on the importance of giving back to the communities we serve and the people we employ,” Rust says.

“I was a younger banker, and Sandberg was open and honest and willing to mentor me. When I asked questions, he was helpful and offered explanations about the industry and organization.”

Learning leadership from TBA

Although Ellison immersed Rust in TBA, it was the late Eric Sandberg, president and CEO at the time, who mentored him in TBA leadership.

“He took a liking to me, I guess because of the time he was willing to spend with me,” Rust explains. “I was a younger banker, and he was open and honest and willing to mentor me. When I asked questions, he was helpful and offered explanations about the industry and organization.”

The advice of his mentors — his dad, Ellison and Sandberg — and the leadership skills he gained from MDP prepared him for his current role as TBA chairman.

Although he has a number of goals, one of Rust’s first priorities is to show “Chip [Jenkins] the gratitude he deserves for shepherding us through this pandemic.”

“He did the heavy lifting but did not experience the fun of socializing with the members,” he adds.

Rust stresses that TBA has several programs and initiatives that have recently been developed that need to be continued. His priorities include education and recruitment of future bankers, providing a clear and consistent voice in Washington, D.C. and Austin, helping customers and communities recover from the pandemic and continuing the construction of the new TBA headquarters building.

Rust says banks did a tremendous job of keeping commerce going by adapting their business model and leveraging technology. Banks stepped up, helping customers receive stimulus money, keeping access to funds available as essential businesses and helping business customers with PPP loans.

“I am proud of how banks performed with customers and communities to weather this pandemic, although we aren’t quite through it,” he says.

The next phase, as the economy opens back up, is to ensure our communities prosper.  In 1945, Mr. Baker, president of the bank, said “the bank can prosper only as the community prospers.” That is as true today as it was in 1945.

To do that, he says, banks must be at the forefront as a resource by continuing to lend and support the communities they serve as both the resourceful banker and volunteer leadership for public and civic organizations.   

TBA’s CREATE (Community Reinvestment and Trust Enterprise), for example, provides comprehensive educational programs to support small business sustainability, growth and job creation.

Rust also wants to continue the efforts to grow TBA’s connection with university banking programs that not only provide new talent to the industry but increase the diversity of the next generation of leaders.

In addition, a new administration means new rules and regulations. TBA is essential in helping banks adapt to the new rules and changes, he says. Equally important, however, is making sure the industry’s voice is heard in Congress and the state legislature.

From cowboy to pilot

Rust’s cowboy days are long over. He sold his horses when he moved to Nacogdoches, but he has since embraced a different hobby — flying planes. 

When he was growing up, Rust’s father was a private pilot and father and son enjoyed flying together. During his last year of college, Rust obtained his pilot license. 

When he moved to Nacogdoches, he exchanged his horses for an airplane so he and DawnElla could visit their families in Oklahoma. Fifteen planes later, flying is Rust’s primary hobby and habit.

He and DawnElla enjoy flying across the country, visiting family and spending time in their Colorado home, where they enjoy snowshoeing, hiking, cycling and whitewater rafting. Active vacations are a way of life for the couple.