Parallel paths, powerful perspectives

Parallel paths, powerful perspectives

 

“Take two steps back. Turn right. Take two more steps back. Now look back at where you were. From this broader point of view, what can you see now that you couldn’t see before?”

“Take two steps back. Turn right. Take two more steps back. Now look back at where you were. From this broader point of view, what can you see now that you couldn’t see before?”

Bob Smith, owner of West Virginia’s J&S Machine Co., fondly remembers this trick he learned from William T. McLaughlin II, CEO of West Virginia’s Community Bank & Trust, which became part of Huntington Bank in 1993 In his efforts to view management and business challenges from a fresh perspective, Bob drew on Bill’s advice many times during a banking relationship that spanned more than 40 years.

His friendship with Bill has lasted even longer.

“Bill taught me a lot about being objective about your situation,” Smith said. “That included people — the workforce — and Bill knew what happened in a family business.”

Gene Smith, Bob’s father, established J&S Engineering Co. in 1944 and later brought his son and son-in-law in as partners. Gene was also on the board of Community Bank & Trust when the institution hired Bill McLaughlin as an auditor in 1967.

J&S was a “job machine shop” then, manufacturing components and equipment used in glass processing, serving customers such as Westinghouse Electric, Union Carbide, DuPont, Corning Glass Works and Philips Lighting. In 1982, the elder Smith retired, leaving his son Bob to carry on the family business and assume his CB&T board seat.

Having been part of J&S since 1959, Bob knew the business well. But the early 1980s were a heady time; increased automation and computerization were transforming how businesses operated. CB&T was also changing tremendously, increasing its branches and forming a bank holding company in 1984 to extend its growth. CB&T made 17 acquisitions from 1984 to 1992 and built a pioneering operations center in Marion County that housed computer networks to serve the bank’s burgeoning branch network.

“Collectively (CB&T) went from 250 people to 1,500 people,” Smith said. “I learned a lot about what I could carry back from the bank to help J&S Machine operate on a different level, dealing with our customers on a totally different scope, from just building parts to … actually being involved with the whole project. … I tried to take some lessons, and I think I got some good ones.”

Bill’s counsel helped Bob see problems from a wider perspective, and CB&T influenced Bob’s business operations, spurring J&S Machine “to build a pretty decent software system to track job costs, the ability to read schedules … and trying to understand what were we really doing with this money.”

Along with their business collaborations, Bob and Bill contributed time, energy and money to numerous civic organizations; both sat on the Marion County Chamber of Commerce’s board.

“Bill was the kind of a person that got involved with the things that made systems work,” Smith said. The bank helped form the Fairmont Industrial Credit Corp., offering seed money to buy property that could be bought by area businesses to increase manufacturing or commercial sales. “His interest was not only to promote the bank, but to promote the things that made the community work.” McLaughlin was also a trustee of Davis & Elkins College, the institution named for H.G. Davis and Stephen Elkins, founders of CB&T’s earliest predecessor bank.

McLaughlin retired from banking in 1997. Around 2003, Smith closed J&S Machine Shop.

“We continued our friendship for many years,” Smith said.

He wasn’t kidding. Bob and Bill both retired to Florida in the early 2000s, buying houses a half-mile apart.

As both men took a few steps back, they continued living in parallel.

Bob Smith - Pittsburgh002

Bob Smith, a loyal Huntington customer for more than 40 years. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bob Smith

 

Copy of William T. Mclaughlin II

William T. McLaughlin II served as CEO of West Virginia’s Community Bank & Trust during its merger with Huntington Bank in 1994. Photo Credit: West Virginia University

 

Intro Photo Credit: Tim Kiser