Bank On It

Ken Fergeson is chairman of National Bank of Commerce. He bought the bank from then-owner John Gover in 1985, and has since overseen the expansion of the bank to nine locations statewide. He is a past chairman of the American Bankers Association and is active with the Oklahoma Bankers Association. Fergeson is also a well-known advocate of the arts and creativity in Oklahoma.

When I was in college, I determined agriculture wasn’t getting enough money, and I was thinking about ways to steer more money toward agriculture. I decided to go to work at a bank after graduate school. Liberty Bank in Oklahoma City hired me straight out of college. Being a native of Texas, I always say I was their token Texan.

I worked at Liberty Bank for eight years, then moved to Enid to run a loan portfolio. An old customer of mine, John Gover, was looking to sell his bank, which was started by his father. He asked if anyone wanted to buy it, and I said, “I do.” I didn’t have any money, but I used to loan money to people to buy banks, so I used every trick I ever learned. I issued preferred stock, ventures, sold my house, got a loan from another bank, even borrowed all the money in my children’s college funds.

National Bank of Commerce’s original location was in Altus. We first expanded into Enid, then to Kingfisher, Oklahoma City and into Tulsa. As chairman of NBC, I review all loans that are made in the bank along with lending activity, statements, how much money we have, how much we have to loan and invest. I spend time talking to the bank presidents, to CFOs who do the investments and to accounting.

My passion for arts came after I moved to Altus and began serving on lots of local boards, like the Shortgrass Arts and Humanities Council. My involvement in statewide and national organizations was more about economic development. I used to go on recruiting trips to California with Congressmen. I would ask these companies to build facilities in southwest Oklahoma, but they would ask me, “Do you have symphony? Theater? Higher education?” They never asked about taxes or other financial factors. It was always about how their people would feel living there.

The arts and humanities really matter. Americans For the Arts now has economic data to support these theories. We can prove that the arts pay. I have gotten involved in the arts from an economic standpoint, but I learn more from them than they get from me.