The Foundations of Excellence
By Brad McEwen
While we may have spent a few afternoons visiting the same Algebra tutor some 25 years ago, in point of fact, I really haven’t known my colleague, and now friend, Perry Revell, very long.
Obviously, having grown up in the same community—and then having crossed paths on numerous occasions during our shared years in the local financial world—we had developed something of a professional acquaintance, but it’s only during the seemingly brief time that I’ve been at AB&T that I’ve come to know the varying character traits that have led to several personal and professional accomplishments and have subsequently helped Perry emerge as a visionary leader within AB&T and the community at large.
Although he would no doubt scoff at the preceding statement—saying merely that he’s been fortunate—the truth of the matter is, it’s people like me, and others around the bank and in the community, who are fortunate. Fortunate to see him use his powerful intellect, his earnest concern for others, and his unyielding dedication to excellence, to shape what so many see as bright future for AB&T and for Albany.
But while Perry has his gaze firmly fixed on that future—one where AB&T continues to redefine community banking, it’s important to look to the past and explore the foundation of who Perry is as a person—a devoted family man who takes his responsibility to his company and his community very seriously, even if doing so makes the self-professed introvert a tad uneasy.
“The community involvement piece is uncomfortable for me,” Perry explained as we talked about his taking on more responsibility within AB&T and becoming chair of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce in 2020. “It is well outside of my comfort zone. But if we’re talking about a bank that represents the community, that the community can be proud of, that is building for the future, then you can’t separate what happens with the community from what happens with the bank.
“My generation, our generation, has to assume the leadership mantle because we’re going to be here for the next 30 to 40 years. So my approach to this is to build relationships, to get to know people, to understand them, to have respect, to hear their perspectives before I try to do anything that would be perceived as change. I mean, who am I? Why should someone follow what I, or AB&T, are doing?
“The answer is, they shouldn’t, unless they know that we have the best interest of this community at heart and have a relationship with this community.”
By taking the lead in forging those relationships, Perry believes he can not only be a good public servant, but also send the message that he is committed to working hard for the benefit of all, even if he also knows getting to that point might be difficult for him.
“What the bank recognizes is that we’ve got to be part of whatever that movement forward looks like, whatever our role in that may be. So my service within the community is part of that. I know it’s the right thing to do. And I don’t know any other way to do it other than to get to know people where they are. Who they are? What keeps them up at night? What are their hopes? What are their dreams?
“I’m looking at this as a way to begin to build a relationship for which we serve the community; AB&T serves the community, for the next 30 years.
That Perry would be so self-aware and have such a clear picture of what he believes it will take to achieve success isn’t all that surprising given his background as the son of a long-time educator and an area magistrate judge.
And given the lessons he learned during his time playing basketball at Deerfield-Windsor School in the mid-1990s—lessons he said still very much inform how he conducts himself and how he views the world.
Laying the foundations
Although he downplays his role whenever we discuss it, in addition to being an outstanding commercial banker, Perry was also a top-notch high school basketball player, helping lead the DWS Knights to the 1997 GISA state championship as a senior, before playing basketball for one season at Oglethorpe University.
And Perry very much points to his experiences on the hardwood as some of the most defining of his life. So much so that a great deal of his approach to banking and leadership is derived from the lessons he learned playing ball.
“It was a tough road,” Perry said of his team capturing that state title. “That team was a really good team. But the athletic ability of that team, I don’t think it would rank up there in the top teams that the school ever had. But in terms of actual team ball and knowing your role, playing together, filling your role, I don’t know if there was anybody better than that.
“And that stuff matters. And those things are the foundations of who I am. It’s why we do what we do here at the bank. It’s what drives me in the leadership roles that I have here. It’s what drives me in my professional career. It’s what I try to instill in my kids.
“And I owe a lot of that to Coach (Gordy) Gruhl (who coached that championship team) and Mr. (WT) Henry (the headmaster at DWS during Perry’s tenure at the school). Those two men impacted how I view those particular traits, the courage to go after your goal, the tenacity to work for it, the attention to detail—all of it matters.
“The little things are more important than the big things,” he continued. “It is 100 percent fact to say that what I learned from Coach Gruhl and Mr. Henry are the foundations for how I serve this bank.”
Indeed, by drawing the parallels between his time as a basketball player and as a banker, it’s easy to understand how many of the things he learned back then have served him well throughout his life.
But for as much as Perry learned during that successful campaign, Perry said his life’s journey to that point was just as impactful.
Finding a place
“It was just an unremarkable childhood, and I mean that as a compliment to my parents,” Perry said of his childhood. “It was very stable. It was very secure. I had an excellent childhood. I had parents that believed in travel and that believed in the value of an education.
“My parents were really insistent that we understood that there was a greater world than the world we were surrounded by—whether that be in our elementary school, or at Deerfield-Windsor, or Albany. They were also insistent that we participated in sports. We had to play, couldn’t quit. We had to have a good attitude. We had to give maximum effort. We had to apply that same thing in our classroom.”
With such importance placed on education, it’s no wonder then that many of the things that defined his childhood can be traced back to his time in school—whether at Lincoln, Sherwood Acres, MacIntosh, Highland or at Deerfield-Windsor, the place where Perry first began to overcome his naturally timid demeanor through his success in basketball.
“I was very shy,” he said. “And growing up I was somewhat awkward. I was a nice kid, but those qualities don’t always equate to popularity or coolness, or fitting in.
I mean, I had a lot of acquaintances, but not a lot of close friends. And I’m still that way to a degree. Then I go to Deerfield in the ninth grade and that was a very tough transition.”
So tough it turns out, that to this day that time in his life still resonates and serves as a kind of personal motivation.
“On top of all the normal, new school types of things, my mom makes me go to the very first football game of the year, which is the right thing to do from a parental standpoint; you want to try and get your kids involved,” Perry explained. “Well if you take that home side of the DWS field, all of the kids at that time would sit over to the left of the press box.
“So I tried. I went over there, tried to talk, tried to interact. I mean I could not have been more of a fish out of water. So I finally gave up. I was just like, ‘I’m not doing this.’ So I went and sat by myself at the very top corner of the bleachers.
“And I still look at that seat every time I go into that stadium,” he continued. “I just sat there for the rest of the game by myself. That, I would think, would accurately describe me to that point in my life—somebody that maybe tried, but didn’t know how. And truthfully maybe didn’t have the courage to really see it through. I think that’s important context for what was to come.”
Becoming a champion
While Perry would certainly tell you his teenage years were awkward, he will also tell you that part of the allure of playing basketball was that a lot of his awkwardness and uncertainty seemed to melt away whenever he’d step on the hardwood.
“Now that said, at that time I was going through a growth spurt,” he said. “You would not look at me at that point in time, even in ninth or tenth grade, and say, ‘That guy is gonna be good.’ I was just middle of the pack, maybe towards the bottom of the pack. But for whatever reason I stuck with it.”
Of course Perry didn’t just stick with it. Rather, in a fashion that displayed an emerging maturity and determination, he earned a starting role his junior year.
And thus began one of the most influential two years of Perry’s life.
“I look at my entire life and there are two years related to that basketball program that were really meaningful,” Perry explained.
The first was his junior year, the team’s last before Coach Gruhl returned to coaching the DWS varsity boys.
“At this time we did not play basketball or practice basketball the way that I would soon learn Gordy Gruhl coaches and practices basketball,” Perry continued. “We were not sound fundamentally. We were not drilled on execution. We didn’t pay attention to the little things. We didn’t know how. And so we were not good.”
Perry said the team struggled to a dismal 7-20 record that year, despite his playing well, and that he learned very quickly what really mattered to team success.
“I had a decent year,” he said. “I mean if somebody could have a decent year that year. I averaged 20 points a game, scored over 500 points that season. But nobody remembers that 'cause we were horrible.”
Thankfully that terrible season, which saw the team reach all-time lows, also brought with it a coaching change—a change that would, quite frankly, change Perry’s outlook on more than just basketball.
“Coach Gruhl goes from coaching the girls back to coaching the boys,” Perry said of his senior season. “He had coached both up until a couple of years before that, but then he just coached the girls. Well now he’s back just coaching the boys, which he did for the next 20 years after that.
“Losing is absolutely awful. It’s degrading. It’s emotionally exhausting. It breeds doubt. It breeds lack of self-confidence. But it also brings a desire to not experience that again, whether it be in business, in life, in sports. I never want to go through that again because that’s just not who I want to be.
“And then Coach Gruhl comes in and we have that foundation. He brings his way of doing things—execution, doing the little things right, the fundamentals.”
The power of fundamentals
Having worked very closely with Perry now for the past two years, hearing him talk about “fundamentals” is nothing new. Almost since the day I arrived at AB&T we’ve been chatting on the regular about the importance of the fundamentals and how repeated execution of certain foundational concepts are the key to success.
What I had not heard before now was the origin of his laser focus on the small but important details, and of his believing that managing the execution of those details is necessary to achieve success.
“What it looks like in practice is really doing a lot of the same things over and over again within a different context,” Perry explained. “We could begin to expect to know what practice was gonna be like and what the drills were gonna be, but there was also an intense accountability related to how we executed.
“He would pick on, I won’t say pick on, but coach, the best player on the team, the hardest. And that’s a tough adjustment for a 17, 18-year old kid to make.
“He was on me every single day. But he was on all of us if we weren’t doing the little things right, weren’t paying attention to the details and weren’t executing as we were supposed to. If it’s supposed to be done this way, you do it this way and you do it this way every time. And you keep doing it that way."
And, Perry added, individual achievement, while important, paled in relation to team success.
“There could be a time when I scored 10 in a row, 12 in a row, but then you get beat on a back cut, or you don’t get back on defense as fast as you could, or you’re out of position on a rebound. Those things will lose you a game way quicker than you scoring 10 in a row will help you.
“That’s how we played. That’s what my teammates bought into, which is why I was able to score the points.”
Perry said that any doubt he and his teammates might have had about the way Coach Gruhl operated, putting all that focus on the little details, vanished quickly once the season got underway.
With Gruhl calling the shots and Perry anchoring the post, the Knights sprinted out to a 7-0 start before losing two games in a Christmas tournament in Macon—a wake-up call that led to unprecedented success.
“We played just absolutely terrible and it feels exactly like it did the year before,” Perry remembered. “There was even some talk of, ‘Here we go again.’
“But if you flash back, that feeling was so terrible that it made us work that much harder. So from January on we beat Sherwood three times in some sold-out, just epic games. At that point in the season we’d lost three games, go into the state tournament and we end up in the first round against a team that had beaten us earlier in the year, one of the three teams.
“We beat them at the end of the game.
“Next up is another team that had beaten us during the year. We beat them and go into the final four. In the final four we’re playing Mount de Sales Academy, which is now a public school. They’ve got a guy that’s in the post that played defensive tackle for the University of Tennessee, so they’re the number one team in the state.
“Well we beat them and then get into the state championship and play another team that had beaten us that year.”
Despite those challenges though the Knights ultimately prevailed, and in doing so did more than add another banner to the school’s gymnasium.
The importance of the journey
Needless to say, capturing the state championship had a profound impact on Perry, but what I found truly fascinating was that all these years later, it wasn’t really the thrill of reliving that victory that seemed to get him excited, but rather explaining to me the process that led to that success.
Throughout our conversation Perry returned repeatedly to the concept of executing the fundamentals and holding yourself and others accountable for that, no matter the task.
In fact, the way in which Deerfield (as led by Coach Gruhl) achieved success was so crucial to how Perry viewed things, that later while playing for Oglethorpe University, he said goodbye to basketball as a primary focus.
“It wasn’t the same level of expectation that my high school coach had for me, let’s put it that way. And I didn’t love it. I just didn’t feel like that was what I wanted to keep doing. It just wasn’t fulfilling."
While he later played on the practice squad for the University of Georgia Lady Dogs after transferring from Oglethorpe, as he continued his college career in Athens he turned his focus in other directions and ultimately earned a Bachelor in Business Administration in Marketing.
Although he put that degree to good use down the road, Perry said perhaps the most important part of his college experience though, was his beginning to feel more comfortable about who he was as a person and what he wanted his life to be like.
“As is the case with any 18 to 22-year old kid, you’re still gonna struggle with certain things,” Perry said. “I certainly struggled. But you also begin to pave your own path. What I always tell people about the University of Georgia when they say it’s too big is, ‘Of course it’s huge, but create your own University of Georgia. What are you interested in? Who do you want to be around?’
“For example I thought driving the bus at the University of Georgia would be the absolute coolest job. I thought that would be fun, a good way to earn some money, be on campus and so I went after that. And to this day, that is probably the most fun I ever had working.
“I mean you begin to step out as your own person, but I don’t think any of us can look and say that we’ve got full clarity about who we are or what we are at this moment in our lives. You could look back and see how you got here, but I don’t have full perspective of what I am right now or who I am. That comes later.”
Finding the right path
Despite feeling more comfortable with himself during his time in Athens, Perry said he still wasn’t sure what he was going to do with himself even after graduation. But thankfully he was able to again draw on his past to find his way forward.
“My balance and my anchor during my high school years was my youth group at First Methodist,” Perry said. “I didn’t have close friends that I was actually in school with and that remained the case throughout high school. But I had some really, really close friends at Westover, Albany High and others. And the common connection was that we went to First Methodist.
“My experience in high school with youth ministry and with the church was exceptionally positive, and it kept me from the temptations and the peer pressures that a lot of other students may have had to deal with on their own cause we were a unified group, even though we went to different schools.”
During that time Perry said he was also exposed to inspirational leaders like youth minister Roy McVeigh, who Perry described as a “phenomenal guy.”
So with those experiences to draw from it makes sense then that Perry would venture toward the church as a career option.
“Even at UGA I wasn’t quite sure what I was gonna do,” Perry said. “Interestingly enough I went into the ministry after college. Now this sounds like an out-of-body experience talking about this. But I went into the ministry after college and came home and worked for First Methodist. I started as an intern and within six months I was in an empty slot as the Youth Minister. I took online classes at Asbury College and had started the track to be a full-fledged United Methodist Minister.”
But of course as life has a funny way of doing, around that same time Perry also began dating his future wife Christian.
“I stayed at First Methodist about two and half years and through a variety of circumstances, some of my own control, some outside of my control, I realized very quickly, and thankfully at a young age and thankfully not too far into it, that this was not the path for me in my life.
“Christian and I didn’t want to continue on that path. She was pregnant with our first child, I was 24. And so I go to work for Smith Barney as a financial advisor. I do that for about a year, two years, then go to work for a start-up paper shredding company for less than a year and then that led me to SunTrust.
While Perry has certainly flourished during his time in banking, he’s quick to once again give credit to some of the mentors in his life. Just as Gordy Gruhl and WT Henry taught Perry about the importance of details and the need to consistently execute a plan, and helped him find the courage to go for a goal, he also credits some former colleagues with showing him the right way to conduct himself in the banking world.
“I didn’t know the difference between a retail bank, a commercial bank, a private bank, trust, construction, I mean I didn’t know anything about any of that stuff,” Perry said of his early days with SunTrust. “I was very fortunate that I got hired as a portfolio specialist, which is a SunTrust term for credit analyst. And I had two ladies, Jackie Alday and Sharon King who were the private bankers that I worked for that really took an interest in me and taught me banking.
“They put the client first,” he continued. “I liked the way that the client was the center of what decisions they made. But they also balanced what was best for the bank with what was best for the client.
“And so what they did is they used their expertise to create solutions that were acceptable to the bank, but also to the benefit of that particular client. I remember those discussions. I’m incredibly grateful for the investment that they made in me.”
Armed with those lessons, Perry eventually transitioned to AB&T, where’s he’s been able to finely-hone many of those skills while working under the tutelage of other impressive bankers like Luke Flatt, who Perry credits for helping him continue to blossom as a banker and leader.
Through the support of great mentors who have reinforced the principles he learned at home and through basketball, Perry has built his own processes for success.
And it’s many of those processes, ideas and concepts that undergird how we operate at AB&T.
Striving to be the best
In order to achieve the bank’s goal of delighting its clients, associates and shareholders and setting the gold standard for community banking, it all begins and ends with the client and making sure that each client is handled according to their specific set of circumstances. And Perry is very much responsible for the deployment of that philosophy within the company.
By taking that approach to banking, we believe AB&T will be positioned to continue thriving. However, through the lessons he’s learned throughout his life Perry also understands that it is going to take a complete team effort, which is why he gets excited when we discuss the future and the AB&T bankers that will lead to success.
“I want to be a part of the best team and I want to win,” he said of the inner fire that drives him. “But I want to do it in the way that fits with the core of who we are. It’s really about what we’re doing here and how we’re interacting with each other, rather than what I’m doing.”
While he tries to take the focus off of himself when discussing the AB&T family, the truth is, Perry is incredibly vital to the organization. And his approach to teambuilding and helping colleagues develop their skill set is one of the most important things he’s involved with.
And that is not lost on him.
“I would have a hard time letting go of the wheel if I didn’t have confidence in the people that we’ve put in place,” he said of the team’s ability to handle more duties now that he has to turn some of his focus to his Chamber and Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission duties. “I look at the people that report to me directly right now and I trust them explicitly. The people that I’ve got reporting to me are going to get the job done and are going to do it right and are going to do it with excellence. So it’s about, how can I help them with that?
“And I also think they’re better at their roles than I would be in their roles,” he continued. “So I don’t want to take the wheel because they’re better than I am. I know where my skill set fits in that relationship.”
Because of sentiments like that, and because of the leadership he displays on a regular basis, not a day goes by that I don’t think about how fortunate I am that I have the opportunity to work with someone like Perry—someone with vision and the commitment to see that vision through.
But during the times when we talk about our lives growing up in Albany, or about how much we enjoy spending time with our families, or about what we can do to make our community better, I truly consider myself fortunate to count Perry Revell as a friend.
And because of the work he’s willing to put in to help guide the Albany area forward, I can’t help but think we’re all quite fortunate.
Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - firstname.lastname@example.org - @BradGMcEwen