When the New Year rolls around to begin 2021, there will be a new face at the head of Mebane’s First Savings and Loan, located at 206 W. Center Street in downtown Mebane.
After three decades at the helm of the family-owned business, CEO Rick Smith is stepping away. On the afternoon of Tuesday, December 15, the staff at Mebane’s First held a social-distanced and mask-wearing retirement party for Smith.
“The 31st (of December) will be my last day full-time. I’ve been here 30 years this year. I started on August 15th of 1990. We get kind of busy towards the end of the year, so they decided to do something this week. They came in and surprised me with a COVID, restricted retirement,” Smith said in an interview with the Enterprise.
Replacing Smith will be Amy E. Cannady, who has been serving as the company’s Vice-President since the summer of 2010.
“I’m very excited for the challenge,” said Cannady, who began working for her family’s business back in 2002. “I do have some big shoes to fill - I know that. My grandfather, Neal Smith, was President and Chairman. He actually retired the year I came here.”
Cannady’s grandfather and Smith’s father, Linwood “Neal” Smith, was a legend in his time in Mebane. He first came to work at Mebane’s First when his son Rick was a newborn in the early 1950s, and stuck around for the ensuing half-century.
Today, the carriers of the Mebane’s First Saving and Loan torch are determined to continue providing the same high-quality customer service and small-town touch that Neal Smith was so well-known throughout the community for.
“My dad was President, and he came here in 1953, when I was about three weeks old,” Smith explained. “When dad came here, the office which is now Clay Street Printing. That was our first actual building, other than actually being in the Old Reliable Furniture Building. This building was built in 1961. I came here in 1990, and learned a lot from my dad. I was able to work with him for about 20 years, and he passed away in 2011. Amy came here in 2002 - time flies when you’re having fun.”
“It’s really cool (having the family legacy at Mebane’s First),” Cannady said. “I really liked working with my grandfather occasionally, because he had retired by the time I came here. But it’s been really good working with Rick."
“It’s been quite a fun ride,” Smith added. “So much of this business has changed, but we’re still a hometown institution. People, I think, like that personal service. We’re not a big bank. We don’t want to be. We’ve been very blessed to be in Mebane, and Mebane has been very good to us. Yeah, it is (mixed feelings). I’m going to be working part-time with Amy, and staying on the Board of Directors, and on the Loan Committee. So they won’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll still have keys to the office.”
“We’re not going to take the keys away from him just yet,” Cannady joked.
In her 18 years with Mebane’s First, Cannady has gained an in-depth understanding of the mortgage business, from working as a teller to serving in bookkeeping to managing loans.
“I was hired as a teller,” she said. “So I got the experience on the teller line, and got to meet a lot of the customers, establish relationships with them. Then in 2007, I went back into the back office and did all of the day-to-day bookkeeping, the compliance and everything. And then in 2010 I became Vice-President.”
“Really being a part of the Mebane community - we love Mebane. I grew up in Mebane. Rick grew up in Mebane. Keeping our good customer service - keeping doing what we’re doing right now. You can pick up the phone and get your questions answered right there.”
“Amy wears a lot of hats, and I have all the confidence in the world in her that she’s going to do great. You can’t lose that personal touch with people,” Smith explained. “Amy has been doing the day-to-day activities, pretty much. I’ve been doing the loans and that sort of thing, but Amy has been running the day-to-day for quite some time.
Smith indicated that Cannady is one of only four women in the state of North Carolina who will be the CEO of a financial institution.
“It’s nice to think that Mebane’s First Savings, as old as we are - we’re 111 years old, starting in 1909 - you kind of think of a bunch of stuffy old men in suits. And that’s the way it was back in the day,” Smith said. “Amy came here with a strong background in accounting. I came with a background in real estate. So it helped both of us to come in here and be blessed the way we have. So much has changed. My dad, he couldn’t do a computer, and didn’t have a cell phone. But Amy is the next generation of technology. So it’s time for me to get out of here.”
One thing definitely won’t change in the transition from Smith to Cannady - Mebane’s First’s commitment to servicing its own loans, and keeping them in-house.
“We’re one of the few institutions that doesn’t sell their loans. We keep ours here,” Smith explained. “We’re hands-on with all our customers in terms of what they’re looking for. We’re not having to fit into some big bank box, if you will. And that’s nice to be able to. We go to our own closings with attorneys. It’s a wonderful life rewind.”
“We’re a highly-regulated industry. It kind of puts us on the spot, because we have to compete with the Rocket Mortgages and Quicken Loans and things like that. But that’s not our niche. Our niche is talking over the desk, just like my dad did back in the day. He could shake your hand and make a loan. Now you’ve got to go through so many processes that the government makes you do. We try to keep it simple, though - we really do.”
As he prepares for his transition into retired life, Smith wishes to thank the Mebane community for all that it has done for Mebane’s First Savings and Loan over the decades. And with Cannady preparing to take the reins, the family is looking forward to serving the mortgage and financial needs of the greater Mebane community for many more decades to come.
“I want to personally thank the Mebane community for being there for us, and we’ve tried to be there for them in my thirty years,” Smith said.