By: Alexander ML Jones
G. Robert Aston Jr. was awarded the fifth annual Economic Impact Award for an outstanding 47-year career in banking and service to the community on Feb. 8, 2012. The ceremony was hosted by the Economic Club of Hampton Roads during a luncheon at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott Hotel.
Bob Aston’s vision for his company over the past 11 years has brought Towne Bank from bold beginnings to bolder successes. Today, Towne Bank stands as the number one community bank in Virginia. One value in Towne Bank’s vision for banking stands out as part of the key reason for its rise to, “be a source of community pride by providing both philanthropic and human support for the betterment of the communities we serve,” said Aston during his speech.
When asked what advice he would give the students of the College of Business at Old Dominion University, Aston said, “It is important to remember that capitalism and our social responsibility [to our community] are not mutually exclusive.” He sought to surround himself with people that were, “smarter than him,” and always asked himself, “Is this person a giver or a taker?” It was through value judgments like this that he avoided having to be a micromanager over the past decade.
The pursuit of profit is apparent when you take a course in business or economics, but Mr. Aston contends and can prove with Towne Bank’s 11 straight years of profitability that social responsibility on an individual level as well as a corporate level can positively impact one’s business model as well as their community.
Recalling back to what banking was like when he started out, he said that banking was once a viewed as a service to the community, and wasn’t always as cut-throat as it is today. It’s clear that from the very beginning of Towne Bank’s inception when $49 million in capital was raised from over 4,000 shareholders that Aston’s vision had always been about bringing the banking industry back to its roots of serving and bettering the community through every action indirectly or directly. He sought to build a community asset in Towne Bank, and in broad ownership of stock, he made sure that he didn’t have to answer to any one particular investor over another by setting a limit of $250,000 in how much any one party could contribute to his or her startup capital.
In April 1999, Towne Bank began with three branches, 90 employees, and $500,000 in losses. By November of that same year, Towne Bank was profitable. Every year since then, Towne Bank has increased profits over the prior year. While many banks contributed to the recession with risky sub-prime mortgage lending, Aston made sure early on that Towne Bank wouldn’t prey upon the weaker members of society for the pursuit of profit. Today, Towne Bank is seventy-eighth nationally.
With a 26 branch network, 55,000 members, 1,627 employees, a payroll over $105 million, and $4.03 billion in assets, it’s clear that the recession hasn’t quite affected Towne Bank quite like it affected the banking industry as a whole. Towne Bank has had consistent partnerships with the CHKD Surgery Center, Hope House, Meals on Wheels, and the Ed Marc Pediatric Hospice. It’s an 11-year run that has proved capitalism and social and civic responsibility are not mutually exclusive, don’t have to conflict, and even have a lot of overlap.