More than a century ago, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, 19 influential visionaries with strong ties to nearby New Orleans saw the need for a local bank to help citizens manage the prosperity of a bustling new turn-of-the-century regional economy. Their vision became the Hancock County Bank.
Since opening on October 9, 1899, amid a national recession and with $10,000 in capital and $8,277.41 in first-day deposits, Hancock has accepted a resolute, heartfelt responsibility to help people achieve their financial goals and dreams and to facilitate commerce and opportunities for people.
Today, with approximately $20 billion in assets, Hancock Holding Company (Nasdaq: HBHC) is the parent company of Hancock Bank and Whitney Bank, two century-old institutions founded on core ideals of Honor & Integrity, Strength & Stability, Commitment to Service, Teamwork, and Personal Responsibility. One of Forbes’ “100 Most Trustworthy Companies” for two years in a row, Hancock Holding Company operates hundreds of banking offices and ATMs of Hancock Bank and Whitney Bank across a Gulf South corridor spanning South Mississippi; southern Alabama; south central Louisiana; the northern, central, and Panhandle regions of Florida; and metropolitan Houston, Texas.
The Hancock Holding Company financial services family also includes Hancock Investment Services, Inc.; Hancock Insurance Agency and Whitney Insurance Agency, Inc.; corporate trust offices in Gulfport and Jackson, Mississippi, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida; and Harrison Finance Company.
As South Mississippi lumber, cotton, wool, turkey, and produce trades thrived in the early 1900s and the Mississippi Gulf Coast evolved as a popular tourist destination, Hancock County Bank began to expand. Within weeks of signing the bank’s charter, the original board of directors purchased a site at Main Street and South Beach Boulevard in Bay St. Louis and constructed the town’s first two-story brick building. For many years, that Bay St. Louis branch also housed the post office and the U.S. Customs Office. Today, Hancock’s downtown Bay St. Louis branch still serves customers from that building.
Hancock County Bank opened the first branch of a Mississippi Coast bank at Pearlington on January 8, 1902. On April 29, 1902, the bank established a branch at Pass Christian, a popular retreat for Northerners fleeing brutal winters and affluent New Orleanians and North Mississippians seeking relief from sweltering summer heat. As the Pearlington branch closed in 1918, a Logtown branch opened and operated until 1937, when the South Mississippi timber supply dwindled and the fervor of early saw mill production paled.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast reveled in the “Roaring Twenties.” The first banana ship arrived at the Port of Gulfport; and 14 new hotels drew hordes of tourists to sparkling ballrooms, beachside tea dances, and luxurious rooms with a view. In 1927 Hancock County Bank opened a branch in Long Beach, a small town with a volume of red radish and bean exports that earned the community notoriety as the “Radish Capital of the World.” Similar to today’s pretzels and peanuts, Long Beach’s radishes were popular snacks in northeastern taverns. The “Long Red” radish fields succumbed to real estate fever sweeping the Gulf South in the 1920s and, ultimately, to the crushing economic blow of the 1929 stock market crash.
As America’s economy spiraled into the economic abyss of the Great Depression, 162 Mississippi banks failed, eventually leaving Gulfport without a bank. Since many Gulfport residents were already customers of the Long Beach branch, Gulfport businessmen appealed to Hancock County Bank to establish a downtown Gulfport branch. On August 5, 1932, Hancock County Bank opened at the corner of 13th Street and 26th Avenue in the former First National Bank of Gulfport building.
As the nation and region regained economic footing, Hancock County Bank moved to a new location at 25th Avenue and 14th Street. Anticipating this relocation, board members and stockholders amended the bank’s charter to move the domicile from Bay St. Louis to Gulfport; and Hancock County Bank became Hancock Bank. The Long Beach operation moved to Gulfport in 1933. However, in 1955, the Long Beach office reopened at the present Jeff Davis Avenue site as the first Mississippi Gulf Coast bank to offer drive-up teller service.
Through economic uncertainty (including the Depression and 22 recessions), social revolution, and a new century, Hancock Bank has remained a stronghold of financial stability, instigating Gulf Coast economic growth and strategically establishing new branches and locations through acquisitions, mergers, and de novo offices.
One Hancock Plaza
Construction of a new corporate complex at One Hancock Plaza in 1981 spawned downtown Gulfport’s Harbor Square development, just as a $65-million-plus post-Hurricane Katrina restoration of that corporate campus led the way for downtown revitalization 25 years later.
In 1984 Hancock Holding Company was chartered as the parent company of Hancock Bank to facilitate corporate growth.
Hancock’s 1990 merger with American Bank of Baton Rouge established a formidable Hancock Bank presence in Louisiana. The success of that Baton Rouge venture prompted subsequent expansions through Livingston, Washington, Tangipahoa, St. Tammany, and West Feliciana parishes and 15 Louisiana communities. Between 1973 and 1998, Hancock acquired 14 Mississippi and Louisiana financial institutions and increased corporate assets from $158 million to $2.7 billion in less than 25 years.
In 1999 American Security Bank (ASB) in Ville Platte, Louisiana, became part of Hancock Bank of Louisiana. With that addition of 18 new branches in five Louisiana parishes to the Hancock family, corporate assets hit $3 billion.
In late summer 2001, the Hancock Bank Centre opened at CitiPlace, a flourishing Baton Rouge residential and commercial development within minutes of the Louisiana State University and Southern University campuses.
With the 2001 acquisition of 97-year-old, Purvis, Mississippi, based Lamar Bank, Hancock welcomed south central Mississippi customers from economic hubs such as Hattiesburg—home of the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey College—to the Hancock family.
In February 2003, Hancock Bank established a long-awaited presence south of Lake Pontchartrain in the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, communities of Metairie and Kenner. Hancock Bank ushered in 2004 by opening a third Jefferson Parish branch at Clearview, an upscale retail and residential district along one of the country’s most highly traveled crossroads. Three years later, branches opened in New Orleans’s vibrant Central Business District and on the West Bank in Jefferson, Louisiana.
The Whitney Clock
An icon of commerce and opportunity still graces Whitney Bank's headquarters in New Orleans.
In July 2003, Hancock launched eastward expansion with a business banking center in west Mobile, Alabama. Within days of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the State of Alabama allowed Hancock Bank retail banking privileges to help displaced storm evacuees and, ultimately, issued a state banking charter in 2006. Within two years, Hancock Bank had opened in Mobile’s historic downtown district, debuted four new branches on Alabama’s Eastern Shore, and increased its presence in west Mobile.
With the acquisition of Tallahassee’s Guaranty National Bank in March 2004, Hancock Bank entered Florida’s capital city with a downtown financial center and four other branches not far from the Florida State and Florida A&M university campuses. Hancock Bank soon expanded to metropolitan Pensacola with financial centers in the historic five-story Thiesen Building—erected in 1901 as downtown Pensacola’s first “skyscraper”—and in the thriving Cordova district.
Hancock’s fall 2004 acquisition of 103-year-old Ross King Walker, Inc., in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and summer 2005 acquisition of J. Everett Eaves, Inc.—founded in New Orleans in 1918—considerably augmented insurance services available to Gulf South businesses and consumers through Hancock Insurance Agency (established 1902).
In December 2009, Hancock Bank acquired Peoples First Community Bank, a Panama City based bank committed to the same values endorsed by generations of Hancock associates. That partnership further expanded Hancock’s Florida presence in the northern, central, and Panhandle regions of Florida, including Destin-Fort Walton, Jacksonville, and Orlando.
On December 21, 2010, Gulfport, Mississippi, financial services company Hancock Holding Company and Whitney Holding Corporation agreed to merge. With the merger in second quarter 2011, Whitney National Bank's charter was dissolved. Hancock Bank of Alabama became part of the Hancock Bank charter; and Hancock Bank of Louisiana was re-chartered and renamed as Whitney Bank.
That series of transactions established Hancock Holding Company as a preeminent Gulf South financial services company reinforced by two strong state-chartered, FDIC-insured banks: Whitney Bank, headquartered in New Orleans and serving Louisiana and Texas; and Hancock Bank, based in Gulfport and serving Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Only eight chief executives have led Hancock through its legacy of financial services excellence, including bank presidents Peter Hellwege (1899-1907), Eugene H. Roberts (1908–1918), Horatio S. Weston (1918–1931), Leo W. Seal, Sr. (1932–1963), Leo W. Seal, Jr. (1963–1990), and George A. Schloegel (1990–2006). During their respective terms as Hancock presidents, Hellwege and Roberts also served as presidents of the Bank of Orleans, which later became part of Whitney National Bank.
In December 2006, Carl J. Chaney and John M. Hairston became chief executive officers of Hancock Holding Company. Schloegel, who began his 52-year Hancock career as a mailroom runner, became Hancock Holding Company chairman until his election as mayor of Hancock’s domicile city, Gulfport. Jackson County, Mississippi, business leader James B. Estabrook, Jr., succeeded Schloegel as Hancock Holding Company Chairman of the Board in summer 2009.
Today, Chaney is President and CEO of Hancock Holding Company and Hancock Bank; Hairston, CEO and Chief Operating Officer of Hancock Holding Company and Hancock Bank. During the 2011 Whitney Bank merger, New Orleans native and veteran banker Joseph S. Exnicios became president of Whitney Bank. Chaney, Hairston, Exnicios, and a management committee representing 375-plus years of collective experience perpetuate the century-old team oriented leadership traditions and an ongoing management succession strategy that have secured the extraordinary legacy of leadership distinguishing both Hancock Bank and Whitney Bank.
Hancock Holding Company has far exceeded the footprint of Hancock Bank’s original wood-frame site in Bay St. Louis. However, the company’s founding values—Honor & Integrity, Strength & Stability, Commitment to Service, Teamwork, and Personal Responsibility—have remained in place and unwavering. Similarly, its mission of helping people achieve their financial goals and dreams continues to foster unmatched service rooted in the resilient spirit, proud traditions, and gracious hospitality that differentiate Hancock Bank, Whitney Bank, and the Gulf South hometowns both banks serve.
Through natural disasters, national crises, economic fluctuations, and cultural change, Hancock Holding Company, Hancock Bank, and Whitney Bank have weathered literal and figurative storms and provided customers a safe place to deposit their money. The successes of Hancock Holding Company and its two banks spring from a passionate corporate commitment to founding principles, a conservative business philosophy, the ongoing confidence of stockholders and customers, and generations of associates devoted to ensuring shareholder value while helping local families and businesses discover the right financial choices.
Whether proactively delivering innovative business banking solutions or helping families secure their futures, Hancock, Whitney, and nearly 5,000 associates in five states embrace a founding pledge to nurture strategic corporate growth, well-planned community development, and the exceptional quality of life unique to the Gulf South.