Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Senior Vice President Ryan Murphy, left, and Chairman Craig Holley stand in the lobby at Pinnacle Financial Partners on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

Banking may be oriented toward money, but the leaders of Chattanooga's fastest-growing bank say it all starts with people. Pinnacle Bank, which has quickly grown into Tennessee's second biggest bank headquartered in the Volunteer State since its start in 2000, hires only experienced bankers and gives employees both a share of the business and a voice in how it is run.

"It's all about the associates here, and I think that associate engagement we have is the real secret sauce that makes Pinnacle so special," says Craig Holley, the Chattanooga market chairman of Pinnacle who heads the 110-employee operation with four offices in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tennessee. "We put our associates first above everything because when you have excited associates who look forward to coming to work every day that's going to lead to engaged clients."

Pinnacle hires bankers with at least 10 years of experience and everyone at the bank shares in a common performance-based compensation system designed to be competitive with any bank for pay and shared ownership in the company. Only bankers recommended by others at the bank or in the industry are hired and, as an employer of choice for many bankers eager to have the flexibility and ownership offered at Pinnacle, the bank has no active recruiting program.

"We don't use any head hunters and we don't even take their calls," says Kenny Dyer, the market president for Pinnacle in Chattanooga. "But we spend an enormous amount of time in our leadership team, from our CEO Terry Turner on down, addressing our work environment and the needs of our staff, and we strive to make this a place where people want to work."

Every new hire spends the first three days on the job in orientation sessions led by Turner, who helps define the mission of the bank.

Pinnacle Financial Partners, parent company of Pinnacle Bank

* Founded: Pinnacle began in 2000 and acquired CapitalMark Bank in Chattanooga, which started in 2007, in 2015

* Employees: Pinnacle has about 2,500 employees companywide and more than 100 associates in Chattanooga

* Why this is a Best Place to Work: Pinnacle has chosen to battle against the bureaucratic and impersonal, for both associates and clients. That means we hire people who are team players and genuinely care about others. As a result, our associates treat one another like family.

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"Our vision is simple but challenging," Holley said. "We strive to be the best financial services firm in the Southeast and the best place to work, and we want to make a significant difference in the communities we serve."

In doing so, the bank shareholders are also enriched, Holley says. Although shares of Pinnacle Financial Partners sunk during the pandemic a year ago, the bank's stock has more than doubled since to a record high.

Holley, Dyer and Ryan Murphy, the executive vice president who oversees branch operations at Pinnacle, have embraced an employee-first philosophy since the three top Pinnacle leaders helped start a predecessor to Pinnacle, the former CapitalMark Bank, in 2007. CapitalMark bank grew to more than $900 million in assets by 2015 when it was acquired by Pinnacle for $187 million in stock.

With the acquisition of CapitalBank and other banks in Memphis and the Carolinas, Pinnacle has grown to a major regional bank providing banking, investment, mortgage and insurance products and services to consumers and businesses in Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Pinnacle Financial Partners on Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

But even as Pinnacle has grown, its culture has remained focused on its associates.

"Our culture was very similar to Pinnacle," Murphy says. "We strive to enrich our employees personally, professionally, and financially. We hire people who are team players and genuinely care about others. As a result, our associates treat one another like family."

Maintaining that family connection has been challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic when bank offices were initially closed last spring and personal meetings have since remained restricted. The regular employee meetings and events in the pre-pandemic era have shifted to virtual meetings and drive-by employee recognition, but Pinnacle officials say they have tried to maintain staff connections in the past year through virtual meetings and listening sessions.