Banks and telephone companies have been in Blake Willoughby’s family for four generations. When he was 12 years old, he started working part-time for the Brandenburg Telephone Co. At age 14 he asked his grandfather if he could move over to the First State Bank in Irvington. Willoughby went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in accounting and economics from UK in 2011, and an MBA a year later.
“I had the intention of getting my legal degree, but when I finished my MBA, my family realized it was time to come back to work,” he said. While still in college he was put on the board of directors of two of the five banks First Breckinridge Bancshares holding company owns.
His mother, Allison Willoughby, is general manager and president of Brandenburg Telephone and the president of Meade Bancorp, the holding company that owns Meade County Bank. Her father, J.D. Tobin Jr., ran the bank, and his father, J.D. Tobin Sr., is the one who started the legacy by acquiring controlling interest in First State Bank in Irvington and Brandenburg Telephone Co. in the 1950s.
Today, the not-yet-30-year-old, youngest-generation Willoughby is president and chairman of First Breckinridge Bancshares, the organization that owns First State Bank of Irvington, West Point Bank in Hardin County, River City Bank of Louisville, Bank of Clarkson in Grayson County, and American Bank & Trust of Bowling Green. Willoughby also holds the CEO title in those banks, and there will soon be a sixth company: Last November, First Breckinridge Bancshares and Meade Bancorp partnered to acquire Bank of Lexington.
“I’m still intimately involved in the lending function of the organization,” Willoughby said.
With a new branch of River City that opened in Louisville in December, there are 21 locations for First Breckinridge Bancshares, plus the three coming from Bank of Lexington. Each charter has been kept independent, and the original bank names all have been retained.
“We take a lot of pride in the fact that our organizations are involved in the communities they are associated with,” Willoughby said. “We don’t want people in Louisville making decisions for our people in Grayson County. We also take pride in the fact that we have never instituted layoffs following an acquisition. We recognize those people at the banks are tied to their communities.”
His day-to-day work is in the main office at the First State Bank in Irvington, in Breckinridge County. Willoughby’s timing skills get a daily workout because he lives in Meade County, in the Eastern time zone, while Breckinridge County is in Central, but businesses in the city of Irvington operate on Eastern time.
“It’s a really fun industry,” he said of banking, because all industries, companies and people need a bank. “It’s a great opportunity to get to know a lot of people and learn about a lot of things.”
He feels the banking industry in Kentucky is doing well.
“Our rural markets are slowly growing, which I’d say we’re fortunate in Kentucky for that to be the case. It’s difficult to be prosperous in a rural market,” he said. “Our markets in Louisville, Bowling Green and Hardin County are very robust. I suspect Lexington will continue to be the case when we finish that transaction.”
Willoughby’s plan for First Breckinridge Bancshares in 2018 is pretty simple, and that’s to spend time on internal growth and development.