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Greenville Business Magazine

A Legacy of Leadership: How Women Have Shaped the History of South State Bank

Mar 13, 2019 12:41PM ● By Kiki Wooley

The idea of starting a bank during the Great Depression was practically unheard of. And for a woman to start a business during the time – not to mention a bank – was unprecedented. In 1933, 4,000 commercial banks and 1,700 savings and loan companies across the country shuttered as a result of the Depression.


That didn’t deter Mary Horres, a 32-year-old business woman from Charleston, S.C. who noted that the Depression had stripped the Holy City of its banks, as 110 commercial banks failed in South Carolina alone from 1930-1933. Horres recognized there was a lack of long-term real estate financing in the city and took it upon herself to create change.


An Act of Congress, the Home Owners Loan Act of 1933, was passed as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to help those in danger of losing their homes by providing refinanced mortgages or new loans. Horres recognized the Act as a potential solution to Charleston’s real-estate lending needs and, with the partnership of a local attorney, raised the public and regulatory support to start a savings and loan association, First Federal, which would fill the city’s real-estate lending void. The institution received its charter on May 28, 1934.


Horres, who served at First Federal until her death in 1968, was certainly a pioneer for women in the banking industry and blazed a trail for others to follow. In 2013, First Federal merged with South Carolina Bank and Trust (SCBT) to create South State Bank.


While Horres was the first female executive in South State Bank’s 85-year history, there have been many female leaders who have made a mark on the company and have shaped its course. Arguably one of the most significant has been Renee Brooks, Chief Operating Officer.


Brooks leads 70% of the company’s approximately 2,800 employees and has responsibility for the bank’s Operations, Information Technology, Human Resources, as well as the Consumer Bank and Mortgage – a nod to Horres and her visionary home-financing solutions.


Brooks is a 27-year banking veteran and has spent 23 years at South State. She said she always had a hunch she would work in business of some kind.


“When I was a little girl, other kids were playing dolls, and I was playing office,” she said.


The first person to go to college in her mother’s family, Brooks said her parents were unsure of the return on investment of a college education.  They saw more value in getting a high school diploma and starting work. 


She convinced her parents that the investment would pay off.  Brooks earned a degree in Accounting from Clemson University and later earned her master’s degree while working full-time. 


From a long line of strong, hard working women, Brooks has been working since the age of 12.  Her first job was working in a concession stand.  As simple as it may seem, this first experience of working with money and serving customers kindled an interest in banking.


It’s the interactions with the people she leads that give her energy, she said. “My favorite part of my job today is not only working in a team environment, but also the diversity of our company. I love the collaboration, the challenge and the openness. Some of our best solutions for our customers are the result of healthy challenge and dialogue.”


Brooks has never been one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, the advice she offers to other women is, “Don’t be afraid to take the hard assignments – the ones nobody wants. It’s those assignments that will grow you the most.”


Brooks’ path to leadership has been more of a career lattice than a career ladder. While she started at South State as a Branch Manager, she has held a wide variety of roles in the bank. It has been her willingness to move horizontally within the organization in order to learn as much as possible that has perfectly prepared her for the role she has today.


Although carrying the responsibility for more than two-thirds of the bank’s employees would be a daunting task for anyone, her job doesn’t end there. Brooks balances being a wife and mother.


When asked about how she manages the pressures of a demanding career and a full personal life, Brooks said, “First of all, I would not have the life I have today if it weren’t for my husband Brad and his incredible support. Secondly, I find that being organized and approaching work and family life holistically is a must to handle the challenges of both.”


While Brooks and Horres have certainly been beacons of strong female leadership for the company, South State boasts an impressive cadre of female leaders in the ranks, with a continued focus on always increasing diversity. In fact, the company was recently recognized for this, receiving the 2019 Women’s Choice Award® for Best Companies for Women. Today, more than 50% of the managers at South State Bank are female, and with the legacy of female leaders in the company, it’s certain there will continue to be women making history at South State Bank.


Interested in joining these strong female leaders? Learn more about our careers here.


Click here to learn more about South State Bank’s recent Women’s Choice Award® recognition.