The Power of Relationship Banking from 1973 to Now: A Family Business Case Study

April 30, 2024

I was raised in a generational family business. In 1973, my grandfather founded Trench Shoring Company, inspired by his own father’s legacy, and throughout my life I’ve been exposed to the highs and lows, wins and losses, and lessons learned from creating and scaling a business over five decades. With my own father now at the helm, and many siblings and cousins on board, it’s safe to say that my interest in the well being of small and family businesses is intense and personal.

This Community Banking Month, I wanted to explore the relationship between a business owner and their bank, from the perspective of the wisest entrepreneur I know, my grandfather, Tom Malloy. Luckily for me, he was willing to be interviewed. 

Tom Malloy on site, 1973

In the dynamic journey of entrepreneurship, one often underestimated piece of the puzzle is the business owner’s relationship with their bank. As Tom (how I’ll refer to him here, rather than “Grandpa”) reflects on the company’s journey from a small construction equipment rental operation to a multi-branch enterprise with over 500 employees, he emphasizes the critical role of personal connections in banking, particularly with community institutions.

"When I started Trench Shoring," he recalls, "I was with a small regional bank where I had a close friendship with a loan officer." For him, the decision wasn't just about financial services. "In most any business, it's the personal relationships that matter," he emphasizes. This sentiment resonates deeply with the ethos of community banks, where personalized service and familiar faces have defined the banking experience for generations. According to Tom, many of the key early victories for Trench Shoring Company could not have happened without this symbiotic relationship with his banker.

Tom’s journey with Trench Shoring Company mimics the common evolution of small business banking experiences, from the intimate setting of a local branch to a larger community institution, and finally to one of the largest banks in the country. Despite the transitions, the significance of personal relationships remained at the core of Tom’s decision making. "They cared about my business, and they tried to help in any way they could.”

As the years progressed and technology reshaped the banking landscape, Tom adapted to the changing dynamics. When I asked about his current banking preferences, he remarked that "It’s mostly over the phone now.” However, amidst the convenience of remote transactions, the relevance of personal connection remains. "You always want, when you get to a certain level, to be able to call up somebody if there’s ever an issue," he advises.

Trench Shoring flatbed, 1980's
Trench Shoring flatbed, 2010's

In the vein of looking to the future, Tom offers advice to young entrepreneurs: "It’s the thing that makes everything run: relationships.” Building and nurturing connections with bankers is not just about securing regular financial services; it's about forging mutually beneficial alliances that can weather the storms of entrepreneurship.

Being prompt and communicative with one's banker is another key piece of advice from Tom’s insights. "The faster and sooner you stay on your financial situation in your company, where you can produce the things your banker is asking for, the better off you are," he advises. Transparency and proactive communication lay the foundation for a strong partnership built on trust and reliability, and makes both professionals’ jobs easier.

One of the more remarkable aspects of my grandfather’s story is the graceful transition of power to the next generation that he executed upon his retirement. At BankTech, we know that if you want to serve the next generation, you need to have members of the next generation working on your team. Tom knew this, and handed over control earlier than many in his position would have been comfortable with. With this move, however, he gave Trench Shoring Company the gift of longevity, allowing it to continue to thrive with the younger generation now in the driver’s seat. 

Tom (Founder), Kevin (President), Bridgett (VP), Kelley (VP)

My grandfather’s journey as a business owner underscores the enduring value of personal connections in banking. Beyond the transactions and loans, it's the people behind the desks (or on the other end of the phone) that know and understand your business, that make the difference between a banking experience that slows you down and one that empowers your business to flourish.