Don Powell didn't like how the big banks treated customers, so he started his own bank in the heart of cattle feeding country.

As market segments change, niches open. This truism is an integral part of the mindset of any successful entrepreneur and one of the forces that motivated Don Powell to charter a new bank.

Powell, a 30-plus year veteran of the financial industry, has seen changes in banking that aren't necessarily beneficial for feedyard customers. Having served as president, chairman and CEO of NationsBank, Boatmen's First National Bank and First National Bank, all of Amarillo, TX, Powell had seen enough acquisitions. As the acquisitions were completed and new operations begun, Powell saw customers being forced to arrange financing under a system he felt was less than desirable.

Today, he's CEO of a new First National Bank with locations in Amarillo, Fritch and Dalhart, TX. It's a bank he built with a spirit of entrepreneurism and complete customer service in mind. After receiving a bank charter, Powell's initial stock offering was met with overwhelming response, confirming his belief that the time had come for a new bank.

Powell knows what customers, especially feeders, want from a bank. He led the original First National Bank of Amarillo to placing regularly in the top 10 U.S. agricultural lending banks. The new First National Bank may not be in the top 10 just yet, but already 20% of its business comes from the feeding industry.

Relationship Banking "I felt there was a need for and a desire by the local community for a bank that would be owned by the community and be independent," he says. "Investors in First National are from our area and they're proof that capitalism is alive and that people like to own a piece of the rock."

Powell adds most investors did not invest large sums of money. Most put down what he calls "hard working money," using Individual Retirement Accounts, savings and other assets.

"Relationship banking is built on key principles of trust and confidence," Powell says. "It's developed through performance. Customers want a quick response and to believe you're looking out for their best interests. Plus, they want to know there's an element of confidentiality. These elements are common in banking as well as feeding cattle.

"Our principles fit the needs of our customers, some who are in the feeding industry. Most cattle feeders have a background of independence. They like to do business with people who can look you in the eye and tell you 'yes' or 'no.' Larger banks don't have the same appreciation for these principles. They (larger banks) have a certain system and they say it ought to work for all situations," Powell says.

Customers Promote "People are asking us to provide a personal touch, which is one of the reasons I wanted to build this bank," Powell says. "They still want to talk with a living being. We provide that and can make a decision in a single day. A large chain can take a week to 10 days to make the same decision."

"We hope to build our business one customer at a time," Powell says. "When you take care of a single customer, he or she tells about 10 people. Unless you're able to perform, your customers won't support you like this."

Building any business isn't without its challenges. Powell says the management team at First National has struggled to develop the most efficient organizational structure and it's sometimes been almost overwhelming. They had to prove themselves as well as the performance of the bank.

"We did have some resistance from customers until they were assured our data processing was up to standards, we had proper technology in place and a sound capital base," Powell says. "We're addressing the issue of convenience now with plans for more branches and more automated teller machines. Convenience is on the mind of all consumers and we'll meet their needs."

A startup is a tough proposition in any circumstance. Powell says to build a business, you must have a passion for it and nurture it by fully realizing what the business does for you.

"If you don't believe in it, you're not going to do it," he says. "Face the challenges head on and treat customers right and you can do it."