From Tech to HR and Back
In addition to his ability to perform under extreme (weather) conditions and the requisite technology expertise, Loper also possesses business acumen and good people skills, characteristics that reflect the new bank technology executive. When he left for Tallahassee before Katrina hit, Loper was corporate human resources director at Hancock; immediately on his return to Gulfport 18 days later, he took charge of the technology group, formally adding the title of CIO in December 2007 and of COO in March 2008.
Even before the move, however, Loper was heavily involved with the technology side of the bank. In fact, when he started working for Hancock in 1990, he was a COBOL programmer who eventually moved up through the ranks of the technology group. He oversaw the electronic banking area and then all operations before taking on HR as well.
His education at the University of Southern Mississippi gave him a solid grounding in computer science while an MBA in bank management at Troy State University and, later, a degree from the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University provided him with that extra something that most banks seek in their technology heads today. But even with such credentials, it wasn't easy for Loper to find employment on graduating, he relates.
Loper entered the National Guard while in college and graduated during the height of the first Gulf War. This made him anathema to many potential employers, he says. "It was tough for me to find a job because folks felt I'd work there for a few months and then be deployed," Loper explains. "But then I found Hancock and applied there and got a job as a computer programmer. I felt it was the right place for me to be."
Today Loper is still in the Guard as a major in a field logistics unit. He notes that the relationship between reservists and Guard members and corporate America has changed for the better since the early '90s. "It's a good partnership now for the most part because corporations see value in employing these people for their leadership, discipline and commitment," he comments.
And these are all qualities necessary in any CIO -- especially commitment, according to Loper. He admits that he's so committed to what he does that he often brings his job home with him. "I feel my job requires that I'm on duty 24x7. I do have a great team heading the different areas I'm responsible for, but I have a feeling that I'm responsible for all these things. There's a need to stay focused and on watch all the time," he says, adding, "Sometimes my wife wants to throw my BlackBerry away."
But that's just part of the responsibility he has taken upon himself in his new role, Loper says, adding that a leader must be hands-on and in the thick of things with his team. "Lead by example," he says. "Be a partner and a part of the team, not someone on the outside who's looking in."
Katrina helped put things into perspective for Loper: "I like banking -- it's exciting," he relates. But more important, "What you do has a direct impact on people's lives."