Robert Fulp is a 1979 finance and banking graduate of Missouri State University.Mr. Fulp is the President of BancorpSouth Bank in Springfield, where he is responsible for all the bank’s six branches in Springfield and two branches in St. Louis. Rob began his banking career in the mid-1970s at Aurora Bank in his hometown of Aurora, Missouri. As a teenager, he worked his way up from bank teller to Head Collector prior to graduation from high school.
Fulp has had a rather unusual path in life, at first not even certain that he wanted to continue his education after high school. He decided to give college a try and enrolled at the then Southwest Missouri State University in August of 1975. He enrolled in 12 hours of classes and moved into Freudenberger House (more commonly known as “Freddie”.) Upon arriving at SMS, he was assigned the rather unglamorous job of cleaning up after the football squad; washing socks, jocks and jerseys after every practice – a job which he kept for all of his four years at the University. After Fulp’s first semester, his GPA was 0.5. Fulp attempted to drop out, but was dissuaded by Professor Ralph Manley. Fulp had considerably more academic success in the semesters that followed and graduated in 1979.
Following graduation, Fulp visited every bank in Springfield seeking a position. The prime rate had risen to 20.5% (compared to 3.25% today), so people and businesses were not borrowing a lot of money at the time. As a result, the job market for bankers was dismal. Rob received rejections all over town until he visited Mercantile Bank, now US Bank. The Human Resources department was located on the second floor, so he proceeded to the elevator. On that elevator ride he met a distinguished looking gentleman who introduced himself simply as Don Ryan. After exiting the elevator, Fulp asked the Human Resources personnel for an application. “We’re not really hiring,” was the reply. Undaunted, he filled out an application, turned it in and went home.
That afternoon the phone rang. It was President Don Ryan of Mercantile Bank requesting an interview for the next morning. Although Fulp was thrilled to receive the invitation to interview, the situation presented him with a dilemma. He only owned one suit and one tie, and had been wearing them the day before when he met Mr. Ryan. Rob solved the problem quickly, acquiring a new tie for the interview. The interview went well. Mr. Ryan said that, although the bank was not currently hiring, he knew after his short elevator ride with Fulp that, if he didn’t hire Rob, he would wish later that he had. To this day, Fulp does not know what it was about their elevator interaction that impressed Ryan, but was quite pleased with his new job title – Commercial Banking Representative. In essence, Rob was to be a commercial loan officer in training.
After spending three years with Mercantile Bank and attaining the title of Assistant Vice President, Rob left to join Commerce Bank in the role of Vice President. He spent 11 years at Commerce Bank, moving up through the ranks to Executive Vice President. In 1997, a new locally-owned bank opened in Springfield called Signature Bank. In 1999, Fulp was approached about joining them. Though he was intrigued by their business model and confident of their success, it took a year of offers before he was prepared to join the bank, which he did in 2000. Signature’s business model was to provide personal customer service to high net worth and high income individuals and businesses. By focusing on these groups, Signature was able to maintain superior credit quality on their loans. Word spread about the level of service provided at Signature and, by 2007, the bank had grown to over $1 billion in assets, making it the second largest bank in Springfield at the time. In this same timeframe, Fulp rose to the position of President at Signature and the bank added two branches in St. Louis.
By late 2006, Signature’s growth had put it into a position of needing a strategic partner for further expansion. The bank’s owners were determined to find a larger bank with which to partner that would allow and respect the local decision-making and high levels of customer service for which Signature had become known. Although many partners were vetted for this role, in the end the owners of Signature chose BancorpSouth, a bank holding company based in Tupelo, MS, that shared the values of Signature Bank. On March 1, 2007, BancorpSouth signs went up at all Signature locations in Springfield and St. Louis. In such deals, the President of the acquired bank usually loses their job, but BancorpSouth chose to keep Rob Fulp, recognizing his specialized knowledge of the Springfield banking market and his strong ties to the community. The former Signature Bank is now the largest bank under the BancorpSouth holding company umbrella.
Asked about his typical day, Fulp responds that he is in the office by 6:30 a.m. on weekdays to get a jump on the day. He also typically comes in on Sunday evenings to get things organized for the coming week. He’s home by 9:00 p.m., and says that having things squared away before the start of the week helps him to get a good night’s sleep on Sunday nights. BancorpSouth is not Rob’s primary Sunday activity, however. He and his wife are active members of the First & Calvary Presbyterian Church. He also enjoys spending time with his children, though two of them are currently away studying at the University of Missouri. His daughter is a senior at Mizzou. She plans to return to Springfield to attend Missouri State for a Masters in Education. His oldest son is a sophomore studying Finance at Mizzou. His youngest son is currently a senior at Glendale High School in Springfield and is employed as a runner at a local law firm.
When asked about his advice to current FGB students, Fulp says that students should pay attention every day to what goes on around them and to those things that matter most to them. No shortcuts are allowed in anything you do. If you are constantly seeking shortcuts, you will not survive in today’s world. You do not have to know everything, but you have to come close. That, along with a solid work ethic, will allow you the chance for tremendous success. Fulp says he lives by these words daily.
In addition to his dedication to work and family, Fulp is also deeply involved in his community. Fulp is a member of the Executive Advisory Board for the College of Business Administration at Missouri State, and was recently named to the Executive Board for the MSU Foundation, the university’s primary fundraising organ. Rob says that the people at Missouri State are like family to him, and speaks highly of President Michael Nietzel, who worked with Rob on BancorpSouth’s recent $2 million gift to the university. This generous gift helped create named professorships and provided funding for the MSU Promise Scholarship Fund. Fulp says he has been fortunate over the years to hire many excellent MSU graduates and is pleased to help the university continue in its mission.
Fulp was also deeply honored when Mary Beth O’Reilly asked him to be a founding board member of the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks. Rob’s mother and mother-in-law both battled breast cancer, so this cause is near and dear to his heart. The Foundation helps local victims of breast cancer meet their financial needs, including their everyday living expenses in addition to the costs of their treatment. A recent Foundation benefit was attended by 1,100 donors and raised $550,000 for the foundation. Rob also serves on the board of Cox Health, helping to guide this non-profit organization through these difficult and uncertain times.
Fulp says that he is “living the dream” and that, at this point in his life, his priorities are pretty simple: Family and friends, BancorpSouth, and several charitable and educational activities, including Missouri State University, where he recently addressed both the graduating class of the College of Business Administration and the All-Faculty Luncheon. Rob limits the breadth of his activities, saying “that’s about all I can do, if I want to do things well.” Commenting on his life, Fulp says, “It has been an exciting, fortunate, lucky, fun road….”