Meet our CEO, Art Seaver
“We only have one chance to do it right.”
If you’ve spent any time around Art Seaver, CEO and Founder of Southern First Bank, you will likely find his passion for life simultaneously daunting and inspiring.
Growing up as an “Army brat,” R. Arthur “Art” Seaver graduated from Clemson University and began his career in banking. He was with Greenville National Bank when they sold to Regions Bank in 1999. It was then, at 35 years old, that Art began to think about what it would be like to start a new bank – a bank that did things differently, where people and values were primary.
“There was enormous risk of the unknown,” he tells the story now. “Either you open the door and go through it or you don’t.” After attending banking school and raising money from a group of committed investors in Greenville, he began Southern First Bank in his dining room. That didn't work for long, he remembers, so the small team soon rented a small space in a strip mall on Laurens Road, in the old Maytag dishwasher store.
Greenville First Bank officially began in 2000. “I saw us listed on the FDIC, and we were the 94th bank (in size) in South Carolina,” Art says. “But all I wanted was a chance. All I wanted was to be on the board.”
"Today, we are the largest bank headquartered in South Carolina. We didn’t buy other banks; we did it our way. But it has very little to do with me. There is passion we share together – we have a chance to do something special.”
This same passion permeates his life in all other areas. He has served on boards too numerous to count. But perhaps most inspiring is the way he has led and invested in those around him.
His daughter, Riley, now a mom herself, shared her perspective on the growing up years with her dad starting the bank. “We never realized the huge risk it was. We thought that teeny tiny little trailer was the coolest thing. My dream was that one day I would get to work at the bank as a teller. I thought sending the teller canisters was the best thing ever.”
When asked if Art’s focus & concentration on growing the bank took him away from home an inordinate amount of time, she said no. “I don’t think I ever noticed that he was gone more than any other working parent. He was my brother’s & my basketball coach, always home for dinner, at every practice, and at every soccer game on the weekends. We always knew we were the priority, along with Sally (his wife). I don’t ever remember calling him and him not being available.”
What Art built in his professional life he has mimicked in his personal life -- investing in young men through his church to help them grow as husbands & fathers, not as workers or as businessmen. When I asked Riley what her view was on what has made him so successful, she said one of the key things was a really good sense of time management. “We used to jokingly call him the Time Nazi. He was fully present wherever he was. At dinner, Dad ate with us and focused on the family and was not off by himself in the office working.”
Having his family & faith as a priority made decisions at the bank easier. “I love Jesus, and I love your mom and you all [the kids],” Art told them, Riley recalls. “I enjoy the work I do, but I love you all.” Part of what has made the bank so successful, she thinks, is that he has hand-selected employees that match those values.
“You might not know this about him from the outside,” Ellen, his assistant remarked, “but he has a very tender heart and a very strong faith. That grounds the company in all that we do.”
“I feel this incredible passion that we have one chance,” Art pondered. “Every night when I go to bed and every morning when I wake up, I think of 249 people who left great jobs to take a chance on Southern First. I walk around this bank and I think, 'They chose us.' I want it to be the best choice they ever made.”