The Broncobuster of Banking

Pinnacle Bank President Bob Nolen loves the everyday challenges of banking life 

Words by Terrell Manasco | Image by Blakeney Clouse 

If problems were wild horses, Bob Nolen would be the broncobuster of the banking industry. 

Sliding into a chair at his desk, armed with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, the president of Pinnacle Bank confesses he relishes a good challenge. “I love to solve problems!” Bob says, punctuating the statement with a raspy guffaw. “It just gives me a good feeling. Problems end up on my desk every day and I love working on them and trying to come up with solutions.”

Born and raised in the Birmingham area, Bob had supportive parents who worked hard to ensure he had a good life. His father, a funeral director and senior vice-president with Ridout’s Brown-Service, worked long hours—sometimes even during Christmas—so Bob’s mother did her best to fill in. “My mom did baseball and football stuff with me,” he says. “I remember standing outside playing pitch with my mom.” 

After graduating from E.B. Erwin High School, Bob worked at the funeral home’s various locations, including Elmwood and Trussville, while attending night school at Birmingham-Southern College. By the time he earned his accounting degree in 1982, he was working for KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms in the world. 

“I liked auditing,” Bob says. “We did exams of banks all over the state, so I saw a lot of community banks and large institutions. I really liked the community banking aspect of it, but I liked being an accountant as well.” 

His KPMG superiors took note of Bob’s exemplary work and soon his career was on the ascendency. Then, a job promotion in 1987 forced him to make a hard decision. “My first year as manager, they wanted to transfer me to the Atlanta office,” Bob says. “I really did not want to go to Atlanta, so I started looking for a job.”

Soon Bob was packing up to move—but not to Atlanta. The up-and-coming executive had been chosen as the CFO of First Federal of Alabama (now Pinnacle Bank) in Jasper.

“They had just gone public and needed somebody who understood the public reporting aspect,” Bob says. “It was a good fit for me.”

Indeed, the banking business seemed to be tailor-made for Bob Nolen. Within three years, he had risen to executive vice-president. In 1996, he was named president following Al Simmons’ retirement. That was also the year First Federal/Pinnacle converted to a commercial banking system. “We had more success in commercial banking than we did in the thrift banking business,” Bob says. “I had really good people like Mary Jo Gunter and Ed Davidson. With their help, we started building a pretty good commercial business. First National Bank, now Synovus, was some difficult competition but we were able to become successful as well.”

The financial crisis of 2008 dealt a crippling blow to the banking sector, spawning a cataclysmic shockwave that culminated in the closing of 465 banks by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Although some institutions survived through government aid, Pinnacle Bank chose to weather the storm without it. “There was a lot of talk at that time that only the healthy banks could get approved,” Bob recalls. “We were approved for government assistance, but we did not accept it. We came out on the other side healthier and stronger for it. The work from 2008-2010 is some of the work that I am most proud of. We didn’t lose any money.”

“The last three years have been banner years for us,” Bob adds. “I have a fantastic group of people. They do the work. They deserve the credit for where we are today.”

In recent years, the rise of cyberattacks has forced the banking industry to adapt new online security measures to protect customers from theft. Bob says adapting to constantly evolving cybersecurity technology is a major challenge. “The percentage of time, effort, and resources devoted to that is really high,” he says. “I don’t see that changing. Cyber criminals become more innovative every day. It’s not if you will get some kind of attack, it’s when— and you’d better be prepared.”

Bob raised two sons, Robert III “Bobby,” 39, and Wayne, 37. In addition, he and his wife, Gina, have a 5-year-old daughter, Chloe, who is “very independent.” 

At home, Bob relaxes by playing guitar. (that’s him playing bass at Northside Baptist Church on Sundays.) If there isn’t a guitar in his hand, there’s probably a camera. “I love photography,” Bob says. “I did a lot of photography in and after college. I got back into it five or six years ago.”

A member of several boards, including Main Street, the Walker Area Community Foundation, and the Walker Industrial Economic Development Authority, Bob is pleased to see the progress of the downtown area. “I love what’s happened in Jasper in the last five, six years,” he says. “I’m so proud of our community.”

With his coffee cup now empty, Bob flashes a smile. Time to tame some wild horses. 78

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