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Renasant Bank’s Tracey Morant Adams and the Heart of Helping

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Tracey Morant Adams, senior executive vice president and chief community development and corporate social responsibility officer for Renasant Bank. (Marvin Gentry, For The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

The conference room on the sixth floor of the Renasant Bank office in downtown Birmingham overlooks City Hall, Linn Park, the Jefferson County Courthouse, and the Boutwell Auditorium, as well parts of the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.

Inside the conference room, bank executive Tracey Morant Adams—regal, calm, and professional with cell phone, black notebook (very important, as we’ll learn), and pen nearby—takes time to talk about something that’s not only part of her resume but also her persona: community responsibility, which is more than just a slogan for her personally and professionally.

Adams is the senior executive vice president and chief community development and corporate social responsibility officer for Renasant Bank, and she leads a team of individuals spread across Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida who drive community engagement within their respective states. A large part of her job is to plant and nurture “roots” in the community, literally and figuratively, under a program called “Renasant Roots.”

“That speaks to the foundation of who we are as a company. … Our roots are about community,” she told the Birmingham Times during a recent interview. “We are responsible for volunteerism, being present in the community, speaking on behalf of issues related to financial education and financial empowerment, as well as for many of the charitable donations and gifts that go back into the community to support the community.”

It’s important to understand the people the bank serves and build trust with customers and clients, Adams said.

“The Renasant tagline is ‘Understanding You.’ In order to effectively support communities, we have to understand the needs of each one. My team and I work do that from a community perspective every day.”

Country Girl

Adams’s roots run deep when it comes to service.

She volunteers with a number of organizations and institutions, including the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham; Talladega College; Samford University School of Business; YWCA of Greater Birmingham, the McWane Science Center, the Kiwanis Club, and United Way of Central Alabama.

She is also an active member of and international membership chair for the Upsilon Eta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and serving on the Southern Area Executive Committee for The Links, Inc.

“My whole life, I have been plugged into the community doing things because I think that is my calling—to serve and not so much to be served,” said Adams, who is in her 50s. “I began volunteering with [my home church, Harper Springs Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Alabama], and other organizations. … I’ve always been involved with volunteering through church and … community giveback.”

Adams grew up in the Sylacauga and Oakdale areas of Alabama’s Talladega County. Her mother, Callie, was a librarian and media specialist with the Talladega County Schools system for more than 30 years, and her father, John, was a minister who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 50-plus years.

“My father taught us—my older brother and me—the value of hard work,” said Adams. “Talladega was known for its textile mills and paper mills back in the day, as well as farming. The farming community was more my mother’s family’s side of the house. My mother’s grandfather bought almost 100 acres of land, and she comes from a family of agriculturalists, who farmed livestock and agricultural [products]. … My mother’s grandfather believed that owning land was a way to have prosperity for their family.”

Adams traces the land where she was raised to back before the Great Depression’s economic downturn, when her great-grandfather purchased it.

“My ancestors used the land for both agricultural and livestock farming,” she said. “During my formative years, I learned gardening, helping to plant, gather, store, and cook various types of vegetables. My appreciation for gardening remains with me today. I love beautiful flowers, shrubs, and trees, and I enjoy caring for a few at my home. I also enjoy cooking fresh vegetables.”

Adams attended Talladega County Schools: Sycamore Elementary School and Winterboro High School. While most people may believe there is not much to do in rural areas, or “in the country,” Adams was as active and busy then as she is now.

“I was in Girl Scouts; I moved up through the levels … and learned to cook during my time in the scouts. I was in gymnastics, took swimming, … staying very active with those types of extracurricular activities. One of my favorites that my mom insisted upon was working with the libraries. As a girl, I began every summer reading books in order for her to determine if those were good books to be on the shelves.”

Basically, the elementary-school-librarian mother had her daughter “audit”’ books during the summer: “I later learned it was her way to bolster my reading and vocabulary skills as a child,” Adams said.

“A favorite author for me then and still today is the great Shel Silverstein. His books were just magical to me. My favorite is ‘The Giving Tree.’ Even today, the simple words of that book used so uniquely by Mr. Silverstein remind me of the importance of generosity, trust, and doing what is right in regard to your fellow man.”

Among her other favorite books are “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.

Adams recalled that her Girl Scout troop leader, the late Bernice Kidd, was her mentor and one of the many people who taught the value of service.

“When I started in the Brownie troop, she was teaching us about service and giving back to the community,” Adams said. “I learned many good characteristics through my affiliation with scouting, and those were certainly reinforced by the teachings of my parents.”

She was also in the marching band and symphonic band, playing the saxophone, and part of the Winter Guard as a flag twirler. She played the piano, too, both at school in church, where she also served as a junior usher, sang in the choir, and was a part of the Sunbeams and the Red Circle, service organizations that helped to reinforce character building while teaching Bible lessons and encouraging good study habits.

In high school, Adams was president of the Student Government Association (SGA), elected Miss Winterboro High School, and selected as valedictorian. After graduating in 1984, Adams attended the University of Montevallo on a Presidential Scholarship, which is awarded to students who do exceptionally well in school and have high test scores.

Attending Montevallo was one of the best decisions she could have made, Adams said: “It’s a great school that offers a wonderful liberal arts education. I met lifelong friends there.”

While at Montevallo, Adams had a double major: management and marketing. She initially thought she wanted to study law but realized during her freshman year that it was not her passion.

“My passion was more around strategy and leading people or projects,” she said. “I did pretty well with my dual major, and I enjoyed it.”

Career Woman

After graduating from Montevallo in 1988, Adams entered a master’s degree program at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and embarked on a career as a management trainee for AmSouth Bank. She stayed in Philadelphia for

about six months before moving to Birmingham, Alabama, where she enrolled at Samford University, pursued her master’s degree, and continued working for AmSouth. Adams earned her Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Samford in 1991 and was recruited by BellSouth, which eventually merged with AT&T.

“Things were good. I was happy and doing well, then I got a call one day from the head of AT&T Alabama, a gentleman by the name of Tom Hamby. He called me up and said he wanted to talk to me about an opportunity,” Adams recalled, adding that Hamby was on the transition team for then Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, who was looking for a director of economic development—and Adams took the opportunity.

While serving as director for the Office of Economic Development for the city of Birmingham, Adams worked with four different mayors, including Langford, Acting Mayors Carole Smitherman and Roderick Royal, and Mayor William Bell.

“I think everybody should work in the public arena because you gain a different type of appreciation for the men and women who are public servants by working in that space. I did that, and I would say it was one of the best moves I could have ever made.”

While working for the Bell administration, Adams was recruited by Renasant.

“I got a call from a gentleman with Renasant Bank, and he asked if I would serve on a community advisory board for the bank. I said, ‘I would love to!’ … That was really my introduction to Renasant,” she said.

Then one day, while on vacation with her husband, Adams got a call from Robin McGraw, the CEO of Renasant Bank.

“He wanted to talk with me about some things that were going on at Renasant,” Adams recalled. “I was perfectly content and happy and thought I was doing a pretty good job for the city, but I knew I wanted to get back into the corporate arena at some point.”

Adams has been with Renasant Bank since 2013.

Busy Days

She begins her day around 5 a.m., with exercise and meditation time and typically gets to the office around 7:30 a.m. on the days she goes into her downtown Birmingham office or her satellite office in Pelham. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she spends maybe two or three days a week at her satellite office.

A typical day includes at least three meetings—so it was impressive that she was generous enough to carve out two hours to meet with the Birmingham Times. When she gets to the office, she starts her workday by making a list. That’s where her little black book comes in; it’s where she writes down what she seeks to accomplish each day.

Most days for Adams end around 5:30 or 5:45 p.m. When she gets home, she cooks dinner, does some cleaning, and checks email to see what she didn’t get to during the day or what presentation or meeting she needs to prepare for.

Hobbies

With her schedule, Adams rarely has time for much else, but she fits in her hobbies when she can. She and her husband, Jeff, have been married for 15 years, (their anniversary was this week, December 9) and she enjoys spending time traveling and having date nights with him. While she and Jeff do not have any children together, she is a bonus mom to her stepson, JJ, 27.

“He is a wonderful young man, and I love him as if he were my own child,” she said. “He is something. He cracks me up. I tell my husband all the time I should write a book about his sayings. … He loves Mrs. Tracey, and she loves him.”

Adams also has two college-age godchildren: Jackson, a senior, and Trinity, a sophomore.

In her free time, Adams reads quite a bit, mostly for her studies in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Law at Alabama State University; she is pursuing a PhD.

“All of my readings have been relating to shared governance in higher education because that is my area of study,” she said. “I am hoping to defend my dissertation in a few weeks, so I’ll be on a downward spiral [with reading so many articles and books]. Most of my readings have been academic journals and books about governance.”

Favorite Quote

A week after our interview, we reached out to Adams about a quote from Mother Teresa (canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016) that Adams posted on her LinkedIn page—“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Asked what the quote meant to her, she said, “Sometimes, we think we have to do things in a big way to make a difference, but this quote reminds me that it is not the enormity of what we do that makes the difference, it’s the act of doing something important. Whether that something is big or small, every effort in doing the right thing to make things better for others is important. That one effort, or ‘drop,’ we may think is very minimal as the giver on one end may be enormous to the recipient on the other end. To me, it is these small ‘drops’ that add up to an ‘ocean’ of goodwill for others.”

Tracey Morant Adams on …

Start To Her Work Day

“I’m a morning person, so I like to have those things done up front. Most mornings I get up and have that spiritual time of prayer and scripture reading. I also try to exercise a minimum of three days a week. I’m not a work-at-home person. I have never enjoyed that. I guess I’m more of a silo type of person: I need to be in the office doing my work. I find it harder to do it at home, but I’m adjusting like most folks. … With this recent surge in COVID-19 cases, we are encouraging staff members to do that in order to allow spacing.”

Love for Cooking

“My love for cooking comes from watching my grandmother cook when I was a small girl. She was a wonderful baker of cakes, cobblers, pies … down home Southern cooking. Although my skills pale in comparison to hers, I’ve been told that I can hold my own on most days. The first meal I cooked as a girl for my family was baked chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes. My mom reminded that I was 12 when I cooked that meal with little help from her. My skills have improved through the years, but my family still enjoys that essential meat-veggie-and-starch ensemble to this day.

Books

“A friend called me [about two months ago] and said she and three other executive women wanted to pull together a group to discuss some of the things going on in the country, such as the social unrest. I think the recent issues in the summer prompted a lot of conversations among groups of people to better understand feelings about racism and discrimination. We agreed to read the book “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi to help us and to discuss it. It was really good.”

Television

“I do not get to watch television a lot, but I do have some guilty pleasures. I will sometimes watch old episodes of ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Law and Order: SVU,’ [which] I used to watch on Friday nights. If I have an opportunity to look at television now, I will watch a couple of series on Netflix. There is a series on Netflix I watch called ‘The Midwife,’ [which] I’ve watched pretty frequently. I also watch ‘The Crown’; the latest season just came out, and I have not watched it yet, but I love it. ‘The Crown’ is excellent, and I enjoy it very much.”

Staff Development

“I have three detailed meetings for work: I have my staff meetings on Wednesdays, we have leadership team meetings several days a week, and other meetings relate to understanding the trends of the community. We have strategy meetings [that focus] on housing opportunities and how can we find more business development engagement to put people in homes. We also have meetings generally related to the many nonprofit partnerships Renasant is engaged with.”

Meeting Her Husband of 15 Years

“[Jeff and I] met at the University of Montevallo, but we did not date in college; it wasn’t until years later. I knew he was who God had for me because he has a strong love for family and a remarkable sense of doing what is right. Every December around our anniversary, Jeff plans a surprise trip for us, though we’re a bit wary about traveling right now because of COVID. We like to go to the tropics because it is warm and fun. I love Cabo [San Lucas, Mexico], and Jamaica. … We’ve been to parts of Europe, including parts of France and England. … We went on a Mediterranean cruise several years ago and got to see so many wonders of the world; … it was just wonderful.”