During the sweltering summer nights and freezing winter days, young Leonard Moreland pumped gas at a service station along I-75 in Morrow, in a time when there were no self-service pumps. As he checked the oil and cleaned the windshields of dozens of cars, he dreamed of being a power forward in the NBA or an all-star third baseman in the major leagues.
Those high school fantasies of becoming a professional athlete fueled his life. “The only two things I was interested in was sports and girls,” the
President and CEO of Heritage Bank said in his corner office recently. He didn’t mention that at Morrow High School he was named Mr. Mustang by the students. “I chose my college (Maryville College in Tennessee) because they would let me play both baseball and basketball. To tell you the truth, I never studied for a test in high school.”
At college it didn’t take long to find out he was not going to play either sport at the professional level. He found that even in college playing sports was less about fun and more about work. Moreland went to, of all people, a history professor who had given him an F for advice. It was simple and direct: “You need to work at academics.”
Coming from a single-parent home with no savings or college fund to finance his education, Moreland said becoming the first in his family to attend college was all due to his mother’s insistence. “My mother was adamant that I was going to college. But the odds were against me,” he said.
Moreland, who felt he had some natural abilities dealing with math and numbers more so than he did working with people or abstract concepts, played the numbers. Transferring to West Georgia College, he majored in Finance, eventually landing on the Dean’s List.
But it was his mother, who made the crucial connection that would define his career. She never liked him working at night and on weekends at the gas station.
“I couldn’t sleep until he got home,” Beverly Moreland said in a phone interview.
Michael Booth and Leonard at Heritage Bank.
“Leonard was working 90 hours a week. He was running everything at that service station. I knew the manager at the bank (Trust Company Bank of Clayton County) and asked if there would be a place for Leonard during the summer.” They did, launching a banking career that has now stretched more than three decades.
Working at the bank gave Moreland a new perspective, “It told me I’d rather work in air conditioning,” he said with a slight grin. “I found out that indoor work is not all bad.”
Moreland set his sights on becoming a Credit Analyst, that stereotypical figure wearing a green shade and suspenders hunched over a paper- strewn desk endlessly figuring up columns of numbers in a dusky back room. It was not to
be. Within five years of graduating Moreland
was named Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer and Operations Officer at Embry National Bank. He had made the transition from being an introvert to an extrovert.
After six years as Senior Vice President at the Southern Crescent Bank, Moreland was recruited to become the Executive Vice President, and
one year later, President and CEO of a small community bank that had been started in Jonesboro in 1955. It was the Clayton County Federal Savings and Loan Association. As a mutual thrift institution the
Savings and Loan could not get into the commercial field, where Moreland had become a specialist, so the new president changed the charter from a thrift to a state bank. One of his first tasks was to rename the institution.
“I looked at many names and it came down to two: Heritage or Horizon. Horizon is all about the future. Heritage is about our history, and our heritage is important,” he said. The old savings and loan had used a lamppost with a flame glowing inside as its logo. “So if you look at our logo today the ‘I’ retains the flame from that lamppost.”
The formerly introverted banker set about expanding Heritage Bank into Fayette and Henry counties through personal associations. Randall Dixon,
a long-time banker who met Moreland in Sunday school, was unhappy because his bank had been sold to one of the huge banking conglomerates. Dixon came onboard to open the branch in McDonough.
The man Moreland calls his “mentor,” Gary McGaha, joined the bank to open its Fayetteville branch.
“All we wanted to do is attract deposits and loan money,” said Moreland. “This is what God wants: to give back and help others. If they (customers) can grow, we will grow and prosper.”
Heritage now has six full-service offices in its three county footprint, offering everything from personal checking accounts, business services, credit and debit cards, mortgages, and a variety of lending options. Moreland is quick to point out that Heritage is a community bank, and as thus it has a responsibility to the communities it serves.
Following their slogan of “Serving the Southern Crescent of Metro Atlanta,” Heritage established the Heritage Community Foundation, a non-profit that supports various local groups across the region. The amazing thing about the foundation is that Heritage employees fund it primarily from their own contributions.
Moreland has immersed himself in the communities he serves. He is the Past Chair and Director of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, Co-Chair of the One Henry Economic Alliance, director of Life and Money Matters, Chairman of the Clayton State University Foundation Real Estate I LLC, and is a director of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia.
Moreland had once been a pitiful student, as evidenced by his F in history during his freshman year in college. Today he is a fierce advocate for education, serving on the board of trustees at Clayton State University Foundation and on the advisory board of the university’s School of Business. Not forgetting his love of sports, Moreland life advice to several Clayton State athletes, which lead to him being honored by the University System of Georgia with a Regents Award for Excellence in Education.
“Education is the great equalizer,” he said. “It is such a key in life because it advances your opportunities. It opens so many doors.” Moreland refers to his position as “this chair,” pointing to a non-descript black office chair behind his clean desk. In an interesting twist, he spends so many hours in his chair that now he craves being outside. He married his high school sweetheart, Kay, 34 years ago, producing a daughter, Kristen. When Kristen presented him with a grandson, he and his wife bought a house on Lake Lanier to be closer to her north Gwinnett home. He plays the occasional round of golf, takes his family boating, drops a fishing line into the water every now and then, and loves his jet ski. “I’m an avid jet skier,” he says enthusiastically. “I like being outside now.”
His indoor activity is binge-watching TV, having recently burned through several seasons of The Americans.
Moreland sees the future of banking clearly. Technology, he says, is changing the way banks do business with their customers. Much of it is done remotely through the Internet.
He does not want it to become totally automated. Heritage has recently begun a hybrid program combining technology with good old-fashioned personal service. Called Teller live!, Heritage customers can utilize an ATM with a screen where they can speak to a flesh-and-blood teller located at a call center in Jonesboro.
“We are still going to be investing in brick and mortar,” said Moreland, noting that Heritage is currently building a new Fayette office in Peachtree City. “As a commercial bank we have to work harder to service the different generations. We would like to spend more time engaging people on our own turf. We will continue to change.”