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True Grit

As more than two hundred other Oklahoma banks failed, how did two small town banking families survive the 1980s economic debacle, gradually gather wind in their sails, then rocket forward from the early ‘90s into multi-billion dollar financial institutions?


“Head down, rear up, working hard,” said H. E. (Gene) Rainbolt, founder of modern-day BancFirst, the largest state-chartered bank in Oklahoma. “Worrying, every night at 3 a.m. It was a tough time. Every day, we would ask ourselves: are we gonna make it?”


Gene, his son David, and their colleagues bear a lasting testament to Oklahoma that even when the world around you is spiraling downward, if you exercise discipline, wisdom, and poise, you don’t have to follow.


Gene worked from nearly the start of his bank owning career in Noble around 1960 to build better financial institutions than those of his “comfortable competitors” that owned many of the state’s banks. In Oklahoma’s era of unit banking laws, which prohibited banks expanding beyond a single location, he launched an ingenious long game strategy.


He began to purchase, with separate ownership teams, troubled small town banks. He simultaneously assembled a crack executive team known as Thunderbird Financial Corporation. Thunderbird functioned as a paid contractor, and delivered revolutionary, bottom-up budgeting, accounting, cen