Hancock Whitney Bank President Joe Exnicios retiring after 45 years; ‘He is a class act’

Hancock Whitney Bank President Joe Exnicios retiring after 45 years; 'He is a class act'
Buffett Image

When Joe Exnicios walked into the grand old lobby of the Whitney Bank building on St. Charles Avenue for his first day on the job in 1978, “The Whitney,” as New Orleanians called it, was one of the three locally owned banks that dominated the market.

New Orleans was riding an oil boom. Nearly a dozen skyscrapers were under construction downtown. And new devices, called Automatic Teller Machines, were just beginning to change the nature of banking.

Exnicios, 68, leaves a very different banking world when he retires Friday, after a 45-year career, the last nine years as President, at what is now Hancock Whitney Bank.   

Whitney’s two, prominent local competitors – First Commerce Corp. and Hibernia – have long since been swallowed by large national banks. Whitney itself was purchased a decade ago by Gulfport-based Hancock Bank. The 113-year-old building on St. Charles has been sold to a developer. New Orleans, which has seen most of its energy industry flee to Houston, hasn’t built a new office tower in more than 30 years.

 “A lot has changed,” said Exnicios as he sat in his office on the 34th floor of the Hancock Whitney Tower on Poydras Street, the bank’s local headquarters since 2017. “All the decisions were made at 228 St. Charles, we only had a dozen branches, and we had ladies who spent entire careers working as tellers.”

Over the past four decades, Exnicios has been a bridge between the Whitney of the past and the Hancock Whitney of the present. His departure marks the end of an era. New Orleans is still vital to the institution, accounting for more than one-third of all bank assets. But the city is now one of several power centers for Hancock Whitney.

The bank’s executives are now spread across the Gulf Coast, with leaders in Gulfport, Baton Rouge and even Tampa. It’s a structure that Tulane University business professor Peter Ricchiuti, who has watched the changes in the local banking industry for decades, said is how many regional banks operate now.

“It’s a way to compete against the big national banks,” said Ricchiuti. “Having your leadership spread out is helpful because they can really each know their local market.”         

Tradition and technology

It wasn’t like that when Exnicios was looking for his first job. He had graduated from LSU with a marketing degree and his dad called a friend, then-Whitney Bank President Pat Delaney, and set up an interview for the young Exnicios, who got the job and started that summer. Back then, entry-level bankers did stints in all the branches and got experience working across departments. They also went through rigorous training programs that taught them the business of banking.

Hancock Whitney President Joe Exnicios in his office on the 34th-floor of the Hancock Whitney Center in downtown New Orleans on Wednesday, February 21, 2024. (Photo by Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune)

Exnicios worked long days and went to night school. Within a decade, he had earned an MBA, passed the CPA exam and gotten a law degree from Tulane.

“One of my mentors, Harry Stahel, had gotten his law degree in the 1960s and I was impressed by that,” Exnicios said. “Part of my philosophy was that you can always improve yourself.”

Whitney was the staid, conservative bank of New Orleans’ blue bloods, adored by generations of loyal customers and known as the only local bank to have kept its doors open during The Great Depression. The genial Exnicios was a quick study. He figured out how to establish a rapport in a profession built on relationships and aligned himself with bank executives like Stahel and, later, Bill Marks, who mentored him along the way.

He also understood the bank’s corporate culture, with its aversion to technology and ties to tradition, even if he didn’t always agree with it.

“We made a huge strategic mistake by not putting ATMs on the LSU campus in the early 1980s,” he said. “It was the early 1990s before we finally did. We were just that way.”

Over the years, he worked his way up and served in several key positions. He ran commercial lending during Whitney’s expansion into the Houston market. And when the 2008 financial crisis created havoc in the banking industry, he was tapped to be Chief Risk Officer, which means he was focused on financial risks to the bank’s health such as credit, liquidity and market conditions.

As the U.S. real-estate market collapsed, the bank found itself stuck with a bunch of bad loans along the Florida Panhandle. The Whitney took $300 million from a federal bank bailout program in 2008, and sold itself to Hancock Bank two years later.


Hancock Whitney President Joe Exnicios is retiring from the bank after 45 years. He was photographed in his office in downtown New Orleans on Wednesday, February 21, 2024. (Photo by Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune)

Hancock, which was smaller than Whitney, was not the obvious partner. The rumored buyer at the time was Iberia Bank, which has since been acquired by First Horizon. But both Hancock and Whitney had century-old roots in the Deep South, and Hancock complemented Whitney’s strengths in commercial and industrial lending with a focus on consumer banking.

Just because the deal made sense on the books didn’t make the transition smooth or simple. Merging the corporate cultures, Exnicios said, was the most difficult thing he did during his career.

“It’s never easy when you are merging two cultures and it took two or three years to really get to know each other,” he said.

Exnicios was the only top executive from the Whitney side to survive the merger and remain in the C-suite. Colleagues and competitors alike attribute his resilience to personality traits that include confidence, humility and teambuilding skills.

“He is a class act, a good banker and an old school gentleman,” said Gulf Cost Bank President Guy Williams, who has known Exnicios since the 1980s.  “He has been a stable influence for the bank and the community and managed a difficult merger with grace under pressure.”

Shepherding the bank through the COVID-19 pandemic and successfully administering more than $2.4 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans also ranks high on Exnicios’ list of accomplishments.

“These banks have been through hurricanes, wars, pandemics, financial crises and they managed to power through,” he said. “When you’re going through hell, you keep moving.”

Corporate org chart changes

Exnicios’ departure comes just two months after the retirement of his longtime colleague, Gary Lorio, who served under him as New Orleans market president for 26 years. The two retirements were not planned together, according to Lorio, 66, who said the time was right for both.

But coming together as they have, the retirements have prompted a reconfiguration of the bank’s top ranks. Hancock Whitney CEO John Hairston and Chief Operating Officer Shane Loper are based in Gulfport, the main corporate office. Loper has assumed Exnicios’ former responsibility for revenue-generating activities, a bank spokesperson said.

Chief Banking Officer Eric Obeck, who oversees all commercial lending activity, is based in Tampa. The nine regional presidents, including Lorio’s replacement in New Orleans, Liz Hoeffler, now report to Robert Schneckenberger in Baton Rouge, a regional president who oversees the western part of the state.

Exnicios’ successor has not been named, but the bank said an announcement could come next month.

Exnicios insists that “New Orleans continues to be a large, very profitable segment of our market,” and that the top executives regularly travel between offices and meet daily on video calls.

“I would not read too much into where anyone is based,” he said.

But the world he is leaving is very different than the one he came up in, he said, which is why it’s time to let the next generation step in.

“It’s time to go,” said Exnicios, who turns 69 in May. “You can risk staying too long and unless people like me move out, there’s no opportunity for the people we have developed under us to move up.”


About Mary Weyand 11639 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.