“The comeback is always stronger than the setback!”
This saying, which is attributed to an Unknown author, is about the best quote one could use to describe the news of the recent announcement made regarding the primary person involved in a major change in leadership at the top of the only African American-owned banking institution in the state of Texas – Unity National Bank of Houston, N.A.
This past Friday, Dec. 3, the Board of Directors for Unity National Bank of Houston appointed Ms. Laurie Vignaud as their new Chief Executive Officer and President. She will be the first African American woman to take the helm in this capacity at this historic and culturally significant institution. Laurie also returns to her passion for banking and community engagement, after having dealt with an extremely controversial departure from Capital One Bank. News of that separation did not go over well with a tremendous number of community leaders and citizens who have benefited from her stellar leadership over the years.
To rise like a phoenix from the ashes is a familiar saying that means to emerge from a challenge or circumstance stronger, smarter and even more powerful. Laurie faced some challenges, but in spite of that minor setback, it was Laurie’s financial and business acumen, integrity, passion for community banking and commitment to strong talent management that served as the key determining factors that were strongly considered by Unity’s Board of Directors.
“I am delighted to welcome Laurie as our new CEO and President,” said Dr. Kase L. Lawal, Unity Bank’s Board Chair. “With more than 30 years in leadership roles in banking and community development institutions, Laurie has demonstrated a strong track record in initiating and leading change, driving results, and innovating amid a rapidly evolving banking landscape. Laurie is a proven leader who has excelled at strategic leadership positions and is well-positioned to lead Unity’s continued transformation.”
Dr. Lawal also thanked the departing CEO and President of Unity National Bank, Mr. Jeff Smith, on his contributions to the institution.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I wish to thank Mr. Jeff Smith for his professional service and leadership of Unity over the past two and a half years,” added Dr. Lawal. “He has been instrumental in our turnaround plan and the positive progress we’ve made.”
As was previously stated, Laurie is no stranger to the Greater Houston area or to banking, in that she previously served as the President of Capital One Bank’s Community Development Corporation and as Senior Vice President of Community Development Banking for their South Central Region. In her roles with Capital One Bank, Laurie had the primary responsibility for the development, monitoring, management and promotion of community development programs and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) initiatives for Capital One Bank in Texas and Louisiana. She was also instrumental in bringing millions of dollars in grant financing to Capital One that were used to support affordable housing programs. Laurie created and led some of the Capital One Bank’s most innovative affordable housing, small business and asset/capacity building initiatives in the region. One such program, “Getting Down to Business” has received national recognition from Capital One Bank and other respectable entities.
It is with that track record of community engagement, as well as her more than 30 years of experience in community development and more than 25 years in banking, specifically as it relates to her tremendous knowledge and experience with overseeing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) initiatives for other financial institutions, that it made perfect sense for the Board of Directors at Unity National Bank to make the decision to hire Laurie.
Laurie will assume the day-to-day leadership responsibilities at Unity National Bank effective January 1, 2020, and will also join Unity National Bank’s Board of Directors.
Laurie expressed her excitement in taking on this role to the Houston Forward Times and her eagerness to hit the ground running and deeply connect with the community as she assumes leadership of this great, historic and culturally significant institution in the state of Texas.
“I am so excited to continue doing something that I absolutely love doing, which is connecting with the community and making a difference in our community,” Laurie enthusiastically stated. “We are going to be present. We are going to be engaged. We want people to know we are here for them. I want to show the world that there is value in supporting communities of color, especially the African American community. There is so much we can do by connecting with communities of color and ensuring they have access to financial literacy, access to capital and all the tools they need to grow and sustain their businesses and families. I am committed to fully engaging with all of our stakeholders including regulators, customers, elected officials, investors and the community.”
Unity National Bank was originally founded as Riverside National Bank, led by local Black doctors and lawyers, in 1963 and was later chartered in 1985. In February 1989, through a series of transactions and diligent efforts, Unity National Bank was acquired from Bay Bancshares by local minority leaders, including Dr. Kase Lawal, who serves as the Chairman of the Board. Banks like Unity National Bank began opening all across the United States during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and while many of those banking institutions have since closed their doors, Unity National Bank remains open. As was aforementioned, Unity National Bank is the only African American owned banking institution in the state of Texas.
Since its founding, Unity National Bank’s leadership has sought to maintain their original focus and commitment to the vision of providing banking services to historically underserved businesses and individuals, and developing the bank into a dynamic banking franchise, serving a diverse customer base. In addition to its inner-city headquarters located in the heart of Houston’s historic Third Ward community, Unity National Bank has a branch in Missouri City, Texas, Fort Bend County, which has been open since 1998. In March 2018, Unity National Bank opened a branch in Atlanta, Georgia, with the hopes of allowing Unity National Bank’s rich legacy to continue in a community well-positioned to support and utilize a new minority bank.
Laurie is ready to hit the ground running on January 1, 2020, and wants to build on the solid foundation that has already been laid by those who have come before her.
“I have deep respect for all the work that has taken place to grow Unity, and I look forward to working closely with the board, members of the management team and staff,” Laurie expressed. “My background and vision align with Unity’s mission to financially empower under-served communities by creating opportunities to succeed. I am ready to get to work!”
Laurie is active in the community and serves on the board of the NAACP Texas State Corporate Advisory Board, Texas Southern University Business School Advisory Board, the Houston Area Urban League Board of Directors, Earl Carl Institute Board of Directors and the Ensemble Theatre. She is also a member of the Missouri City Chapter of the LINKs.
In 2017, the Houston Forward Times was on hand as Mayor Sylvester Turner and the members of Houston City Council honored Laurie with a proclamation and marked the day as “Laurie Vignaud Day” in the City of Houston, having been nominated for the honor in recognition of her long-standing contribution of service in the areas of community development, small business development, economic development and financial literacy.
The Houston Forward Times wishes to congratulate Ms. Laurie Vignaud on her new role and looks forward to seeing how she will take the historic Unity National Bank to higher heights.