Executive Spotlight: Jude Melville

Executive Spotlight: Jude Melville

CEO, Business First Bank

Age: 37
Hometown: Bossier City

Why do you do what you do?

I like building things—envisioning how they should be and figuring out how to get there. Being a business banker, I get to help build our company, but I also get to participate in the building of many other companies and not-for-profits in a broad range of fields across Louisiana and the region. As bad of a name as bankers have right now nationally, being a locally- and business-focused community banker is a meaningful and rewarding way to spend my energy.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

You mean other than making the Business Report's 40 Under 40…? I am very proud I had the opportunity to serve our country in the Middle East during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, in particular work on the coordination of the first ground re-supply of Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan through Pakistan. I am also very proud to have played a role in directly creating over 100 jobs for Louisianans through our bank's growth. It's important to me that I am able to leverage any professional success I might be fortunate enough to achieve into a positive contribution to my state's future and I feel well balanced in that regard right now.

What was your first job?

I grew up on a farm and my father did social work prior to becoming a pastor, so my first jobs were helping on the farm and related to Dad's social ministry. My first time to get fired was after flipping over a tractor my cousin had borrowed from a neighboring farmer. But he hired me back the next day—he needed help fixing it.

What is the best advice you've ever received?
I remember three distinct pieces of advice from my grandfather: 1) Life is an algorithm. Focus on figuring out the algorithm. 2) Be sure your briefcase is scuffed up so people think you've got some experience, and 3) Always schedule the meeting at the other guy's office so you can leave when you want to. I'm not sure they all qualify as the best advice I've ever received, but I like them the best because they came from my grandfather.

If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be?

GM of a major league baseball team.

What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you've overcome?

I've been blessed with a low-obstacled life. More than my fair share of opportunities. Obviously opening and operating a financial institution during a global economic crisis has not always been easy, but we are already benefiting from the lessons learned.

If you started over, what would you do differently?

I tend to spend more time planning the future and analyzing the past than I do living in the present. I'd probably work on living more in the present.

What is your prescription for life?

Philippians 4:12… In all things I shall be both full and hungry.

What book are you currently reading?

The Grand Pursuit, by Slyvia Nasar, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, and re-reading The Prize, by Daniel Yergin

If you could have dinner with any three living people, who would they be?

Robert Gates, E.O. Wilson, Jamie Dimon

Who would play you in a movie?

Marky Mark (without the muscles)

What do you do to unwind?

Read and exercise.

What is the most expensive purchase you've made for yourself?

My car, if that counts, but I'm not much of a shopper.

What is your favorite weekend activity?

Taking my girls to Barnes & Noble and lunch.

What's your favorite spot in Baton Rouge?


How do you take your coffee/tea?


What is your favorite movie? TV show? Band?

The Outlaw Josey Wales, Squawk Box, John Hiatt

What is your favorite gadget?

My iPad. I'm not a big App guy, but it's a great way to skim the news.

What is something that you can't live without?

The women in my life—Amy (my wife) and Caroline & Emma (at 5 and 3, respectively, women-in-training).

If you could change one thing about Baton Rouge, what would it be?

Every child in our community must have a chance to receive a quality education. That's not the case now. I believe the solutions are market-based, but regardless of what the answer is, finding it is both an economic and moral imperative.

What is your greatest hope for Baton Rouge?

In all my time away at Harvard, LSE, and the military, I don't remember meeting a single person that wasn't from Louisiana that told me they wanted to end up living in Louisiana. It was New York, California, maybe as close as Austin or Houston. I hope that when my daughters are in the wandering stage of their lives, they meet lots of people who say "yeah, I think I'll go try out Baton Rouge for a while." Then we'll know the things we did today were the right things.

What is your greatest fear for Baton Rouge?

There's a lot of disparity in Baton Rouge (not unlike the nation as a whole). As we continue to develop, I hope we do so in ways that diminish rather than amplify these structural disparities.

What brought you to Baton Rouge?

Technically, my job, but I've always been emotionally attached to Louisiana and if you're going to be involved in Louisiana in a meaningful way, then Baton Rouge, whether you live here or just spend regular time here, has to factor in the equation.

What has been the biggest culture shock for you?


What does your Ivy League pedigree bring to the table, along with your military experience?

Much of personal development is a reaction to the things to which you are exposed. As a former commander of mine used to say, it doesn't matter how pure the metal is—it only becomes a sword after having made its way through the fire. More important than any specific line item on my resume is the general thought that I've had the chance to be exposed to a very broad variety of people, places, organizations, situations, and stresses over a relatively short period. An Ivy League pedigree opens some doors, but it's boots on the ground experience that allows you to walk through them.

What do you hope to accomplish with Business First Bank?

First, I hope to provide a responsible return to those that have entrusted us with their investment. Second, I hope be a catalyst for job creation in Louisiana, both direct and indirect. Third, I hope we become the first-call go-to financial resource for entrepreneurs, enterprises, and organizations across the region. We're off to a good start.

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