Reflecting on Walker’s leadership

Published 1:04 pm Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On Thursday, June 1, Mike Walker was honored at a retirement party hosted by the Benchmark Bankshares Board of Directors at the Lunenburg Country Club. On May 18, he stepped down as CEO of Benchmark Community Bank and on June 30 he ended his career with the bank. A walk down memory lane makes it apparent how much the bank is indebted to him and how much he will be missed.

When he was a young boy, Mike Walker wanted to be a professional baseball player. And he might have been — he certainly excelled at the sport in high school. But by then his practical side had started to take over. As the result of attending a career fair and knowing the owner of the area funeral home, he thought he might become a mortician. Life, however, had neither one in store for him.

After high school, the Kenbridge American Legion recruited Walker to play in a summer league.  During his time in Lunenburg, he was introduced to and became enthralled with a young lady named Linda Hawks. Eventually, they both headed to different colleges and they lost touch for a number of years.

After leaving college, Walker applied for a job at a bank in his home town of South Hill. They hired him and he stayed for a couple of years, learning the basics of banking. He found he enjoyed this line of work for many reasons but mostly because he was able to help people make their lives better.

While working in South Hill, the young Walker crossed paths with Linda again. The spark was rekindled, and it wasn’t long before he asked her to marry him. She said she would on one condition: he would have to move to Victoria where she grew up and would now be teaching science at the high school. He agreed.

In May 1974, Mike and Linda were married. That same month, he wrote to the Lunenburg County Bank asking to be hired for the branch being planned for Victoria. The bank would be needing experienced banking personnel, he reasoned, and would welcome his inquiry. He believed that destiny had brought him to this small town at the perfect time. Unfortunately, the response was not what he hoped. The letter he received said, “We feel that a home-grown product will be more effective initially, and we are unable to offer you a position at this time.”

But the newlywed, wanting to please his bride, no doubt, would not be deterred. He wrote again — twice — explaining why he thought he would be a good fit for the fledgling bank.

As they say, the second time’s a charm. Or maybe it was the third. In any case, it worked.

For almost 15 years, the branch manager’s office in Victoria bore the name Michael O. Walker.

Early in 1989, as the bank was preparing to expand into other counties and change its name, the management structure started to change as well

Fast forward to 2003. Under Walker’s leadership as branch administrator and chief marketing officer, the bank’s branch network had grown to nine full-service offices and one loan production office.  In preparation for Ben Watson’s retirement, Walker was promoted to executive vice president.

In the 12 years that Walker led Benchmark, the bank made remarkable strides.

Walker is not only respected by those he led. He is greatly admired by all who know him.

As for what retirement will be for him, he hasn’t quite figured that out. For a while, he will stay involved with the renovation of some of the bank’s branches.