By Christi Milligan
Senior Staff Writer
Former Cabinet Secretary Jim H. Sills III is pleased about the slight advantage he has over previous times he’s entered the marketplace of a brand new region.
“I finally know people there,” he said referring to his move to North Carolina to become chief executive of Mechanics and Farmers (M&F) Bank. “My father is from Raleigh, North Carolina and we have a number of relatives there.’
Sills, who led the Delaware Department of Technology and Information (DTI) under Governor Jack Markell for more than five years, stepped down earlier this month to move to Raleigh. He said he finds himself in familiar territory with his new job.
Prior to his role with the administration, he served stints as chief operating officer of First Tuskegee Bank and president and chief executive officer of Memphis First Community Bank, now Landmark Bank.
Sills also served as executive vice president of MBNA America Bank/ Technology Sector (now Bank
of America). Following this role, he founded Homeland Security Verification, LLC, a small employment verification company, in 2007.
Still, leaving a higher profile government-appointed job with two years to go was a big decision that required strategic consideration.
“I look at those markets,” said Sills, talking about the Raleigh-Durham, Winston-Salem areas. “I look at the education level, economic viability of the markets. It was so strong and that factored into my decision.”
The fact that the offer was president and CEO of an already successful bank steeped in history helped, too.
M&F Bank is a state-chartered commercial bank founded in 1907, and has operated continuously and profitably since 1908. M &F Bank is one of few North Carolina banks designated by the United States Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution.
“I tell my children when the opportunity presents itself, you have to go with it,” explained Sills. “Community banking is something that I couldn’t pass up.”
Sills said that this move will mark the end of his work in state government or any kind of political role. And while the cabinet position provided Sills with a broad base of knowledge, the banking industry is different.
“Unlike other departments our department touches every aspect of government – all branches and K through 12th grade,” explained Sills. “From a horizontal view I’m extremely broad. I know a lot about a lot of different stuff. Banking is a very vertical type of business. But I’m going back into something that I know a lot about.”
His IT role is not lost on his new employees, particularly M&F’s IT director.
“He said that no other president has asked for the information I’ve asked for,” laughed Sills. “I have been in a pretty significant IT role.”
“I really view myself as a change agent, so this role will help me make a difference in the community,” said Sills. “I’ll connect with people and the products and services we’ll offer.”
The governor’s office praised Sills for his work since 2009, which includes implementation of the state’s Enterprise Resource Planning project, consolidation of IT resources, implementation of cloud services and cyber security awareness, and expansion of high-speed broadband access in Sussex County.
As Sills settles into his new position, Governor Markell announced he is nominating James Collins, his deputy chief of staff, for the role.
“James understands that nearly every initiative we undertake as a state involves information technology,” said Markell. “His expertise in this field along with his impressive record of developing and implementing innovative services make him an ideal candidate to serve as the state’s chief information officer.
The Senate will have an opportunity to consider Collins’ nomination when it meets for a special session on October 8.
“IT is just a really interesting field,” said Sills. “Whoever comes into this role doesn’t need to know everything but you have to ask good questions. We have great people here – rely on the experts.”