Our Own President & CEO Chevis C. Swetman: A Legacy of Community Service That Inspires Us All to Make a Difference
For Chevis Swetman, President and CEO of The Peoples Bank, it’s all about keeping things moving forward. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, a perpetual source of positive energy for the bank’s employees and all things
Mississippi Gulf Coast. Walking into his office, you’re greeted by various newspaper clippings chronicling the bank’s achievements and photos of Chevis posing with famous South Mississippians, statewide leaders and national figureheads over the years. However, you’ll just as easily find numerous mementos of community sponsorships along the way.
If there were ever a year to reflect on the depth and scope of Swetman’s legacy of contributions to the greater good of us all, it would be 2023. Not only did Chevis find himself recognized by the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association through induction into its Hall of Fame – the highest honor bestowed upon individuals in our state’s gaming and hospitality industry – but he also served his 26th year as Chairman of Cruisin’ the Coast, where he presided over the event’s biggest year ever – by a long shot. And that doesn’t even account for what a landmark year it’s been for The Peoples Bank itself, with 2023 being one of the best years ever, featuring the launch of its new and improved online banking app as well as a new branding campaign and commercial “The Peoples Bank, with you on the road of life.”
“If you are a large commercial community bank, you are engaged in the community, and your fortunes are going to rise or fail based on community involvement,” said Swetman. “Economic development is the lifeblood of the community. You have to promote the community day-in-and-day-out.”
The Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Hall of Fame annually recognizes individuals who’ve significantly impacted the Mississippi gaming industry. In 2023, Swetman was honored as an “Industry Pioneer” and inducted into the Mississippi Gaming Hall of Fame alongside several other high-profile Mississippians he worked with in the early 1990s to bring gaming to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Chevis Swetman played an essential role in the development of the Mississippi Gaming industry in the late 1980s, even before it was legalized on the Coast. With a vision to transform the region by harnessing the power of casinos, he devoted his time and energy to ensuring that gaming legislation was passed, starting with Hancock County and later in Harrison County.“The Peoples Bank got a jump on the industry because we were looking at it as economic development. We thought that casinos could do wonders for the economy. We formed a development commission made up of people from all different backgrounds with the sole purpose of creating jobs because that was what was most important about the casinos to us, not just jobs in gaming but in fields like hospitality management as well.”
Swetman vividly remembers the early days of gaming on the Gulf Coast, when he and the other individuals inducted at this year’s Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association’s Hall of Fame took a gamble to help establish and fund gaming on the Coast during the early 1990s, all of which paved the way for a new era of gaming and entertainment along with a transformed economy for the city of Biloxi.
“At the time, we were the only bank that would participate in the initial financing of casinos such as the Isle of Capri Casino Resort,” said Swetman. “One of the biggest hurdles the gaming industry faced was that community banks weren’t too fond of lending on leases, and that’s where we came in.”
The plaque Chevis received on August 1, 1995, from Isle of Capri Casinos in recognition of "his vision and for making the impossible possible."On August 1, 1995, Swetman was recognized by Isle of Capri Casinos for “his vision and for making the impossible possible”.
Being a Biloxi native and an experienced numbers guy, Chevis leaned on his firsthand understanding of the highs and lows of the local economy.
“Biloxi was on hard times. For a while, we had a saying that went— ‘Last one to leave Biloxi, turn out the lights’— but then, the legislature voted to allow gaming on the Coast, passing it only by about one vote. That’s when the dollars started coming in."
The gates of opportunity had been opened, and Swetman wasn’t going to pass up the chance to help finance an industry that he believed could revitalize his beloved community.
“In the first year of Coast gaming, The Peoples Bank was the biggest lender to the industry with a 70% market share and provided financial assistance to Biloxi’s first casinos to get them up and running. Of course, once larger financial entities realized that the Coast was a safe bet, we quickly went from the largest originator to a smaller participator. But we were the first!”
Once Dubbed the “Mississippi Miracle,” introducing floating casinos along Mississippi’s coastlines and rivers 25 years ago would lead to a boom in careers and economic development on the Gulf Coast, creating around 17,000 jobs and generating upwards of $300 million annually.
“The economy’s growth from the casinos has been good for us. It helps drive our tourism industry,” said Swetman. “At The Peoples Bank, we like to participate in anything good for the casino industry because we think it benefits our entire Gulf Coast, and I’m honored to have been there lending a hand from the beginning.”
The Costliest Storm in U.S. History
In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Coast, washing away everything in its path, Chevis spent three weeks sleeping on the floor of downtown Biloxi bank’s conference room because his house was nearly destroyed, where he developed strategies of how he could save his bank from going under financially along with the community’s economy. “You knew there were going to be people who may have lost everything, and you have to help them,” he said.
After the Category 5 Hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, he implemented an initial strategy to add cash to automated teller machines within the banks. A move to ensure Peoples Bank customers and even some non-customers could access their money during the weeks without power.
An aerial photo of the devastation to Biloxi casinos after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
During one of the daily runs to buy 300 gallons of diesel for the generator, Chevis ran into someone with pictures of the casino boats destroyed by the storm. Casinos had replaced the seafood industry as the engine of the Biloxi economy and made up a large part of the $664 million asset bank’s business. “It dawned on me: There are 14,000 people that don’t have jobs,” Swetman said. “Not only do they no longer have jobs, they no longer have homes either.”
Then, Chevis and others quickly jumped into action to help pass legislation allowing Coast casino operations to move from the water onto land. This move became significant in reviving gaming and boosting economic growth in the region.
“We didn’t realize how important these gaming jobs were until Hurricane Katrina came in and wiped everything off the map. Things were looking bleak for us again, but what helped us bounce back was insurance and state aid coming in. And while it took a few years to find the labor, as soon as we were able, we were building these businesses up again, and now the casinos were on land.”
Once again, Chevis’s top priority remained focused on the positive impact gaming has had on the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s economic development. His efforts to help the community and the gaming industry recover led Chevis to be named Community Banker of the Year by American Banker Magazine in November 2005. In the magazine article featuring Chevis’s accomplishments, many of his peers chimed in on why he was most deserving:
“That’s characteristic of what a community banker is all about,” said Larry R. White, associate professor of banking and finance at Mississippi State University. “You are there in the community for your community members. These folks are your friends, your neighbors, as well as your customers. That’s the whole thing; they saw this as an obligation.”
“They have been a pillar family in the Biloxi community,” said George Schloegel, the president and CEO of Hancock Bank at that time. “The Peoples Bank has been a part of that heritage of making the Gulf Coast grow for over 100 years.”
Founder and Chairman of the Board for Cruisin’ the Coast
Outside of his ventures with the bank, Chevis is an avid supporter of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s communities, serving as Chairman of the Board for the popular Cruisin’ The Coast event since its inception more than 26 years ago.
“Cruisin’ the Coast was established as a partnership between numerous entities: the city and county governments, the casinos and, of course, Mississippi Gulf Coast businesses,” said Swetman. “We’re always trying to come up with new ways to support the economy down here, and it seemed like a perfect way to do it, all while having fun.”
The Peoples Bank's downtown Biloxi location is a popular spot for cruisers and spectators to gather during the city's Cruisin' the Coast events.
The event has had an economic impact of more than $36 million on the Coast alone, with this year’s 2023 event bringing in 10,070 registered vehicles, an increase of more than 400 vehicles. That’s a far cry from the 374 cars registered for the first Cruisin’ the Coast in 1996.
In 2001, Cruisin’ The Coast earned the Shining Example Award for Best Festival/Event of the Year by the Southeast Tourism Society. In 2023, it was named America’s Best Car Event by USA Today. Its success, to Chevis, is credited entirely to its volunteers.
“The volunteers for Cruisin’ the Coast are who make it happen. They’re on the ground floor dealing with every situation imaginable so that everyone across the Coast can have a good time. They’re the real heart of the event.”
Serviceman, Businessman, Community Man, Church Man and Family Man
Upon his return from serving as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in Korea during the Vietnam War, Chevis joined Peoples Bank on September 7, 1971. Today, Chevis is the third generation Swetman to be elected President of The Peoples Bank, which, under his guidance, has become one of the most successful community banks in the southeastern United States. In addition to his presidential duties, he serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Peoples Financial Corporation and the bank itself.
Swetman received his Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Business Administration, where he also achieved the USM College of Business’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2005. He and his family are long-time members of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi. When Hurricane Katrina completely demolished the church, Chevis was the Treasurer of the Vestry (church board). Because he had managed finances well, the church was able to get back on its feet despite losing its original building to the storm.
Swetman’s life consists of an almost endless list of other personal achievements, such as receiving the Mississippi Community Volunteer Award in 2000, being named Community Banker of the Year by American Banker Magazine in November 2005, and being presented with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce’s Pat Santucci Spirit of the Gulf Coast Award for 2006.
The Peoples Bank's 2009 Board of Directors. Seated from left: Lyle M. Page, Liz Corso Joachim, Tyrone J. Gollott; Standing from left: Rex E. Kelly, Jeffrey H. O'Keefe, Chevis C. Swetman, Drew Allen, Dan Magruder.
Chevis was the 2007 honoree of the “Billy Creel” Excellence in Tourism Award. Established in 1997, the award honors deserving individuals whose vision and service have impacted tourism development here on the Coast during a distinguished career. Named for Billy Creel, former president and long-time commissioner of the Harrison County Tourism Commission, Creel epitomized a lifelong commitment to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast as a destination and as a community, a vision that Chevis has consistently kept alive.
He is a former Governor’s Task Force for Economic Development member and a previous president of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. He has also served as Chairman for Coast 21, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Economic Development Council, and the Memorial Hospital Foundation Board. He currently serves on the Gulf Coast Business Council Executive Committee. One of his proudest achievements is serving on the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where the actions taken by the commission, especially on the redevelopment of The Port of Gulfport, resulted in unprecedented economic recovery for casinos, hotels and other businesses throughout the city.
On September 7, 2021 – the 50th anniversary of Chevis joining The Peoples Bank – the City of Biloxi, under the leadership of Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich, presented him with a proclamation declaring September 7th as Chevis Swetman Day for his contributions to the growth, culture and prosperity of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, stating, “Chevis Swetman, much like the City of Biloxi itself, has exhibited a resiliency and leadership that has seen The Peoples Bank through both financial and natural storms.”
The Metro Slam Dunk
Remarkably, it’s not even the first time the city has honored Chevis by dedicating a day to him. The first was on March 8, 1990, when Chevis Swetman Day was proclaimed in recognition of his efforts toward bringing college basketball’s Metro Conference Tournament to the Gulf Coast. The tournament was held March 8-10 that same year at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi.
Chevis has been credited as the driving force behind securing the Metro Conference Tournament, stepping up to provide the necessary commitments for Biloxi to be considered. He also chaired the 20-person steering committee that engineered the tournament’s arrival to the Coast and ensured everything ran smoothly off-court, providing even more economic prosperity to the area through tourism.
The Peoples Bank President and CEO, Chevis Swetman, and team posing with the September 7, 2021, proclamation outside the downtown Biloxi branch.
"Whenever you're the chairman of a steering committee of this magnitude," said Coliseum Director Bill Holmes. "It takes a tremendous amount of coordination and influence. He's provided all that and used a lot of his resources and knowledge to bring in sponsors behind the tournament. He's just done an excellent job. And the nice thing about it is he hasn't done it for Chevis Swetman. He's done it for the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
Chevis and his wife, Marcia, live right here in Biloxi. They have one son, Tanner – who also works at The Peoples Bank – a daughter-in-law, Katherine Willis Swetman, and two grandsons, Andrew and Clark.
Needless to say, The Peoples Bank is honored and proud to have Chevis as our leader. We have the privilege of experiencing your leadership, vision and guidance firsthand daily. Thank you for being a role model for us all through your dedication to both the bank and the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Congratulations on these milestones achieved in 2023 and all the years before!